Annual press dinner gives media a chance at enjoying last laugh

I am in a deep funk.

Once again, my request to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner held recently was rejected by my editors.

The Detroit News hired me as a general assignment reporter on June 6, 1960, and I have been rejected since June 6, 1960 by the various editors at papers I have worked for over the years.

To soothe my hurt feelings, I went to have my annual dinner at Leo’s Coney Island. I walked in front of the restaurant pretending I was on a red carpet.  Periodically, I asked customers to take a selfie with me.

Some called the cops, but they know the drill and don’t come out anymore on the night of the dinner.

Inside I commended customers on their clothes, and I praised the chef for the beans in my chili which, I am confident, came from some exotic country while WHCA guests enjoyed “seared petit filet mignon.” Leo’s doesn’t serve that; I asked.

The New York Times, devoted to “All the News That’s Fit to Print, published three stories of the event at the Washington Hilton at which a president, this time Joe Biden, is the principal speaker.  His responsibility is to skewer the press and try to get even for all the nasty stories they write about him.

The attendees howl good-naturally, knowing full well they will have a very good and last laugh the next day when they get back to work.

I learned that Lester Holt, NBC News anchor, sat next to Jeffrey D. Zients, White House chief of staff, who spoke to the famous Rev. Al Sharpton.

Who would not want to witness that.

I am sure that I would have been included in one of the stories, even if Holt confessed to guests that he shook hands with someone whom he had absolutely no idea who he was.

While most of the men wore tuxedos, Senator John Fetterman, of Pennsylvania, wore a white-hooded sweatshirt. Hey, I can promise the powers-to-be, I would even wash my sweatshirt -- very reluctantly -- if my editors let me attend.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the Times reported, wore a “high-necked sequin column faded into transparency at the shoulders.” While I have no idea what that meant, I did a Google search but could not find a photo of her wearing that thingamajig.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre “plunging look was covered in a scrim of tulle” -- another thingamajig. There were thingamajigs all over the place, according reporters covering fashion.

This dinner has been held since 1920, but women were not permitted to attend until about 50 years ago.  JFK refused to attend until the ban on women was lifted and everyone thought he objected because of the discrimination.

Donald Trump boycotted the dinner during his four years as president, but he had a spokesperson read the following statement each year. “I did not do anything wrong.” It always got the biggest laugh of the night.

We had a similar dinner, called the “Steakout” in Detroit sponsored by the defunct Detroit Press Club, but it died about 30 years ago or so.  

Instead of the president, the governor and Detroit mayor would deliver their humorous monologues.

I attended some of these but was always undecided whether I should wear a name tag. That would imply that I realized people would not know who I was.  Self-realization can be damaging to the psyche.  

Thus, I went without one, and settled for handshakes with people who told me, “It’s nice to see you again,” but never included my name. Then I heard them whisper to companions as they walked away, “Who the hell was that?”

Incidentally, the price per ticket to the WHCA dinner was $375 or roughly 57.69 bowls of chili -- that’s plain chili, no meat.” *

Attendance at the WHCA dinner now is open to not just journalists, but also famous people from Hollywood, sports, etc. I fail to qualify for any of the other categories as well.

People Magazine, which described the dinner as the “most star-studded event in political journal-ism,” listed some of the “big names” attending the dinner. More thingamabodies; I did not recognize one of them.

And like at the Academy Awards, there are parties everywhere in the D.C. area over four days, be-fore and after the dinner. I confess: I have thought of crashing one or two of them.

Finally, People Magazine discovered that very few, if any, of the non-journalist guests could name one White House correspondent. Maybe they were crashing the party.

The magazine also reported this is all designed to celebrate the First Amendment right to a free press. To prove your commitment to an unfettered press you had to attend at least three parties.  

Perhaps, some actors thought the First Amendment was the contract clause that defined the per-centage their agents receive for landing a role.

Regrettably, the Founding Fathers who drafted the First Amendment put no constitutional limits on narcissism, conceit, vanity, or self-importance.

So, tell me, is there a better way to celebrate the constitutional protection of the press?

*(Funds raised are used to finance educational projects and scholarships.)

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available