U.S. Markets open in 5 hrs 26 mins

The cluelessness of the correspondents' dinner

Matt Bai
National Political Columnist
Comedian Michelle Wolf entertains guests at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 28. (Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I didn’t go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last weekend, or for the last couple of years. Truth be told, I’ve always found both the dinner and its attendant parties, with all that self-conscious clubbiness, to be an almost unbearable ordeal.

I kind of thought this is why people got into journalism in the first place — because we’re temperamental outsiders who recoil at the presumption of group identities and mass conformity, which is what makes us painfully awkward guests at company retreats and family weddings. I guess that’s just me.

Also, let me tell you, the food at this thing is God-awful, and unless your news organization has managed to score a prime table near the dais, it’s a little like watching Coldplay from the upper deck of MetLife Stadium, minus the coolness.

All of which is to say that, like many of you, I was left to read the summaries of the comedian Michelle Wolf’s burn-it-all-down monologue, and to follow all the self-righteous back-and-forth on social media over the propriety of a black-tie dinner to celebrate the achievements of an industry that can barely afford paper clips.

A lot of my colleagues were appalled at Wolf’s insults and think the dinner should be amended to become even duller, if such a thing is actually possible. Others consider the whole uproar to be a gross distraction from What Really Matters.

“The president of the United States is committed to undoing journalism,” wrote the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, a media blogger read mostly by others in the media, “and the country’s top journalists are debating a dinner format.”

Well, yes, although I’d argue that the two things aren’t actually disconnected at all. In fact, one has everything to do with the other.

Because what all the perennial preening at the correspondents’ dinner makes clear is that we still don’t understand our own singular role in creating the mean-spirited Trump presidency, and in keeping it afloat.

Before I elaborate, let me say that I find the whole Wolf controversy itself to be a little un-self-aware. I didn’t like Wolf’s baser, personal jokes, and I wouldn’t be proud to have delivered them. Humiliating people on a public stage isn’t the highest form of art.

But you know, this is a dinner that’s supposedly staged to celebrate our commitment to free speech, and you can’t really hold a dinner like that and then turn around and whine about the way free speech was exercised. This is pretty much the main reason the First Amendment exists — to ensure people the right to say things that offend and discomfort the powerful.

And before anyone injures their back bowing down to the poor, aggrieved White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, let’s just remember that she spends her days shilling for a man who has cruelly mocked the disabled, torn into women for their looks and publicly mused on his own daughter’s sex appeal. So maybe this isn’t where you want to get all preachy about good taste and compassion.

Also, if you want to talk about hypocrisy, let’s talk about conservative critics like Matt and Mercedes Schlapp, the lobbyist and White House aide whom the New York Times calls the “it couple” of the Trump revolution, who apparently stormed out of the dinner in a public show of disgust for the media elite, and then tweeted about it from the back of their stretch limo, which whisked them to — get this — the NBC/MSNBC after-party, and then home to their new $3 million place in Alexandria, not to be confused with their weekend retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Fight the power! Viva las Schlappanistas!

Still, it’s not the people who work for Trump or profit off him whom we should be worrying about here. It’s the people who support him, or who are at least willing to defend his antics — in no small part because we’re the ones who find the routine so discomfiting.

Trump’s victory in 2016 brought forth an outpouring of self-flagellation and banal reflection from people in my industry. We’d lost touch with the country, is what dozens of Washington journalists said and wrote. We didn’t know how angry all those white voters were. We didn’t know how anxious they felt about the future, how desperate they were to overturn the order.

Never have so many keyboards been worn out in the service of such nonsense. Of course we knew. No one travels the country as widely or talks to as many voters as a campaign reporter. Some of us had been writing for years, even decades, about the growing alienation of less affluent white voters. Literally thousands of stories had been devoted to the subject.

But that facile explanation — this idea that we just didn’t know the depth of the rage out there — enabled us to sidestep the harder reality, which is that a lot of that rage was directed squarely at us.

For 20-plus years now, a lot of Americans have been taking in the smugness on cable TV and watching journalists chase their own brand of celebrity, and they’ve decided that the political press corps is a pretty good stand-in for everything that’s wrong in a country where a small, educated stratum of the society reaps all the economic benefit and shapes all the public opinion.

Then, as now, the polling on Trump tells a fascinating story. A lot of people who say they support the president don’t especially like him, or admire his behavior, or agree with him on issues. But as long as every dumb thing he says makes us (and urban Democrats) jump up and down and rend our clothes and scream about the death of fact and the end of civilized society, they’re willing to overlook all that for a while.

I hear from readers all the time who say some version of this: Trump may not be great at governing, but if he’s making you feel less relevant and less powerful, then at least something’s going right.  A sizable bloc of voters reviles the political establishment, and no embodiment of that establishment looms larger on their screens than we do.

So the main problem with the White House Correspondents’ Dinner isn’t the glut of almost recognizable movie stars, or the ugly brand of partisan humor, or the ill-fitting tuxedos and carbon-fiber filet mignon. The problem is the showy display of vanity, pretension and tribalism that reinforces the worst idea of what political journalism is all about.

For 364 days a year, a lot of my colleagues do work that defies Trump’s phony outrage and disproves his cliché of a lazy, elitist, attention-craved media. And then, for one stupid night, we go out of our way to prove him right.

How about this? Next year, if you want to honor the scholarship winners who are supposedly at the center of this event, then hold smaller events in each of their communities instead. Set out to change perceptions, instead of mindlessly reinforcing them.

C-SPAN won’t cover that, I suppose, and the “it couple” won’t make an appearance in their limo, either.

I’m pretty sure journalism can endure.

  • No One is More Excited About Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Than This Animal

    No One is More Excited About Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Than This Animal

    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, more formally known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are touring Australia and while most of the locals are very excited to meet them, none were quite as overwhelmed as one little fella they met at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. At the Zoo, the royal couple met koalas, including a set of baby koalas (or joeys) called Harry and Meghan, according to Australian outlet Now To Love, and a short-legged echidna named Lynx. Prince Harry, who has met echidnas before, was curious as to why the prickly Australian native was drooling.

  • 7 Stocks to Buy and Hold Through Any Market Selloff

    7 Stocks to Buy and Hold Through Any Market Selloff

    Last week’s market collapse made headlines throughout the world. Since the sharp correction has negatively impacted virtually all investment sectors, you’re going to find discounted deals everywhere you look.

  • Is Costco Stock a Buy or a Sell After Earnings and Sales Results?
    Motley Fool

    Is Costco Stock a Buy or a Sell After Earnings and Sales Results?

    Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST) is one of the true survivors of the so-called "retail apocalypse." It hasn't just scraped by, but has continued to grow at an admirable rate. As a result, Costco stock has roughly doubled over the past five years, easily outpacing the S&P 500. The warehouse club giant reported its earnings for the fourth quarter of its 2018 fiscal year in the first week of October and released a sales update for September -- the first month of fiscal 2019 -- last week.

  • Boeing delivers first 737 Max 8 BBJ and unveils Max 7 luxury interior (Photos)
    American City Business Journals

    Boeing delivers first 737 Max 8 BBJ and unveils Max 7 luxury interior (Photos)

    Boeing has delivered its very first 737 Max 8 business jet to a paying customer. It's the first of 20 BBJ Max jets that buyers from around the world have ordered from the Chicago-based jetmaker since they went on sale. Boeing spokesman Dmitry Krol declined to identify the buyer of the jet, which is the second of its kind made at Boeing's Renton 737 factory.

  • Here's the Average Social Security Benefit for 2019
    Motley Fool

    Here's the Average Social Security Benefit for 2019

    Millions of seniors collect Social Security, and without it, they'd be underwater on their bills. At present, the average retiree gets $1,422 a month in Social Security benefits. There's a world of misinformation surrounding Social Security, and perhaps one of the most detrimental myths out there is the notion that the program is enough to sustain seniors by itself.

  • Marijuana Stocks to Watch in October -- and Into 2019
    Motley Fool

    Marijuana Stocks to Watch in October -- and Into 2019

    Tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 17, Canada will become the first industrialized county in the world where marijuana is legal for adult recreational use -- and only the second country, along with Uruguay, where such use is legal.  Not only does this open up

  • Business

    Cramer reveals 5 health-care stocks he likes right now, including UnitedHealth and HCA

    CNBC's Jim Cramer continues his stock-picking "power rankings" with the health-care sector. The "Mad Money" host's top picks include a hospital operator, an animal health play and a medical robot maker.

  • General Electric (GE) Stock Sinks As Market Gains: What You Should Know

    General Electric (GE) Stock Sinks As Market Gains: What You Should Know

    With this in mind, we can consider positive estimate revisions a sign of optimism about the company's business outlook. Investors can capitalize on this by using the Zacks Rank. This model considers these estimate changes and provides a simple, actionable rating system.

  • Many U.S. mall owners say good riddance to Sears

    Many U.S. mall owners say good riddance to Sears

    The real estate investment trusts that own the malls and shopping centers where many Sears stores are anchor tenants have waited years for the retailer's demise to renovate the sites and boost rent, although redevelopment costs may strain some plans. Most large U.S. malls are controlled by REITs. In recent years, the REITs have cut their exposure to Sears Holdings Corp, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday.

  • Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed during interrogation: report
    Fox Business Videos

    Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed during interrogation: report

    Fox Business foreign policy analyst Walid Phares on the report that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was accidentally killed.

  • Piers Morgan Mocked Daniel Craig For the Way He Carries His Child and Dads Are Clapping Back

    Piers Morgan Mocked Daniel Craig For the Way He Carries His Child and Dads Are Clapping Back

    Piers Morgan the British TV personality, saw a photo of Daniel Craig carrying his infant daughter—and decided to mock him. His tweet featured a photo of the James Bond star carrying his baby in a baby carrier and included the hashtag #emasculatedBond

  • Where Will NVIDIA Be in 5 Years?
    Motley Fool

    Where Will NVIDIA Be in 5 Years?

    At one time, NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) floated under the radar in the technology sector. Its graphics processing units (GPUs) were then niche tech products that appealed mainly to graphic artists and hardcore PC gamers, but that all changed over the last

  • Cramer: 'Cannabis might be the most disruptive force sinc...
    CNBC Videos

    Cramer: 'Cannabis might be the most disruptive force sinc...

    Jim Cramer surveys the pot craze as Canada prepares to legalize cannabis nationwide and flags the companies he thinks will be long-term winners.

  • Offshore drillers eye recovery by 2020

    Offshore drillers eye recovery by 2020

    Transocean Ltd (RIGN.S), a top supplier of drilling vessels, said last month that rates for its new high-spec vessels in the North Sea are now fetching $300,000 a day. Transocean last year acquired rival Songa Offshore SE [SONG.UL] and recently agreed to buy deep water expert Ocean Rig UDW (ORIG.O) for $2.7 billion. Tie-ups with state run giants like Aramco (IPO-ARMO.SE) and Qatar Petroleum [QATPE.UL] are expected to boost rates in the Middle East for drillers in the jack-up - or shallow water - rig market, while the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and West Africa are already showing signs of recovery, Rystad Energy analyst Oddmund Fore said.

  • 3 Stocks for Warren Buffett Fans
    Motley Fool

    3 Stocks for Warren Buffett Fans

    Warren Buffett has no shortage of acolytes, and it's easy to see why. The Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) chief and founder has made thousands of early investors in his conglomerate rich as the parent of businesses like GEICO car insurance and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad has posted average annual returns of 20% over the last 50 years, crushing the market. Buffett has never gotten too big for his britches, however.

  • Netflix user growth beats expectations, shares spike
    Yahoo Finance

    Netflix user growth beats expectations, shares spike

    Netflix (NFLX) reported user growth that exceeded Wall Street expectations, underscoring a recovery for the online streamer following a rare miss in new user additions last quarter.The Los Gatos, California-based company brought on 6.96 million total new streamers, beating its own guidance of 5 million total member additions for the quarter. The company issued guidance that it would add 9.4 million new members in the fourth quarter of 2018. Netflix’s stock rose 13% in late trading Tuesday.

  • Walmart is aggressively shifting away from its most legendary shopping format
    Yahoo Finance

    Walmart is aggressively shifting away from its most legendary shopping format

    Walmart (WMT) continues to kill off the American shopping creation it’s most known for, the massive supercenter that sells everything under one roof. With the U.S. market already having more than 3,500 Walmart supercenters and a focus by CEO Doug McMillon to increase spending on eCommerce and India, Walmart said Tuesday it will open a mere 10 supercenters in 2019. The company has reduced emphasis on the store format pioneered by founder Sam Walton – which could average a gargantuan 178,000 square feet – in recent years.

  • Brits Are All Making the Same Joke About the New Royal Baby

    Brits Are All Making the Same Joke About the New Royal Baby

    Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is expecting her first child with Prince Harry. The news, announced Monday morning by Kensington Palace, has already been greeted by hundreds of messages of congratulations for the royal couple on social media. The U.K. is set to leave the European Union on March 29, exactly two years after Prime Minister Theresa May started the formal process for doing so by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

  • The Largest Private Employer in the World May Soon Sell Marijuana Products
    Motley Fool

    The Largest Private Employer in the World May Soon Sell Marijuana Products

    With literally hours remaining, Canada is set to lift the curtain on nine decades of recreational marijuana prohibition tomorrow. This makes Canada the first industrialized country in the world to legalize adult-use weed. As you might rightly imagine, investors can't wait for this legalization to take place.

  • Finance

    Morgan Stanley: The stock sell-off is going to get worse

    The stock market is in the middle of a rolling bear market, says Morgan Stanley's Mike Wilson. "It's being caused by a drain in liquidity and peaking growth," Wilson says. The stock market sell-off is only going to get worse, predicts Morgan Stanley's chief U.S. equity strategist, Mike Wilson.

  • A Look at AT&T’s Dividends
    Market Realist

    A Look at AT&T’s Dividends

    What Investors Should Know about AT&T’s Growth Prospects (Continued from Prior Part) Shareholder returns Increasing capital returns to shareholders is one of AT&T’s (T) main priorities. In the second quarter, the company returned $3.1 billion to shareholders

  • These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about

    These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about

    For all the glamour of living an early retirement lifestyle, there are plenty of negatives I’ve come to discover since I permanently left my job in 2012. As a result, you’re repeatedly forced to will yourself into action.

  • Price Target Update for Canopy Growth in October
    Market Realist

    Price Target Update for Canopy Growth in October

    How Analysts Rate These Cannabis Stocks in October (Continued from Prior Part) Canopy Growth Without a doubt, Canopy Growth (CGC)(WEED) has been one of the hottest cannabis stocks on the market (MJ). The company is one of the most valuable companies,

  • Marijuana stocks to watch: Canopy Growth is the cannabis business’s $4 billion gorilla

    Marijuana stocks to watch: Canopy Growth is the cannabis business’s $4 billion gorilla

    The following article is part of a package of stories that MarketWatch is publishing to mark the start of full legalization of cannabis for adult use in Canada on Wednesday. Smith Falls, Ontario–based Canopy Growth Corp. made headlines and drove cannabis stocks to new heights over the summer when it announced that Corona brewer Constellation Brands Inc. was going to invest an additional $4 billion in the company. Billed by both companies as a strategic partnership, the additional $4 billion investment adds to the 9.9% stake that Constellation bought in October of last year and sets the company up to either be bought outright by Constellation — via warrants that could increase its stake to more than 50% — or continue to work with the beverage company to create a range of consumer-focused cannabis products that may one day appear in markets in dozens of countries.

  • Business

    30 Marijuana Stocks to Buy as the Future Turns Green

    With the previous presidential administration’s frankness on the matter, marijuana has become more blasé. Naturally, marijuana stocks have also increased in popularity, where we have more choices today than was previously thought possible. For instance, some of the top marijuana stocks are levered toward medical cannabis.