The Real Problem With the White House Correspondents' Dinner

The reporters hosting and attending this event are better than this.

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Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner
Kim Kardashian and her mother Kris Jenner attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

An alleged government takeover of healthcare is nothing compared to the Hollywood takeover of Washington—or at least, of the Washington press corps.

I'm referring, of course, to the White House Correspondents Association dinner, which used to be a fun and elegant evening during which journalists and their sources shared a meal and behaved like actual human beings instead of adversaries. But with each passing year, the dinner is starting to look more like an after party at the Oscars. And what's worse, the reporters hosting the event end up in supporting roles as groupies, degrading both themselves and the profession.

[Washington Whispers: Obama Admits at White House Correspondents' Dinner that This Year's Election Has Gone to the Dogs]

I don't have a problem with fancy dinners (having been to perhaps a dozen of the correspondents' dinners, the first eight of which were actually worth attending), and I absolutely don't have a problem with reporters sitting down to dinner with elected officials and staff. I'm a member of the Gridiron, which holds a far more exclusive and arguably snootier dinner each year. But the attendants are actually Washington figures, not reality TV stars who have nothing to do with public policy and may or may not know the name of a single member of the cabinet. Contrary to the opinion of Internet malcontents, there is not too much coziness in Washington. There isn't enough. The constant state of mutual hostility and competitiveness hasn't made for a more accountable and honest Washington. It's merely added to the dysfunction by making it harder for people to interact as actual people, instead of vessels for bumper stickers.

But Kim Kardashian? Really? When did the correspondents' dinner turn into a pathetic display of accomplished, smart professional journalists competing not for a story, but for who got the most famous Hollywood celebrity to sit at their tables?

[See a slide show of 10 celebrities who give big to Democrats.]

Now, there are people in the film industry with a legitimate connection to politics and government. There are those who take on a cause (and really work it), testifying before Congress and volunteering. There are those like George Clooney, who is not only involved in public policy issues, but has made a couple of very perceptive and smart films about Washington and journalism (The Ides of March was particularly good and underrated). So he makes sense as a guest, even if the real reason he was invited was because of his glamour quotient.

But what was Lindsay Lohan doing at the dinner? Convicted former Reps. Jim Traficant and Duke Cunningham aren't invited. So why have some actress at the dinner who has been forced to wear an electronic monitoring device around her ankle?

[See a slide show of 10 celebrities who give big to Republicans.]

Hollywood types seem eager to come to this dinner, and there are a couple of reasons why. First, actors like to acquire a seriousness to their brands, and coming to the capital of seriousness (and self-importance) can help. And maybe there's some residual annoyance that President Obama has not been Host in Chief to the glitzy crowd. He'll go to Los Angeles and take their campaign contributions, but he doesn't tend to invite them to the house for sleepovers.

The tragedy of it all is that the reporters hosting and attending this event are better than this. They work hard, they investigate wrongdoing, they ask tough questions, and they go to war zones to report. They don't need a reality TV star at their dinner table to be relevant. And the more they play into that trend, the less relevant serious journalism will be.

  • See a slide show of celebrities who have testified to Congress.
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