Touted as a platform for scholarships and honoring the hardworking press, the White House Correspondents' Dinner is also a celebrity spectacle and an opportunity for journalists to rub elbows with the very people they're meant to dispassionately cover. A week before the 2015 Dinner, Bob revisits his critical take on last year's gala.
And watch what happens when Bob tries to host a media ethics colloquy at the same time as the White House Correspondents' Dinner:
BOB: Now, as previously alluded to, Gavin is by no means the first to raise his eyebrows about the vulgarity and hypocrisy of the Correspondents Dinner. In fact, last year OTM itself dispatched its Senior Surrendering all Dignity Correspondent to Washington to report from the front lines -- just behind the E! Entertainment television camera emplacement.
BARACK OBAMA: These days, House Republicans are giving John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black. [LAUGHTER]
BOB GARFIELD: That was Barack Obama on Saturday, 10 minutes into his monologue at the White House Correspondence Dinner, ridiculing the perma-tan of his political nemesis. It was an almost perfect joke. Just like the White House Correspondents Dinner itself. Almost everything you need to know about the Correspondents Dinner is that there is a red carpet.
PRESS CORPS: Fox! Fox! greta. Greta!
BOB GARFIELD: That hollering is the working press, cordoned behind retractable belt barriers, here vying for the attention of - I swear to God - Greta van Susteren. Oh, yeah. I was penned in there, too - you know, journalizing, just like my colleagues.
BOB GARFIELD: Hi, I’m Bob Garfield from on the media. What story you chasing tonight?
REPORTER: Oh, we’re just talking to celebs. Seeing why they’re here. Just chattin’.
BOB GARFIELD: What news organization are you with?
REPORTER: USA Today.
BOB GARFIELD: What are you here after today?
REPORTER2: Fun moments on the red carpet, trying to mix the fun of the politicians with the crazy of the celebrities.
BOB GARFIELD: Who are you?
REPORTER2: I’m with ABC.
BOB GARFIELD: On The Media is hosting a media ethics colloquy at 7 tonight, you guys interested?
REPORTER2: Well right now I’m zipping back. I’m only here for part time. I’m handing this off, so-
BOB GARFIELD: More on the media ethics thing in a minute, but I will say that he red carpet delivered these folks their stars. CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux chatted up Scandal’s Scott Foley.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX: It is so incredible because nobody thought the White House administration could be that scandalous or that sexy.
SCOTT FOLEY: Wow, that scandalous or sexy.
BOB GARFIELD: Someone snagged one of the Duck Dynasty guys-
WILLIE ROBERTSON: I’m just looking around. I’m staring at everybody around me.
BOB GARFIELD: And check out Uzo Adubo of Orange is the New Black
CARLY MALLENBAUM: Is there anyone here that you’re trying to casually stand next to and talk to?
UZO ADUBO: I’m trying to casually stand next to Kevin Hart. I also would like to very casually and or aggressively be next to Wolf Blizter of CNN.
BOB GARFIELD: I know, right?
BOB GARFIELD: You look lovely as always Wolf. Who are you wearing?
WOLF BLITZER: Armani.
BOB GARFIELD: Well done. What story are you chasing tonight?
WOLF BLITZER: I’m not chasing anything. We’re here to have fun.
BOB GARFIELD: Correct. CNN hosted New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Texas governor Rick Perry, a White House special assistant and a couple members of Congress. CBS had HUD secretary Shaun Donovan. The Washington Post had transportation’s Anthony Foxx. Yahoo News had Attorney General Eric Holder. ABC had Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose department routinely ignores press questions about detaining and abusing American citizens at the border and lethal force against unarmed suspects. But Johnson and the others sat in their tuxedos, offering nothing more to their news-organization hosts than the basket of dinner rolls, in no jeopardy whatsoever of journalism breaking out. In the week leading up to the event I asked Steve Thomma, president of the Correspondents Association, about the propriety of cozying up to the very officials his membership is supposed to be watchdogging.
STEVE THOMMA: Every reporter in this town who covers a beat, we all take people out to lunch or dinner. Either cause we're already talking to them every day or we're hoping they'll return our calls and talk every day, and I just don’t have a problem with it. It’s up to every journalist what they do with their source. We're just not gonna get involved in that relationship.
BOB GARFIELD: Abusive though it may be. This is an administration that has systematically stiffed the press corps for 6 years. Access is so bad the press usually can’t even take photos at photo-ops. Saturday’s dinner, putting reporters face to face with Obama for five solid hours, was by far its longest presidential encounter of the year - yet, of course, not one question about Ukraine, immigration, the Keystone XL Pipeline, the budget, the NSA, the climate, the Mideast peace process or anything else. As for everyday opportunities to see the president, Thomma assured me that objections of the correspondents association and its allies have been duly registered at the White House.
STEVE THOMMA: And we believe we have made some progress. Particularly for the cameras, for photo journalists, we think that we are getting them in more often than we used to.
BOB GARFIELD: A lot of progress?
STEVE THOMMA: Some progress.
BOB GARFIELD: Significant progress?
STEVE THOMMA: We'll get to significant progress.
BOB GARFIELD: In the Hilton Grand Ballroom, the sound of shoulders rubbing. Up on the second floor was the sound of crickets chirping. As dinner convened downstairs, On the Media did indeed host an ethics colloquy that we named, “Red Carpets and Red Flags,” featuring American University journalism professor Patricia Aufderheide, Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg News, my fixer, Mark Leibovich of the New York Times Magazine and me. Refreshments were served… to us. Because nobody else showed up.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: So you think people are going to come? Where did you put the poster?
BOB GARFIELD: I think we can call it. I just, it’s 7:25.
MARK LEIBOVICH: This thing has been a complete flop. It’s a little bit demoralizing.
PATRICIA AUFDERHEIDE: It’s been great guys
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah.... wanna take some doughnuts with you?
I actually took them back with me. Back beyond the beltway, where this expedition started. Although, truth be told, after seeing the workings of media and official Washington first hand, I’d pretty much lost my appetite.
BOB: That’s it for this week’s show. On The Media is produced by Meara Sharma, Kimmie Regler, Alana Casanova-Burgess, Kasia Mihaylovic, and Jesse Brenneman.We had more help from Jenna Kagel. And our show was edited by…Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Greg Rippin.
BROOKE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for news. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.