The White House Correspondents Association held its annual dinner Saturday and it became a disgustingly one-sided spectacle as the “comedian” invited to deliver laughs to gathered media and political figures launched unfunny, mean-spirited and biased attacks on President Donald Trump and members of his administration.
Conservatives of course condemned the hateful speech, but so too did a number of liberal journalists who professed embarrassment at what the once-dignified event dedicated to free speech and a free press had become — a hypocritically lop-sided partisan attack on all things Republican.
A number of prominent and bipartisan voices — including President Trump, who has skipped the event the past two years — have called for significant changes to the dinner in the future.
Those criticisms compelled WHCA President Margaret Talev to issue a half-hearted apology for the terrible attempt at comedy by Michelle Wolf that she said was “not in the spirit” of the WHCA’s stated mission of offering a “unifying message” about the commitment to a free and vigorous but civil press.
James Finkelstein, chairman of The Hill, said the “major changes” that have been demanded in how the once-prestigious dinner is managed better take place pretty quickly or else his outlet won’t be attending it any longer.
In a letter addressed to WHCA executive director Steven Thomma and subsequently published in its entirety on The Hill’s site, Finkelstein wrote, “The Hill, which has participated in the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner for many years, does not plan at this time to participate in the event moving forward.”
“In short, there’s simply no reason for us to participate in something that casts our profession in a poor light. Major changes are needed to the annual event,” he continued.
Finkelstein said he was in full agreement with the mission statement of the WHCA — which is to protect and defend the First Amendment and “a strong, free press and robust coverage of the presidency” — but pointed out that the organization had failed in that regard.
He wrote that the mission statement “means that the dinner must be non-partisan and done without hostility and personal animus toward the party that occupies the White House — regardless of who is in power.”
He reminisced over past dinners in which the comedians had equally roasted media and politicians on both sides in a lighthearted manner “while not being so offensive and vulgar that C-SPAN actually cut off its radio broadcast, as was the case this year for the first time ever.”
Finkelstein proclaimed Wolf’s jokes to be “out of line” and lamented that “a once-fine evening celebrating the strong, free press the WHCA speaks of has turned into an angry display and ad-hominem attacks.”
He expressed hope that the event would return to what it once used to be instead of the “ugly sideshow” that it became this year, and noted that The Hill would continue to donate to the WHCA’s scholarship fund for future “non-partisan” journalists.
However, Finkelstein bluntly concluded, “Without major reforms, The Hill no longer wishes to participate in future dinners.”
Though others in the media have similarly expressed a desire to see reforms to the WHCA dinner, The Hill appears to be the first major outlet to openly state that it will no longer attend the event unless those reforms are made.
This public condemnation of the WHCA by a media organization that is proudly included in the ranks of White House correspondents is a pretty big deal, and could lead to a snowball effect as other media outlets follow suit and issue similar pledges of future non-attendance … unless changes are made.
Hopefully the WHCA takes these criticisms and demands for change to heart so the once-humorous and bipartisan event can reclaim its traditional place of prestige, a neutral position it has appeared to willing cede in recent years.
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