“Fixing” the “Nerd Prom?” How About Ending It?

Given my habit of not paying attention to politics on weekends if I can help it, I might have made it through this weekend blissfully unaware of tomorrow night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But I ran across Patrick Gavin’s piece at Politico Magazine deploring the “Nerd Prom’s” recent excesses–which is a good thing–and then outlining a series of ways to “fix” the event. It’s that second part that makes me a bit balky.

Yeah, Gavin’s right, the decadent, narcissistic spectacle of the WHCD has been made immeasurably worse by the appearance of a Red Carpet, and an apparently never-ending surge of attendance by Hollywood types and others with little real involvement in journalism or in politics. And yes, the ostensible purpose of the whole affair, a $100,000 fund for journalism scholarships, is a bit meagre given the wealth and power in the room (Hell, if the media moguls present pledged $100,000 to hire actual journalists or give them employee benefits it would have a bigger impact on the profession than scholarships to depress the labor market even more).

But reading Gavin’s reform agenda just reminded me how embarrassing the whole spectacle always has been, even before it became the epitome of what everybody hates about Washington (i.e., back when I was living in Washington and got invited to attend a couple of times, and found reasons to decline). Which is why this is the suggestion Gavin makes that I like best:

There are plenty of grand dinners in Washington—The Gridiron Dinner, the Radio-TV Correspondents’ Association Dinner and so on. None of those, however, have the same panache as the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner. Why? Simple: The president doesn’t always go to those other dinners. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is different: The last president to skip it was Ronald Reagan in 1981 and—let’s cut him some slack—he bailed because had just been shot. So, if you want to rein in the glitz, glamour and star-appeal of this weekend? Make it so that the night’s biggest draw—the president of the United States’ attendance—isn’t a sure thing.

How about a never thing? That works for me.

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.