Tom Brokaw Disses Nerdprom

Tom Brokaw has some good criticisms of what the White House Correspondent's Association Dinner has turned into.

WHCD

Later today, the White House press corps, along with a host of political leaders and a bunch of hangers-on from Hollywood will gather at the Washington Hilton for what is one of the biggest social events of the year in the nation’s capitol, the annual White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner.  Conan O’Brien will be hosting, and the President will be speaking. Jokes will be told and drinks will be imbibed. Tom Brokaw, though, is among those who wants nothing to do with it all:

Tom Brokaw blames it all on Lindsay Lohan.

Last year, Brokaw became one of the biggest critics of the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner after he saw Washington buzzing around and about the troubled Hollywood actress, who was a guest of Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren.

“The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan,” Brokaw told POLITICO during a recent interview in his office in the NBC News Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York. “She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”

The veteran TV newsman’s vocal dissent after the dinner in 2012 was notable for a number of reasons.

First, Brokaw’s industry stature made him the most notable media figure to criticize an annual event so precious to many of his colleagues in the press corps. Second, Brokaw has standing beyond his long tenure as the “Nightly News” anchor — he was once a White House correspondent during the Watergate era. And lastly, his critique was purposeful, public and unpredictable; he made a point to, seemingly out of nowhere, bash the WHCD on “Meet the Press” just one week after the soiree, saying it was “time to rethink” the occasion since it, in his words, “separates the press from the people that they’re supposed to serve, symbolically.”

“One of the reasons that I wanted to raise it on ‘Meet the Press’ — and I told [host] David [Gregory] beforehand, ‘I’m going to look for an opportunity to do that,’ is that we were at a point in Washington where the country had just kind of shut down on what was going on within the Beltway,” Brokaw told POLITICO.

“They were making their own decisions in their own states, in their own communities, and the congressional ratings were plummeting,” he added. “The press corps wasn’t doing very well, either. And I thought, ‘This is one of the issues that we have to address. 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?’ And what comes through the screen on C-SPAN that night is the latter, and not the former.”

(…)

Brokaw stopped attending the WHCD years ago and says he won’t be there this year. “I would watch on C-SPAN, and as I watched on C-SPAN, I would try to put myself, kind of, if you will, in the person of an interested citizen in Kansas City, or in Little Rock, or in Spokane, Wash., saying, ‘That’s the Washington press corps?’ I mean, there was more dignity at my daughter’s junior prom than there is [at] what I’m seeing on C-SPAN there,” he said.

Despite his criticism, Brokaw doesn’t see himself as a never-say-die scold about the affair.

“This is not a crusade on my part. I’ve had my say. This is what I believe,” he said. “I think I still have some standing in the Washington press corps, having spent as much time there as I did, as I continue to, so it’s really up to the organizations and this generation of correspondents in Washington to make the determination for themselves. I’m not going to stay on their back about it. What I would do is take a hard look at it and find ways to temper the more outrageous qualities of it. Why do we think to have a successful evening, you have to have Donald Trump as your guest of honor, for example, or Lindsay Lohan?”

The entire idea of inviting “celebrities” to the dinner seems to have started back in the 1980s when one organization decided to use one of its tickets to invite Fawn Hall, the National Security Council secretary who helped Oliver North by sneaking documents out of the White House underneath her closing. After that, and especially starting in the 1990s when the Clinton Administration, with its connections to Hollywood came into office, and celebrities seemingly became desperate to associate themselves with Washington power while politicians seemed desperate to associate themselves with Holllywood stardom. In the intervening years, the celebrity side of the event became ever more ridiculous as everyone from The Jonas Brothers to Lindsey Lohan to Donald Trump ended up attending the event as the guest of one media organization or another. The White House Correspondents Association keeps insisting that this is a serious event of some kind, but the constant invasion of irrelevant celebrities argues otherwise and makes appropriate the moniker that the event has earned over the years, Nerdprom.

Hamilton Nolan is even more scathing in his evaluation:

Do you know who knows that the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner is a shameful display of whoredom that makes the “average American” vomit in disgust, or, more likely, simply continue to disregard the findings of any ostensibly neutral journalistic outlet in favor of their own ideology of choice, because they have a fully solidified belief that the “mainstream media” is little more than a bunch of ball-lapping lapdogs to whoever’s in power? Everyone. Everyone knows this. Even the members of the media who attend theWhite House Whores Despondence Dinner know this, deep down, whether they admit it openly or lie defensively about how they, the true professionals, can stand in a receiving line to backslap and shake the hands of politicians like groupies and pose for pictures with Ashton Kutcher and Alec Baldwin and Stephen Baldwin and Anna Paquin and no, it does not matter tomorrow, because they are professionalswho would never be compromised by the fact that they just spent their favorite evening of the year joshing playfully with the powerful officials they are supposed to be afflicting and reveling in their close proximity to the celebrities that they wish they were.

This is not just any segment of the working press, enjoying a night out. This is the DC press corps, which has arguably the most important job in American journalism: informing the public about the activities of its government, and serving as a strong and omnipresent check on the government’s power. Great to know that our fearless watchdogs are busy swilling wine with the people they are supposed to be covering and introducing them to their wives and posing for pictures with Mila Kunis.

This last point is actually a fairly valid one. Is it really possible for Washington based reporters to objectively cover politics in Washington when they are often socializing, on a regular basis, with the people that they are supposed to be covering? This, however, isn’t a new problem in Washington. Indeed, before Watergate, the relationship between the White House Press Corps and the Presidency was far more cordial than it is today. Indeed, during the Roosevelt Administration reporters didn’t bother report FDR’s health problems, especially during the final months of his Presidency, and during the Kennedy Administration reporters ignored rumors about the President’s health, his contacts with known mob figures, and his many affairs. It’s highly unlikely that stories of those types would be ignored today. However, the Correspondent’s Dinner is still a good example of the incestuous nature of the relationship between politicians and the press that makes you wonder just how willing reporters are to pursue potentially bad news about people that they come to know as friends.

In the end, I doubt that most of America even knows what the White House Correspondents Dinner is all about. Tomorrow, they’ll see a couple clips of Conan O’Brien and the President making jokes, they’ll laugh, and they won’t think much else about it.  The fact, though, that it’s considered such a big deal in our nation’s capital makes one wonder if the press corps is really doing its job, or just having fun.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    I don’t know quite what to think of Tom Brokaw’s take on the event. I’ve always thought of the White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner as an insiders’ occasion, and a great opportunity for all invited to celebrate themselves, and to show off their oversized egos and self-importance. I’ve always thought of guys like Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw as exactly those types of people.

    Now Brokaw is complaining that someone initiated the degradation of this sacred insider’s event by inviting (a then hot) Lindsay Lohan? Give me a break. I’m guessing quite a few of the ‘insiders’ there wanted to “date” her that night.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I completely agree. I don’t blame the pols: they’re exploiting a weakness in the “enemy” force. I blame the press.

    The DC press corps has the ethics and the credibility of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, those notoriously corrupt clowns who run the Golden Globes.

    I’d say they’re whores, but that would be a disservice to actual whores, who at least drop to their knees and blow because they need the money. It’s a disgrace.

  3. CSK says:

    They say that politics is show business for ugly people. Maybe the WHCD is the Academy Awards for dorks.

  4. @michael reynolds:

    I’ve written about this in the past but can’t find the post at the moment. When you really think about it being a White House reporter mostly ends up meaning you’re a stenographer for the White House Press Office. At least Capitol Hill reporters do some real reporting on occasion, but what is supposedly the pinnacle of a political reporters career seems like a pretty boring job when you think about it.

    Remember, Woodward & Bernstein were reporters on the Washington Post’s Metro desk and they broke one of the biggest stories in American history.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: They’re courtiers playing for power, respect and wealth at the “king’s” event, no different than the shmucks who grovelled before power five hundred or a thousand years ago in Europe or China. The real journalists are on the streets and don’t have time for that sort of bullshit.

  6. Justinian says:

    The White House Correspondents’ Dinner simply exposes to public view what happens behind the scenes every day. I have read that presidents regularly allow the press corp to have office space in the basement of the White House. If that isn’t both cause and symptom of a cozy relationship, what is?

  7. Tom Brokaw’s eatery of choice these days is the Grand Hotel.  The waitresses are excellent and the food is much better than the rubber chicken circuit fare at the Washington Hilton.  Next time you are traveling out west through Big Timber on I-90 try it.

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    For years, it was a fun tradition. The correspondents would spend the night making fun of the president, and he’d sit there, showing he could take the jokes. Then the president would get up and take a few shots back, and it would be a generally fun night. The important thing was that the president would get his chance to answer his mocking.

    And then came the 2011 dinner, when Donald Trump was invited to attend. The old agenda went right out the window, and Obama and the press collaborated to spend the entire night trashing Trump. And not only was Trump not given a chance to answer, he wasn’t even warned that he was the designated target for the evening. It was an ambush, from start to finish.

    It takes a hell of a lot for me to feel the slightest sympathy for Donald Trump, but that was a shitty thing to do to anyone.

    Or maybe it was 2006, when Stephen Colbert was invited to host.

    Either way, it’s an event that really needs to be euthanized.

  9. Tyrell says:

    I would venture to think and say that the “average American” is not even aware of and could care less about this event even if they did know about it. The perception of the White House “press” corps and public opinions of them is even lower than that of lawyers. The intelligence and professionalism of these so called White House journalists continues its steep decline. They vastly over rate their own importance.

  10. bk says:

    Brokaw says he wants to bring more dignity to his profession, in an exclusive interview with Tiger Beat on the Potomac.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And then came the 2011 dinner, when Donald Trump was invited to attend. The old agenda went right out the window, and Obama and the press collaborated to spend the entire night trashing Trump. And not only was Trump not given a chance to answer, he wasn’t even warned that he was the designated target for the evening. It was an ambush, from start to finish.

    As a bitter attention-whoring Birther, Trump richly deserved that roast, and I must say, that was probably the best White House Press Dinner of all time.

  12. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: As a bitter attention-whoring Birther, Trump richly deserved that roast, and I must say, that was probably the best White House Press Dinner of all time.

    But did he deserve to be set up that way? More importantly, do we want a president and a White House Press Corps cozy enough to set someone up that way?

    Oh, yeah, you probably do. Because they went after someone you don’t like. So that makes it all fair.

    Remember that when we have another Republican president. The precedent’s been set, and you applauded it.

  13. anjin-san says:

    @al-Ameda

    It was fun watching Trump, a legendary egomaniac, a guy who has made a career out of being a bully, find out what happens when you tangle with a kid who is tougher than you are.

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: You miss two points.

    1) It’s not about the target, it’s about the attackers. Yes, I also enjoyed watching Trump get slammed. But it also was an open display at how readily the White House and the press could collaborate against a perceived common foe. It was an unpleasant affirmation of what a lot of people had been saying about the relationship between the Obama administration and the press — how the press was so eager to support Obama and willing cast aside their alleged impartiality and independence.

    2) It gave Trump a chance to appear classy and mature by sitting there and taking it. To me, that’s almost as bad. For God’s sake, Trump came across as the biggest man in the room, and that’s almost unforgivable.

    Oh, and just how was Obama proven “tougher” than Trump? He got a bunch of his sycophants to gang up on Trump in a situation where Trump couldn’t hit back without looking even worse. That’s not tough, that’s punk.

  15. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda: A bunch of over rated, self serving egos that have zero professionalism beating up on one person who did not rate that attention? They succeeded in creating support for Trump where there had been none before. And that was hard to do.

  16. Woody says:

    The ‘deterioration’ of Beltway journalists is a direct reflection of personnel, imho. Many reporters were once working class stiffs, who got a kick out of poking holes in pontificating politicians. Now, on a personal basis, they hail from Ivies and marry into the gentry – they wouldn’t dare really offend a fellow parent of Sidwell Friends Class of ’13; nor a potential resource for an offspring’s future employment, etc. The only ‘journalists’ interested in actual reporting are on the Internet, where their findings can be effortlessly dismissed (unless assumed by media-with-agenda) because they’re Cheeto eaterz in Mom’s basement haw haw, and they don’t even sit on any cable news panels.

    On a professional basis, the modern Beltway ‘reporter’ is every bit a political animal within their industry, and woe to the ‘reporter’ who goes off reservation and upsets the Gravy Train. After all, what’s the harm, and everyone who counts is making bank.

    This is corruption, pure and simple, no different than Hewlett-Packard’s board or the agribusiness iron triangle.

  17. mantis says:

    It is quite amusing to see a moron complain that a loudmouth millionaire with his own television show lacks the ability to defend himself and cannot take a joke at an event where most if not all of the attendees are the targets of jokes from the performers, that he nevertheless he chooses to attend. Pity Donald Trump, you meanies! He was ambushed!

    Jay, you are quite possibly the most pathetic person I have ever encountered.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    But did he deserve to be set up that way? More importantly, do we want a president and a White House Press Corps cozy enough to set someone up that way?

    Two things:
    (1) Obama did not set that up, the emcee of the event fired the opening salvo at Trump.
    (2) Obama’s jibe at Trump was very tame, and not in bad taste:

    Here was the jab:
    “And that’s because he can get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”

    @Tyrell:

    They succeeded in creating support for Trump where there had been none before. And that was hard to do.

    Really? I saw no evidence of that event creating ANY new support for Trump whatsoever. Trump’s Birtherism was always supported by base Republicans, and the jokes at Trump’s expense probably did more to energize Obama’s support than it it did to ramp up any sudden admiration of (or sympathy for) Trump and his comb-over.

  19. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda: Okay with that. The jokes the other night were good.
    I kind of like “Celebrity Apprentice”.

  20. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Yes, I also enjoyed watching Trump get slammed. But it also was an open display at how readily the White House and the press could collaborate against a perceived common foe.”

    Oh, noes! The president used the entire power of the federal government against a private citizen… and made fun of him! Surely this is just one step away from FEMA death camps.

    When the president is willing to sarcasm and mockery against a US citizen, what is left of freedom?

  21. wr says:

    @Tyrell: “They succeeded in creating support for Trump where there had been none before. ”

    It’s a well-known fact that the right will take the side of anyone this uppity president doesn’t like. I’m sure you’ll all start feeling sympathy for the surviving Boston bomber soon.

  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: It’s no surprise you’d applaud such a dick move. I’m trying to remember the last time you demonstrated anything except petty dickery — and drawing a blank.

  23. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “I’m trying to remember the last time you demonstrated anything except petty dickery — and drawing a blank. ”

    Yes, well, we can’t all be like you and spend our times wishing for the mass murders of whichever ethnic or religious group you hate today. Sorry I can’t live up to your level of depth.

  24. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: I thought my previous comment was sufficient, but if you think it needed an example to really drive its point home, I’ll accept that.

  25. Rob in CT says:

    The WH correspondents dinner should have ended the moment Stephen Colbert’s speech ended in 2006. First, because there’s no way to top that roast. Second, because the attendees should have been sufficiently ashamed as to no longer wish to attend such an event.