It’s soul-searching time for the Washington, DC press corps and national political media. After a White House Correspondents Awards dinner that some felt veered too close to becoming an East Coast Oscars instead of a scholarship banquet, a panel of journalists confronted some hard questions on today’s Face The Nation on CBS.
Host Margaret Brennan was joined by David Nakamura, White House beat writer for the Washington Post; Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief at USA Today; Jamelle Bouie, the chief political correspondent at Slate and a CBS News political analyst; and Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor at the National Review and the author of Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Nationalism, Populism and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy.
While some of the journalists at the table fumbled with the concept that comedian Michelle Wolf wasn’t funny and substituted rhetoric for humor, others were blunt. Nakamura said, “it was awkward.”
“I think the focus the journalists, including myself, is that this is supposed to be a celebration certainly of the work that’s done,” said Nakamura. “There are student scholarships. It’s something that, you know, we’re talking about the First Amendment and that’s what is to be celebrated. Sometimes I think these things can go over and sort of overshadow that.”
The television pictures showing President Donald Trump at a Michigan rally asking why he would want to be in a room full of people that hate him and Wolf’s diatribes may have reinforced the narrative that elite journalists are out of touch.
“I think any time you can have a spit screen and you have the president attacking the press and next to it you can have a journalist dinner with a comedian attacking the president in the very critical way the comedian did last night, that is re-enforcing a narrative that is not helpful to us,” said Page, who former head of the White House Correspondents Association.
“We’ve had awkward dinners before, no question. But this is a different time. This is a time when this week a poll came out, done by Quinnipiac, that showed a majority of Republicans say the press is an enemy of the American people, not a defender of democracy. And that is an impression that we need to do everything we can to shows that that is not true and that is not the case and that we’re motivated not by partisanship but by a search for the truth.”
Goldberg took the entire concept of the dinner to task. “I’m not a huge fan of the Correspondents Dinner,” he said, adding, “Once it started becoming sort of like an East Coast version of the Oscars, with the red carpets and what are you wearing and all of that kind of stuff, I think the Washington press corps kind of lost track of itself.”
He concluded: “The institutional narcissism that was on display last night from the Correspondents Dinner I think was a gift to President Trump. The crudeness towards Sarah Huckabee Sanders was a gift to the White House. It lets them double down on their, either elites are persecuting us story line. And it was, I think, it was a really bad note for the Washington press corps.”
Bouie defended the night, noting that President Trump has himself insulted private citizens in a vulgar way and that distrust of the press isn’t something that happened overnight.
“This is a long-term problem. It is a function both of mistakes made by the press corps and of an active campaign of de-legitimization against the press. And so to think that something like this dinner encapsulates or represents the problem, I don’t think is quite true. I agree with Jonah’s criticisms of straight up the spectacle of it all, but this problem of press legitimacy goes back a long time and I think we should be careful not to think of it solely in terms of events like this.”