What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 30, 2007

Frank Rich and the White House Correspondent's Dinner

Via Editor and Publisher:
Tucked inside Frank Rich's Sunday column in the New York Times is indication that the newspaper will no longer attend the annual White House Correspondents Association dinners in Washington, which he calls "a crystallization of the press's failures in the post-9/11 era." He writes that the event "illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows."
Luckily, the full column can be found here.

But Rich had much more to say than merely to announce the Times' withdrawal from the WHCA dinner. After setting the stage for saying that the public has lost faith in the profession of journalism, he writes:

That state of denial was center stage at the correspondents' dinner last year, when the invited entertainer, Stephen Colbert, "fell flat," as The Washington Post summed up the local consensus. To the astonishment of those in attendance, a funny thing happened outside the Beltway the morning after: the video of Mr. Colbert's performance became a national sensation. (Last week it was still No. 2 among audiobook downloads on iTunes.) Washington wisdom had it that Mr. Colbert bombed because he was rude to the president. His real sin was to be rude to the capital press corps, whom he caricatured as stenographers. Though most of the Washington audience failed to find the joke funny, Americans elsewhere, having paid a heavy price for the press's failure to challenge White House propaganda about Iraq, laughed until it hurt.

You'd think that l'affaire Colbert would have led to a little circumspection, but last Saturday's dinner was another humiliation. And not just because this year's entertainer, an apolitical nightclub has-been (Rich Little), was a ludicrously tone-deaf flop. More appalling - and symptomatic of the larger sycophancy - was the press's insidious role in President Bush's star turn at the event.

By the way, here's a transcript of the Colbert performance. Whatever happens to you today, please remember that reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Rich continues:
It's the practice on these occasions that the president do his own comic shtick, but this year Mr. Bush made a grand show of abstaining, saying that the killings at Virginia Tech precluded his being a "funny guy." Any civilian watching on TV could formulate the question left hanging by this pronouncement: Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his being a "funny guy" at other press banquets we've watched on C-Span? At the equivalent Radio and Television Correspondents' Association gala three years ago, the president contributed an elaborate (and tasteless) comic sketch about his failed search for Saddam's W.M.D.
For those who don't remember, here's a transcript of the 2004 RTCA dinner speech. Rich was referring to the "comedy" bit where dubya looks for Saddam's WMD around the once proud White House. Pictures of him wandering around looking into drawers and the like were projected on a screen above him. Dubya then intoned to the audience of correspondents and their guests (who dutifully laughed and applauded):
Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.
And so funny, so respectful of the troops doncha think?

And lest you think Frank Rich's position on dubya a one time thing, check out what was in the New York Times the day before:
President Bush has skipped the funerals of the troops he sent to Iraq. He took his sweet time to get to Katrina-devastated New Orleans. But last week he raced to Virginia Tech with an alacrity not seen since he hustled from Crawford to Washington to sign a bill interfering in Terri Schiavo's end-of-life medical care. Mr. Bush assumes the role of mourner in chief on a selective basis, and, as usual with the decider, the decisive factor is politics. Let Walter Reed erupt in scandal, and he'll take six weeks to show his face - and on a Friday at that, to hide the story in the Saturday papers. The heinous slaughter in Blacksburg, Va., by contrast, was a rare opportunity for him to ostentatiously feel the pain of families whose suffering cannot be blamed on the administration.
Have a good morning, Pittsburgh.

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