Hollywood on the Potomac- It’s NOT for the Little People
I vented about this almost two years ago and there’s a growing chorus of respectable journalists like Tom Brokaw who have vocally joined the cause. Whatever the hell that function is that used to pass as the White House Correspondents Dinner is now so over the top, so disgusting in its opulence and crassness and such an incestuous and inappropriate coupling of the so-called independent media and those they are supposed to cover impartially- that it’s no wonder the public can’t stand either the blowhards who populate politics and Hollywood or the blowhards who cover them.
But as the Washington Post points out, the dirty little secret is that this dinner is actually about corporate interests. The celebrities are really the window dressing; the honey that attracts the corporations- i.e.- potential advertisers that populate the Washington Hilton dinner tables and after-parties as much as the so-called stars. Yes, cash-strapped news organizations that fire journalists every quarter, spend upwards of a quarter a million dollars a year without batting an eyelash in order to host a party that draws the stars that, in turn, draws the CEO’s and CFO’s and maybe, if they’re lucky, get a little money spent on banner ads and 60-second spots. There’s no way of knowing how much return there is on the investment. And no, you can’t blame media companies for trying to find funding- but this really has become an unseemly orgy of power, celebrity and money mongering.
Not that the celebrity portion of this is tasteful or measured in any way. For example, it was revealed this week that the White House Correspondent’s Association is threatening to sue a company over its use of the WHCA name to invite celebrities to its “gifting” suite on the night of the dinner. That’s right, a “gifting” suite. Bags of expensive swag only for the celebrities being invited by the various media companies. This is like the goodie bags they hand out at the Oscars. New this year and offered as yet another exhibit of the superficiality of this once fun and interesting event.
The point of this event used to be to give reporters an opportunity to invite their sources to a nice dinner where there would be humorous speeches by special guests as well as the President of the United States. It all changed in the 1980’s when then celebrity-of-the-moment, Fawn Hall, got an invite on the strength of being Oliver North’s secretary. Then the following year, Donna Rice of Gary Hart fame got an invite. Now, media companies shell out 1st class airfare, hotel suites and cold, hard cash to get the buzziest celebs.
So as this celebration of incestuous trough feeding continues to morph into the grotesque, with Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians supplanting the Donna Rices and Fawn Halls, let’s call this what it really is: the erection of more and more walls separating politicians, corporations, and the media from the public- the people who elect the pols, give corporations their profits and read, listen or watch the media. The little people are not welcome on this day except behind the rope lines to watch the preening on the red carpet.
The current President of the WHCA, Ed Henry of Fox News, justifies all of this decadence by pointing out that over $100,000 is raised to support needy kids hungry for scholarships. A good cause, indeed. But considering the money media companies spend to put on their parties and fly in their celebrities, really, 100K is chump change. It ought to be more like a cool million. So here’s an idea, Ed. For 100K, hold a friggin’ bake sale. Hey- it’s all about the scholarships. Right.