Press and Power: On the Media's Relationship with Washington

Monday, May 05, 2014

US President Barack Obama and comedian Joel McHale share a laugh at the 2014 White House Correspondent's Association Gala at the Washington Hilton (pool/Getty)

The annual White House Correspondents Dinner was this past weekend, and Bob Garfield, co-host of On the Media and Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and author of This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral - plus plenty of valet parking! - in America's Gilded Capital (Blue Rider Press, 2013), decided to throw a "media ethics colloquy" instead. They talk about their scheme, and the coziness between the press and government in Washington DC.


Bob Garfield and Mark Leibovich

Comments [62]

Re: All the hullabaloo about the 2014 White House Correspondents' Dinner.
According to the people and organizations who report the news : journalists as a group, are called, or considered the Fourth Estate of Government, with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd being the President, Congress, and Judicial. So what if they get together once a year, in a bipartisan fun way like this? It'd be nice if Congress and The President did it twice a year! Call me naive, but... maybe they'd all loosen up a little, an get along a bit better.

May. 06 2014 04:33 PM
Mares I from Toro

The dinner does absolutely no harm & neither does it compromise how news is reported. This issue is just a storm in a teapot - a non-issue.

May. 06 2014 08:27 AM
NYCer from NYC


I'm a daughter, not a son.

My father is SO (possibly to a fault) filled with his convictions about his position that he has never voted in a primary election because he won't register with a party. He votes in all other elections and takes the secret ballot thing very seriously- not even my mother knows who he votes for.

He always says you know you were successful with a story when you have an equal number of people responding with "you were too hard on that politician!" and "you were too easy on that politician!"

I have actually never known journalists to be in a union. Again, I'm not a journalist myself but my parents have worked for a number of major news organizations and publications and they have never been in a union. As print journalists, they are also woefully underpaid. They were able to achieve a great middle-class lifestyle (like many people their age who went to college) but I think my younger brother surpassed my mom's salary when he was only a couple years out of university.

May. 05 2014 04:04 PM
Salvatore Principato from Manhattan

I get the point about there being a conflict of interest but don't we need a little comic relief and to take at least one day off rest up for tomorrow's battle?

May. 05 2014 02:28 PM
Donald Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ


May. 05 2014 02:21 PM
meredith from nyc

to the son of a white house reporter who went to the dinners....

you say 'I don't work in politics or journalism but as the child of two career journalists, I can say with full confidence that I do think journalists can have an evening like this and still be hard-hitting, impartial, and honest.'

Full confidence? Why would I find your opinion credible, when both mom and dad were reporters? I'd like a list of the reporters who refuse to attend. Might inspire more trust. It's not lying vs truth--it's where their biases are. Most main media journalists today are well paid, have health insurance and retirement programs btw, that many citizens lack. And many of them actually belong to unions.

What I can't look at is pics of Obama's laughing so hard at the jokes--too much to stomach. But at least that's better than a pics of Bush, or other conservative president laughing.

May. 05 2014 02:00 PM
Pauline Park from Queens

Bob Garfield & Mark Leibovich have it exactly right: the annual correspondents dinner is a disgrace; the Washington press corps should not be sucking up to Obama or any other president, and doing so only compromises their ability to cover a president & his administration rigorously & objectively. Icky is right~!

May. 05 2014 01:11 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

We all saw Susan Rice on the Sunday TV shows blaming the idiotic "mohammed" video as the cause of the Benghazi attack which took the lives of the 4 Americans.

What a LIE by Susan Rice.

May. 05 2014 12:08 PM
art525 from Park Slope

MartinChuzzlewit you remarked to RUCB-

(I usually ignore you ... you comment on other posters more than you do the show and its topics... and it's rarely clever.)

Pot meet Kettle.

May. 05 2014 11:37 AM
art525 from park Slope

john for the office- I don't know if you know this and I hate to break it to you but Stephen Colbert is makig fun of the right wing. And please give me a list of all these funny right wingers? Dennis Miller? Yeah he's a laugh riot isn't he? WHo else you got? Yes you do have right wingers who are unintentionally funny. Quite a list in fact. Rush,, O"Reilly, Beck, Sarah palin, Olmert, Cruz, Michelle Bachmann, CHris Christie, ah the list goes on and on.

May. 05 2014 11:18 AM

(I usually ignore you ... you comment on other posters more than you do the show and its topics... and it's rarely clever.)

We were talking about the media's incestuous relations with the government, especially THIS president ... not the merits of Benghazi issue.

Nice try, though.
You don't get an affirmative action pass on your ad hominem posts here just because you are black. We are "off campus" here.

May. 05 2014 11:14 AM

we've got the best government that any lobby could buy,and the press does some wondrous PR at their behest.

May. 05 2014 11:11 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Dear jgarbuzz, I am a painter and I often paint night time scenes. The night sky varies with the weather just as the day sky does. Sometimes it it a deep deep dark blue that you could really interpret as black. Other nights it is a lighter (though still quite dark) blue a deep ultramarine. Some nights it might appear more electric, what I would label a thalo blue. Other nights particularly in New York it can be a soft red with a grayish tinge. Sometimes it's just gray. Everything has color jgar. Yes that color is the result of how the light refracts and how your eye percieves it but it is imposible for something to have no color. Your little scientific discourse there is an example of what is wrong with your thinking. Yes you can indulge yourself in a misplaced little pseudo intellectua exercise where you go all around Robin Hood's barn and up with a viewpoint that just doesn't hold water. If the sky looks blue we all pretty much accept the fact that the sky is blue in spite of a scientific theory that tells us that yes seeing a color means that the object has in fact reflected that color. To put it more simply if it walks like a duck.....

May. 05 2014 11:11 AM


You mean the same David Rhodes who spent 15 years at FoxNews? The same CBS exec that was in charge when 60 Minutes aired the under-researched "Benghazi Conspiracy" that got the reporter and producer canned? That David Rhodes? You are pulling at straws.

The "Benghazi was a Covered Up Terrorist Attack" conspiracy theory is pretty much out of gas. It only holds weight for low-info content voters...You know, Hannity watchers.

May. 05 2014 10:49 AM
Ed from New Jersey

We deserve a free press, not a bunch of celeberty opinion makers. It would be nice to see the press attempt to do aggressive in reporting on issues regarding both parties and truth to power. The close relationship between the press, political figures and parties that has developed recently shames the the history of fighting for a free and INDEPENDENT press and disserves the public.

May. 05 2014 10:46 AM
RJ from prospect hts

This is really a critique that has just peeked over the water from the iceberg underneath. I worked for a media critique magazine as an undergrad (unpaid) intern 35 years ago, for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 20 years ago, the Village Voice had a media critique column written with pointed humor by the late Alex Cockburn back in the 70s--this kind of critique is *not* new. It's just a relief that some of it has come into some of the media itself, with On the Media, the Public Editor at the Times (not least perhaps because of some of the scandals, i.e., Judith Miller on Iraq), among others. Sadly, with the conglomeration foretold so presciently by Ben Bagdikian, that the number of media companies would reduce to 6 or so, the increase in media criticism has not had a noteworthy impact. The plethora of Web-based options has not helped--it has exacerbated the problem, as the profit pressures have intensified.

May. 05 2014 10:32 AM

art525 from Park Slope

Look at the sky at night. What color is it?

May. 05 2014 10:29 AM
CCbloom from NY

Remember a few years ago Blitzer turned to Demi Moore and said "You're in the Situation Room" as a pretty weak joke. The Daily Show made fun of that moment.
We are living in the Reflective age for sure.

May. 05 2014 10:27 AM
Mary from upper west side

I agree that the "Multiple event" aspect of the press party is a bit much... that said, your guests seem to think we are stupid and unable to see the forest for the trees... I have to rub elbows with people I work with (who are unethical and with whom I'm not always in agreement) and not for a moment do I lose sight of this, even in a social setting. That said, the freedom granted by humor and a relaxed atmosphere goes a long way when it comes to making change....

May. 05 2014 10:25 AM
Anna from LES

It is interesting that these arguments come up in regards to President Obama (and he will get the negative connotations). I don't recall it being an issue with other presidents. Do we see a double standard?

May. 05 2014 10:25 AM

News is just entertainment. It's all show biz. These "reporters" take themselves WAY too seriously, as do many actors and other celebrities seeking the limelight.

May. 05 2014 10:24 AM
NYCer from NYC

I attended the Correspondent's Dinner several years ago. My father is a pulitzer-prize winning political journalist and he went for the 5 years that he worked as a White House correspondent. I don't work in politics or journalism but as the child of two career journalists, I can say with full confidence that I do think journalists can have an evening like this and still be hard-hitting, impartial, and honest. Is it possible that some members of the media can't do that? Yes, but unfortunately those journalists have opportunities to be "too close" to the politicians they cover every day of the year, not just at this dinner.

May. 05 2014 10:24 AM
Ron B. from Bronx, NY

What I'm missing? If there were no dinner, what would that change? All the problems would still be there just without the dinner. What's the point?

May. 05 2014 10:24 AM
Jane from Queens

I imagine that if another country had the equivalent of the White House Correspondence Dinner, it would be derided for the synergy between the government and the 4th estate.

May. 05 2014 10:24 AM
Jay F.

There's a situation in Ukraine, and in Syria, and there are hundreds of girls that have been enslaved in Nigeria, there's a question about the pipeline, China is rearing it's ugly head in the South China seas, etc. And this is what POTUS and the press spent the weekend on. No wonder we're losing credibility around the world.

May. 05 2014 10:23 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Hey jgarbuzz could you please post a photo showing your non color sky? I would love to see what that looks like. Your comment about the sky illustrates perfectly your "unique" view of the world and how you can take something that we all know is true and through some tortured logic come up with an empty view.

May. 05 2014 10:23 AM
Amy from Manhattan

"Metastasis"? I'd really like to see cancer dropped as a political metaphor. It makes it sound as though if you disagree, you're in favor of cancer.

May. 05 2014 10:23 AM

These parties stimulate the economy. Look at all the catering companies, entertainment companies, party planners, advertisers, etc. that were put to work and hired lots of help. Thanks to the supreme court, politics and media is the new jobs program.

May. 05 2014 10:23 AM

No mention of Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents Dinner performance? I can't think of a sharper critique of the cozy corruption that this event has come to embody.

May. 05 2014 10:21 AM

To Joe

I've seen every president since the end of the Truman administration and I don't recall ANY president having a warm and cozy press in their second term. All flowers wilt. I think Obama is no exception, and while he is not my favorite president I think he has a lot class, wit and intelligence and I appreciate that fact even where I disagree with some of his policies.

May. 05 2014 10:21 AM

Angry Birdshoviks.

May. 05 2014 10:17 AM

@jgarbuz It was rhetorical...point was you think the press has been TOO TOUGH on the president?

May. 05 2014 10:16 AM
john from office

This is why Air America crashed and burned. The right is funny, and makes you laugh. The left is all serious and cannot get an audience. Colbert saw this and is funny and makes a point.

Lighten up folks. Obama is great every year!

May. 05 2014 10:16 AM
Tisha from NJ

Wait, wait, wait. Did Obama actually make a "joke" about an airplane disaster? Talk about tone deaf. Icky is the word, but maybe doesn't even go far enough.

May. 05 2014 10:15 AM
Batya from Washington Heights

Who paid for Obama's jokewriters? It's distasteful and beneath the dignity of the President of the United States that he conducts himself as if the emcee at a celebrity roast. Is that what my tax money is going for? Bring on the gold-plated toilet seats.

May. 05 2014 10:15 AM
antonio from Bayside

B-O-O, H-O-O...

Come on...the only guys who really do any REAL work, are the indeviduals the media doesn't give any attention to e.g. Matt Taiibi, Jeremy Scahill....

You guys should have been going after the Bush admin for the story of the decade, Lying about WMD's...

May. 05 2014 10:15 AM
Nick from UWS

The palsy cronyism between the press and politics is disgusting. Nobody can possibly believe in the integrity of a reporter that reports critically on a politician one day and is laughing and drinking with the guy the next. The only message that gives the public is that the entire thing, press and politics, is complete bullshit and that nobody involved with any of it is worth taking seriously about anything. Who needs the lot of you.

May. 05 2014 10:13 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

I watched a lot of it after the scholarships and after the long talk by the outgoing president, ie the president and the so-called comedian. I find nothing to admire about the press OR politicians so I don't take the dinner very seriously. I cringed at much of what McHale(?) said but cringed only a couple of times at the president.
Garfield's clip was very funny.
The press, sadly, is on a par with Hollywood celebrities.
BTW, I was wearing cotton pants, a t-shirt and flip-flops.

May. 05 2014 10:13 AM

Ironic The New York Times does not go to the Annual Correspondents Dinner when they seem to be in bed with government the most. Judith Miller?

May. 05 2014 10:13 AM

My sky is colorless, neither blue, red, nor orange. Color is the result of prisms in the changing atmosphere. I try to see through them. Light is colorless; or rather all colors are contained within it.

May. 05 2014 10:12 AM
Kate from Brooklyn

Question for the guests: Do they think there's a place for the role of public humor in a democracy? I've always been struck by the scene of comedians making fun of the president in the same room--it always seems like a kind of ritual flaunting of a certain kind of freedom that I appreciate.

May. 05 2014 10:11 AM
Kate from Hamilton Heights

We liberals like to blame the Republicans for the animosity in Washington, and I agree that it's mostly their fault. However, I remember back in the 1980's, my fellow left-wing activists were always outraged about how the Republican and Democratic politicians in Washington would fight in the chambers and then go out for drinks together at night. We didn't recognize that that was an important part of having civility.

I do recognize that the press has a responsibility to be somewhat antagonistic to politicians, but this conversation smacks to me of the Puritanism which has manifested itself in our horrible politics of today- a Puritanism manifested both in this conversation and in Tea Party politics.

May. 05 2014 10:10 AM

I came across several links to clips from this event online and passed. It seemed icky indeed.

May. 05 2014 10:10 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY

Both this Washington dinner and the Inner Circle dinner here in New York claim to be raising money for charity, but appear to spend 90%+ of the revenue on entertaining the participants (press and politicians). Can one of your investigative reporters to an analysis of where the money goes?

May. 05 2014 10:10 AM
Robert from NYC

I think it goes both ways, thus my referencing to 69ing, eh.

May. 05 2014 10:10 AM
Caesar Romaine from Manhattan

The event just re-enforces the idea that it's all just a game. They're all working in collusion - it's all about ratings, and opinion polls and click through rates and advertising and elections.

Secondly NPR's Bob Garfield, the New York Times and Bloomberg News commenting/protesting "media ethics" ought to be the punch-line at next year's banquet. These three media outlets are among the most biased, un-ethical, agenda driven organizations in the country.

May. 05 2014 10:09 AM

I spent the weekend trying to avoid replays of the event and the president's "jokes". Now you're doing it. The whole thing is cringe making. Just one more sign of the contempt the 1% per centers and their acolytes have for the rest of us. I guess I can take comfort in Glenn Greenwald's not being there.

May. 05 2014 10:09 AM

@jgarbuz What color is the sky in your world?

May. 05 2014 10:09 AM
Seth Pecksniff

I'm as serious about politics as any Dickensian character, but seriously... LIGHTEN UP!

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. They can all get back to work today. I mean, come on, give 'em all a night to be stupid.

May. 05 2014 10:09 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

Word of the day: obsequious

May. 05 2014 10:08 AM

Your pompous, self-righteous liberal guests are showing themselves to be shallow, thin-skinned, and frankly humorless poor sports.

May. 05 2014 10:08 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Let's not get our panties in a twist here. The press has plenty to answer for without suddenly acting like they are somehow too pure to fraternize with the President and the Washington players. I think it's refreshing that everyone can get together and tease and mock one another. It's one night for heaven's sake.

May. 05 2014 10:08 AM
Robert from NYC

And Chuzzlewit it's not only dems who do this it's your loving repubs as well. They both suck, as it were.

May. 05 2014 10:07 AM

wow this guy actually said this is the most opaque administration. Is this WNYC?

May. 05 2014 10:06 AM
Robert from NYC

I am in total agreement with Bob Garfield on this one, the correspondent's dinner should be discontinued. it's literally disgusting to see the Chris Matthews and Blitzers grovelling in the "love" of the administration and sucking up just to get a story and a bad story at that. This takes 69ing to the ultimate point gratification and leaves us with loads of disinformation!
Even Rachel Maddow invited us to watch the dinner on MSNBC. How disgusting was that, Rachel!

May. 05 2014 10:06 AM
Michael from Manhattan

I'm not a Puritan or anything, but I thought it was appalling that President Obama used the phrase "pissed off" in his speech. That was just a bit crass. Why hasn't anybody noted that?

May. 05 2014 10:05 AM

I think there is nothing wrong with the president having a chance to poke fun at the press for a change once a year. Who elected or anointed them? If they don't go to the dinner it means they are COWARDS who can dish it out but can't take it.

May. 05 2014 10:03 AM

Familiarity breeds contempt.

May. 05 2014 10:01 AM

The Fourth Estate has to be independent and probing, but it should also have to tell the truth, and if it does not there is no reason why the president shouldn't point out lies or omissions. But the president can't demand that the press give coverage to whatever he does or to ask them to agree with him. Obama is not Putin.

May. 05 2014 09:59 AM
Carol from west village

Republican politicians won't be seen hugging the President, even members of his own party won't be seen campaigning with him for fear of guilt by association with the object of derision. Should the press take an equally hard line— no fraternization with the enemy. It makes me sad to think that members of the press can't be trusted to be true to their values while also socializing, laughing and poking fun at each other once in a while. Can you imagine Putin speaking at such a dinner?

May. 05 2014 09:51 AM
Joe from across the Hudson River

It's a TWO-party problem that has gotten worse over the last 20 years (who can forget 2002-2004, for instance).

The free press is becoming an endangered species.

May. 05 2014 09:00 AM

Please talk about Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication for Barack Obama, who wrote the infamous email that was finally surrendered only after a court order. (And his wife, Ann Norris, is chief foreign policy adviser to Senator Barbara Boxer.)

IMPORTANTLY - his brother, David Rhodes, is president of CBS News.
The Media Research Center is now claiming that CBS News virtually ignored the whole exposure as the MRC tracked the coverage. Whatever you think of Benghazi … this coziness “ain’t good” for a supposedly transparent democracy.

The inside-the-beltway liberal, elite, heavily Democrat nomenklatura is spinning much of the public's idea of government and the issues without any disclosure of conficts of interest.

May. 05 2014 08:43 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.