Red Carpet, White House And Journalism Blues

WASHINGTON, DC -- OMG! ABC News snagged both Colombian firecracker Sofia Vergara of Modern Family and District of Columbian fire-putter-outer Jack Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury, for its table at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

What a sizzling hot combo! Thomson-Reuters (Darren Criss of "Glee," and Courtney O’Donnell, Jill Biden’s former spokeswoman), eat your heart out.

Yes, in the annual ritual of news organizations hosting celebrities and government officials for a let-your-hair-down evening of entertainment and self-importance, it was super fun to see which journalists were passing the butter to which Hollywood stars and senior officials who otherwise wouldn’t give them the time of day.

President Obama’s cabinet was well represented throughout the Hilton ballroom. CBS had the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan. The Washington Post had the Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx. Yahoo News had Attorney General Eric Holder. In addition to Lew, ABC had Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Fox News had Chace Crawford of Gossip Girl.

The President himself was there, of course, as the guest of honor, seated at the nerd table with the correspondents’ association crowd and the First Lady. He cracked hilarious self-deprecating jokes, such as about the rollout fiasco. (“In 2008 my slogan was ‘Yes we can.’ In 2013 my slogan was 'Control-alt-delete'.") He laughed sportingly when the emcee -- Joel McHale of E! Entertainment Television -- ridiculed him. (“My favorite bit of yours is when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was hilarious.”)

In a shocker, the president also asked God to bless America.

What Obama did not have to do -- although his five hours on the dais represented by far his longest-face-to-face with the press in 2014 -- was answer one single question about Ukraine, immigration, the Keystone Pipeline, the budget, the NSA, the climate or the Mideast peace process. Nor was any of the thousands of journalists in the room so indiscreet as to inquire.

Obviously, there is a time and a place for everything. The Washington Hilton was where not to get information about the U.S. government on Saturday evening. The White House and the agencies are where not to get information about the U.S. government the other 364 days of the year.

In a poll of White House reporters just released by Politico, 42% agree that the self-described “Transparency Administration” is the most secretive they have ever covered. Remember when George W. Bush bragged about bypassing “the media filter?” By a ratio of 8-to-1, more White House reporters think the Bush Administration was “more forthcoming” than the present one. The Bush Administration.

For the past year, the White House press corps not only hasn’t gotten face time with the president for Q&A, it hasn’t even been able to get cameras into most photo-ops.

That’s what's so bizarre about the Correspondents Dinner lately. It’s not that it is a place where Kardashians roam, offering not an iota of news potential. It is where newsmakers roam, offering not an iota of news potential. And they are there as guests of the press. If I were running a saloon, and some knucklehead stiffed me on his bar tab, I would be steamed. I would not invite him to my daughter’s wedding.

Maybe some outfits shouldn’t mind. CNN hosted, in addition to actress Diane Lane, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, U.S. Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), White House Special Assistant Josh Earnest, and Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee. They could all have been on sodium pentothal and blurted out coup d’etat plans, but CNN wouldn’t cover it.

Unless it happens somewhere in the Indian Ocean.


5 comments about "Red Carpet, White House And Journalism Blues ".
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  1. Steve Schildwachter from Enterprise CMO, LLC, May 5, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.

    Great column as usual, Bob. The less the press inquires, the less the administration reveals, the less the press inquires, the less... you get the idea. It's a downward spiral.

  2. Michael E. Keenan from Keenan & Company, May 5, 2014 at 11:34 a.m.

    Steve's right, still the only thing between the citizens and their government -- a basic, necessary ingredient of democracy is a vigirously inquiring

  3. Jeff Imparato from Topeka & Shawnee Co. Public Library, May 5, 2014 at 11:39 a.m.

    Consider, though, when every utterance is met with scrutiny. The man can't even sneeze, without someone questioning his motives. it does make one play your cards close to your chest.

  4. Steve Schildwachter from Enterprise CMO, LLC, May 5, 2014 at 12:41 p.m.

    I wasn't there a the White House Correspondents' Dinner, so maybe Bob can enlighten us, but it sounds like a crew for the most part that would offer him a Kleenex if he sneezed. Which, of course, is the humane thing to do. But question his motives? Only the fringe, however you care to define it.

  5. Bruce Braun from Bridge Digital Marketing, Inc., May 6, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.

    Whatever happened to the press holding those they cover at arms length so as to maintain objectivity in their reporting?

    Those lines are no longer blurred but are nonexistent. The WHCD is nothing more than a meeting of attention whores. Why invite all those Hollywood types? Fund raising, once removed? Or because politics has become show business for ugly people?

    You have top Obama administration officials who are either married to or are family members of the press who covers the WH: examples are Ben Rhodes at the WH and his brother, president of CBS News. Jay Carney married to Claire Shipman of ABC News, to name just two examples.

    The press and our governmental leaders are all social friends, neighbors and relatives, yet we never see any discussion of conflicts of interests in their reporting.

    After all, why would your reporting be critical of those whom you are in political, ideological and philosophical agreement?

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