Every spring about this time the nation is treated to full-length coverage of our democracy’s Fourth Estate tuxedo-ing, drinking, dining, joking, and applauding themselves into smarmy servitude with the really important people in our nation’s capital, along with the assorted celebrities who grant their presence to select tables.
You expect such self-congratulations from the Oscars — where actors get paid to wear borrowed gowns for a parade down the Red Carpet to answer insipid questions from fawning people who got to dress-up too. It is, after all, show business, emphasis on the word business.
But journalists are — or were — supposed to be watchdogs. Don’t laugh. It’s true.
Way back in the last century, about which I know a fair amount, journalists needed to know VIP’s in Washington. They needed to be trusted with information, with home phone numbers, with political or policy secrets, and with reporting down the middle. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means. They got played at times. Journalism as a profession contained liars and cheaters and quote-fudgers. Like politicians. As I recall Joe Biden got in trouble for stealing someone else’s speeches.
So, journalists knew the political players. They schmoozed quietly at times. But banquet buddies? Golf partners? There was supposed to be some distance between the political actors and those granted access to the arena to report on the day’s doings to the waiting masses.
Walter Cronkite would end his CBS report each night, “And that’s the way it is.” And that’s the way it was.
But along the way too many D.C. journalists got sucked into the VIP-ness of working so close to power. Indeed, the Obama administration’s tractor-beam for liberals has pulled many of them into the mother ship as spokespeople, while others get paid big bucks for speaking to lobbyist groups they’re supposed to be watching. Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speech fees, in a similar way, were ultimately intended to buy favors. Only much smaller.
To be fair, not all Washington journalists fall prey. A fair number refuse to attend, like Tom Brokaw.
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is always described as a “charity” event with proceeds going to deserving needy folks. Did you notice any being wheeled down the Red Carpet Saturday or mingled among the dining crowd dying to hear the president’s ghost-written jokes?
What we did see was a lot of pals back-slapping, hand-shaking, laughing and even some frowning if a punchline hit a little too close to the ego. When the invited roaster mentioned some CNN journalists were present — and also Don Lemon, Lemon displayed his class for the national TV audience by holding high a middle finger.
And that’s the way it is — now.