The Right Coast

May 01, 2005
Exacting Tribute
By Gail Heriot

I am in D.C. this weekend and a friend of mine invited me to go to some of the preliminary festivities leading up the the Annual White House Correspondents Dinner with the President. No, I wasn't invited to go to the dinner itself. I don't know if anyone is important enough to get last minute tickets to the dinner; I do know that I'm not that important. But the preliminaries are interesting events in themselves, so I was pleased to don appropriate attire and go in my capacity as a spy for the blogosphere.

I'm not very good at cocktail receptions; I usually spend a significant part of my time smiling and nodding at someone who, for all I can tell, is moving his lips without making a sound. But sometimes I like going to them anyway (at least for a little while). I regard them as anthropology lessons, and Saturday's festivities gave me a glimpse of the media tribe at play (or at least pretending to be).

Quite of few of the journalists I spoke with likened the event to a kind of East Coast Oscars night. And the analogy seemed apt. There are dozens of pre-event receptions at the hotel at which the dinner is held and pre-pre-event garden parties around town. There is even a red carpet with throngs of photographers and cameramen hovering about (all of whom were wise enough to continue their naps when I walked down the carpet). And there are celebrities and pseudo-celebrities of every kind--including Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn, Bill Kristol, Mary Tyler Moore, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Pat Robertson, and some famous football player I had never heard of. And, of course, Arianna Huffington. If you are looking for a star-studded, elegantly groomed and dressed crowd suffering from the effects of a day's worth of free drinks and you can't make it to the Oscars, you should consider going to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner as a reasonable substitute... except without all those perfect bodies.

Of course, there are other differences. The Oscars are clearly focused on the recognition of excellence within the movie industry. But why hold an Annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner? It has no such obvious purpose ... unless it's to prove, year after year, that the President must attend and crack a few jokes. And I'm inclined to think that's at the heart of it. At one of the receptions I attended, a group of journalists were speculating about whether a President would ever dare break the tradition and not show up for the annual feast. The consensus was that he would never, never, never do so without his paying dearly. The attendance of the President is the outward and visible sign of MSM power.

Is that so terrible? I'm not sure it is. I saw coverage of Bush's appearance on tv the next morning and he looked happy enough. Imagine what mischief these folks might get into if they used their power to acquire something that wasn't essentially frivolous. Liquoring them up just a tad keeps them out of trouble for a while. And it gave me a chance to wear glittery earrings.