Press Club Ain’t What It Used To Be

I have to admit that in my Washington days I’d get a bit of a charge out of attending (and on a couple of occasions, speaking at) National Press Club events. Yeah, sure, it’s been a long time since actual news has been broken there, and the framed photos on the walls of the great journalists of yore are getting a bit faded. But still, it was the National Press Club!

But as WaPo’s Dana Milbank explains today, the old venue has lost its last real connection with a storied past by hosting off-the-record events (!) held by lobbyists (!).

I’d like to tell you what Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said at the National Press Club on Wednesday about recent developments in the war against the Islamic State. The diplomat, who resigned in protest earlier this year because he found it “ever harder to justify our policy” in Syria, had some valuable insights….

But I’m afraid I can’t tell you — because the speeches [Ford and others] gave were off the record. They were so declared at the last minute by the group of defense contractors that hosted the event.

It’s unseemly for current and former government officials to be hobnobbing privately with government contractors. But it’s a whole other level of outrage for them to do it at the National Press Club — a century-old shrine to the free press — and to forbid journalists to report what they say….

But this profanation has been underway for a long time.

The club still hosts “newsmaker” events (200 to 300 per year) and rents out space for others’ news conferences (400 to 600 per year), but to make ends meet it is also expanding its catering business. These are “private” events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs and Wednesday’s session in the ballroom with Ford and the NSC spokeswoman.

People want to get married at the National Press Club? Now that sounds like traditional Washington for real.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.