April 24, 2015

Dear God, I despise this self-congratulatory annual ritual for a Washington press corps that so very rarely does its job. Television has really skewed the equation, because some print reporters are too busy hustling for those lucrative cable gigs to give much thought to the fate of actual human beings affected by the policies they ignore in favor of inside baseball: They're lemmings who turn in unison toward the latest bright, shiny object and have all the reasoning ability of a precocious twelve-year-old (although I might be insulting twelve-year-olds).

Other than that, gee, I hope they all have a really good time dressing up, sucking up and hanging out with second-tier celebrities at Nerd Prom:

For decades, the nation's chief executives have headlined the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, delivering monologues to mock political opponents, inquiring journalists — and themselves.

"It's an opportunity for the public to see a president in a different light," said Landon Parvin, who helped presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush with their dinner routines. "I think that's the allure of the evening."

President Obama performs again Saturday night, the seventh straight year he has done the correspondents dinner.

The best way for presidents to get good reviews: self-deprecation. Obama and his predecessors often go after critics at these dinners, but making fun of themselves often salves the sting.

Take Obama's ex-smoking habit, for example. At last year's dinner, the president joked that "a lot of us really are concerned about the way big money is influencing our politics ... I remember when a super PAC was just me buying Marlboro 100s instead of regulars."

During the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan often trotted out an old topic: his advanced age.

"Mike Deaver, in his book, said that I had a short attention span," the nation's oldest president said during his last dinner in 1988. "Well, I was going to reply to that, but ... oh, what the hell, let's move on to something else."

Reporters formed the White House Correspondents' Association in 1914 in order to present a united front in dealing with presidential teams about coverage issues, a job it still does today. The association held its first dinner in 1921, and every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended at least one soiree.

Did you know the evening is supposed to raise money for journalism scholarships? Not so much:

When the White House Correspondents’ Association teamed up with the History Channel in 2014 to make a short video about the Association’s history, this is how they described their own dinner: “The first and foremost mission of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is to promote journalism education through the scholarship fund.”
Those are their words.

So why, then, does the Association only dole out around $100,000 in scholarships annually when some of the richest people in the world are at their dinner? (See: Rupert Murdoch, George Lucas, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, Steve Case, Sheila Johnson, Ryan Seacrest.)

Let’s not forget that this is a town known for its fundraising prowess. If you think those folks won’t cut some serious checks for the scholarship program as the president of the United States and other notables look on and applaud you, then you don’t know how fundraising works.

[...] I don’t think anyone involved with the WHCA intentionally misbehaves, but since they’re now a $500,000-a-year non-profit (not exactly chump change), it’s time for them to act like it. I asked Ken Berger, the CEO of the non-profit watchdog Charity Navigator, to review the Association’s finances for the first time. He came back with a tough rebuke of how the Association does business. His criticisms include the fact that there are no independent audits done, nor is there an audit committee. There are no conflict of interest policies in place. Most disturbing is the fact that almost half of the Association’s annual outlays go to its executive director, a ratio that Berger called disturbing. In many years, the executive director gets paid more than gets doled out in scholarships.

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