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American Journalism Review
Death to Nerd Prom!  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   April/May 2012

Death to Nerd Prom!    

Maybe Tom Brokaw’s opposition will open the door to a drastic rethinking of the misguided White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Mon, May. 7, 2012

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


Enough, I figured, was enough. So I decided to stop writing about my concerns about the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

I first wrote in 1999 that it was time to jettison the bacchanal. I hadn't been to the dinner in quite some time. When I went that year, I was appalled by what a misguided celebrityfest it had become. The appearance of coziness with the people the correspondents cover, the fawning over stars ranging from JFK Jr. (whose guests included Larry Flynt) to Sean Penn, the mad scramble to line up those names and "names," the glitzy after parties – all made it clear that this travesty had to go. And I applauded the New York Times for boycotting the dinner that year.

I returned to the subject in 2006 and 2007. In 2009, C-SPAN signed me up to be its Designated Critic of the affair.

But despite all of my brilliance, the dinner not only seemed to be surviving, it seemed to be thriving. So I decided to move on.

But now, inspired by Tom Brokaw, I'm dropping my vow of silence.

On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the former NBC anchor talked about his deep misgivings about the dinner and its ramifications.

"As I've gone around the country," he said, "a lot of people say to me, 'What's happened with the press? What's happened with political coverage in America? We don't feel connected to it.' "

And, he quickly added, the correspondents' dinner was a vivid symbol how out of whack things are.

"If there's ever an event that separates the press from the people that they're supposed to serve, symbolically, it is that one," he said. "It is time to rethink it."

So this could be the opening we need. Brokaw is the ultimate journalism insider. As he pointed out, he's a charter member of the association. But, as he said, the Hollywood-by-the-Potomac event has gone "beyond what it needs to be."

So, White House Correspondents' Association officials, here's your chance. This year's nerd prom is in the books. The next one is nearly a year away. Let the rethinking begin.

Consider this year's aligning of the planets – Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian at the same table! (I guess Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson were busy) – as the dinner's official Jump the Shark moment. And get it out of here.

When the Times pulled out of the dinner back in 1999, Michael Oreskes, then the Times' Washington bureau chief and now senior managing editor of the Associated Press, made these remarks:

"The purpose of honoring good journalism with awards and raising money for scholarships has become lost in the circus. The association each year is seen around the country as host to a Bacchanalia that confirms everyone's worst sense of Washington. We should not be a part of this."

Those words are as true today as they were then.

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