By now, most everyone watched the entire televised Washington D.C. Capital Correspondent’s dinner Saturday, sat through some of the grotesque outtakes or read the disastrous - and deserved - criticism.
I’m a former card-carrying member of that organization and have attended a couple of the soirees. As such, I’m embarrassed and deeply ashamed of what that formerly worthy and hugely entertaining event has become.
The evening had honorable roots. There were several reasons for its original purpose. The most important was to celebrate raising funds for journalism scholarships. Recipients were - and are - journalists in the field wanting to continue their educations. Some media folks you respect and enjoy may have had their careers advanced by the Correspondent’s Association.
The second reason was to see some excellent entertainers of the time - in my case, 1970-71. One year, it was Pearl Bailey who charmed everyone in the sizable Shoreham Hotel Ballroom. The next year it was George Carlin, the hippy-dippy weatherman and just plain comedic genius. Each year, most of the program was just that - entertainment.
Thirdly, it was a private time for D.C. politicians and the media members who covered them to have some off-the-record relaxation and fun, taking a few jabs at each other. Nothing was televised. Spouses weren’t generally invited if they weren’t in the media business. It was a white tie affair. If you wanted, you could bring one friend. Period.
There was a lot of joking among participants which usually included the sitting President of the time. Though I had no use for Richard Nixon, twice I watched him sit on the dias taking “hits” from media people. Not professional comics. It was all journalists, writers and producers active in day-to-day news work.
In each case, Nixon got up and gave as good as he got. It was funny stuff. Both ways. The “humor” got a little close for comfort sometimes. For both the media and the politicians. Alcohol consumed in liberal quantities can do that. But it wasn’t the cutting, mean-spirited, foul-mouthed crap the nation witnessed Saturday last.
Fnally, the whole evening was the best damned job-hunting experience a young reporter could ever have. As I said, white tie. So, there we were, in our rented tuxes, pockets filled with folded resumes as we spent hours before and after the main event going from one hospitality suite to the next. All the networks sponsored one. Tidbits of food and lots of free booze.
But, it was also a place to find people like Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Harry Smith and many more. Their producers and directors were also noshing and imbibing. Nothing like rubbing shoulders with the top of your profession while trying to get some of those resumes in the right hands. Someone like a Don Hewitt from “Sixty Minutes.” Some of the people you see and hear now may have gotten their “big break” at a Correspondent’s Dinner.
No longer. It’s become a “meat market” appearance for “celebrities” and wannabe’s trying to get noticed. It’s an embarrassing experience for truly professional people. Even some who may have been ordered to attend by their employers to “carry the corporate flag.”
What used to be an evening of good natured humor between professionals has given way to belligerent, foul mouthed , non-media “comedians” throwing piles of crap both ways. It’s no longer the “Correspondent’s Dinner.” It’s now a junior varsity Emmy or Oscar publicity event drawing hundreds of people who aren’t media “professionals.” A lot of ‘em couldn’t write a “help wanted” ad much less a cohesive news story.
There were scholarships presented this year. Several of ‘em. There were respected members of both politics and mass media in attendance. There was good fellowship and conviviality enjoyed by many.
But, what the public saw Saturday night was a verbal dung heap, passed off as televised “entertainment” with none of the original class and good natured humor.
I sincerely hope the Correspondent’s Board takes quick action to get the cameras and microphones out, send the hangers-on back to the streets and return what used to be a very honorable and rewarding evening, back to the professionals.