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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Some critics worry White House Correspondents' dinner sends the wrong message about Beltway media



President Obama doesn’t usually get so many laughs when he stands in front of a room full of reporters. On Saturday night, April 27, politicians and the capital’s press corps loosened their ties for the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner, an annual backslapping event for the elite of Washington and Hollywood.

The WHCA dinner recognizes reporting excellence and awards $100,000 in scholarships for high school and college students, according to the association’s website. Some critics, however, see the weekend’s festivities as a bacchanalian of self-congratulation that isolates Washington’s reporters from their readers. 

President Barack Obama addressing the White House Correspondents' Association dinner Saturday night. Source: The White House

New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent and author of an up-coming book on the media’s relationship to government power, Mark Leibovich, blasted the dinner as elitist and contributing to a growing gap between D.C. reporters and readers outside the Beltway. 

“The level of self-congratulation and self-celebration and so forth can be very, you know, somewhat at odds with the mood of the country and how people view the media,” Leibovich said, according to Mediaite. 

He added that the Times does not send its reporters to the event, wary that they might get "too cozy" with politicians. 

In 2012, Tom Brokaw of NBC News famously bashed the dinner for its slide into celebrity stargazing, reported Politico. In an interview on “Meet the Press,” the anchorman asked, “What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country? Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?"

Famed interviewer Barbara Walters echoed Brokaw’s complaints, saying the event “had changed” once celebrities were invited, reported the New York Post. Attendees included Steve Spielberg, Barbara Streisand, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, journalist Bob Schieffer, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, among many more, reported WTOP.

WHCA President Ed Henry of Fox News defended the schmooze fest, highlighting the organization’s contributions to charity, reported Mediaite.

President Obama’s self-deprecating monologue eclipsed host Conan O’Brien, according to many reviews. Cable news was a favorite target for presenters, including CNN in the wake of its fumble covering the Boston Marathon bombings.

“I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate,” Obama joked, according to the White House’s transcript. 

The 100-year-old WHCA awarded Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker with the award for journalistic excellence in covering the presidency.

Associated Press reporter Julie Pace and Terry Morgan of ABC won prizes for news coverage under deadline pressure.

The association also recognized the Center for Public Integrity for “covering issues of national importance.”

Watch President Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner on Saturday, April 27:



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