Political Animal


April 30, 2013 3:23 PM How About Paying A Few More Journalists?

By Ed Kilgore

I figured everything that needed to be said had been said about the abominable “tradition” of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But then I read (almost by accident, given the stupid and misleading headline: “How Sarah Palin Is Right About Washington”) a column by Margaret Carlson, of all people, who made this relevant observation:

The better criticism of the dinner is financial, not political: While hundreds of our colleagues have lost their jobs and news budgets have been slashed, we are spending a king’s ransom to create the illusion that we are important.

Yep. Sure, the dinner kicks back a little bit to a scholarship program for “aspiring journalists,” but now many smart kids are really going to study journalism even with a free ride if there are virtually no paying jobs upon graduation? Worse yet, the dinner seems to be a self-celebration by those who have won the “winner-takes-all” sweepstakes whereby a handful of news-readers and commentators and even scribblers have comfortable and lucrative careers, often for producing material that would embarrass a high-school newspaper editor (I’m looking at you, Peggy), while an enormous amount of creative talent is being poured right down the drain. And the scam is perpetuated by events like this, since eyes and page-views are drawn by “celebrity journalists” whose bankability justifies their royal status.

Carlson is appropriately embarrassed by the whole scene. Maybe she should organize a large boycott next year, and become a real celebrity.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on April 30, 2013 3:46 PM:

    I've often heard it described as "The Nerd Prom."

    More like, "The Turd Prom."

    Never have so many gathered togeth, who have so little to really say, and yet, you can't get them to STFU.

    And, almost every single time, almost every single one of them, open their mouths, they prove that just because you have the opportunity to opine in public, doesn't mean that you'll dispense any actual wisdom.

    It's the worlds best-dressed jircle-cerk for quasi-rich people, outside of some gathering put together by really rich people like the Koch Brothers.

  • Gandalf on April 30, 2013 4:00 PM:

    Wow there's a big deal. They've been doing this since 1920. Is it absolutely have to be that we bitch and whine about every single thing that happens these days?

  • MuddyLee on April 30, 2013 4:39 PM:

    The winner take all system or the big star system is not only bad in journalism, it's bad in the music business (the good stuff can be heard in the small places that charge $10 or less, not at the big concerts) and it's bad in the corporate world. Why should corporations be so big as to have CEOs that get paid $10 million or more? A person with above average intelligence could do just as well as these overpaid CEOs by flipping a coin on the big decisions - take $1 million or less in salary, work 40 hours or less a week and have plenty of time for family and a real life.

  • Bokonon on April 30, 2013 4:45 PM:

    Things were different in 1920, Gandalf. And that's the whole problem right there. What the correspondents' dinner has turned into is a corrupt, self-congratulatory and self-indulgent spectacle, for a closed elite that has recently been doing very badly at their main jobs (which is being journalists instead of being media celebrities).

    Amidst the backslapping and grinning and joking between the stars, the dinner both a sign and a symptom of the deep, systemic problems that print and broadcast media have been going through. The sort of thing that led the new head of CNN to opine that his goal is to provide viewers with entertainment and content that goes "beyond" news.

    Picture a mass of jobless and recently unemployed people who actually did real investigating and fact gathering and reporting. Those people have been laid off, and told they are surplus and unneeded in the current news entertainment business. Picture that mass outside the spectacle, peering in the windows at the stars at their gala.

  • Matt on May 01, 2013 10:21 AM:

    Sure, the dinner kicks back a little bit to a scholarship program for “aspiring journalists,” but now many smart kids are really going to study journalism even with a free ride if there are virtually no paying jobs upon graduation?

    Um... I hate to be That Guy, but weren't we just talking about the glamorous perks and fringe benefits of being an unpaid Washington Monthly summer intern?

    My main critique of that is the same as it would be for any unpaid internship: it restricts the franchise entirely to students wealthy enough to work for free while living in an expensive city. And, of course, it's especially galling when an ostensibly progressive organization does it, and even worse when it's an organization that makes so much hay over economic inequality in education.

    But since you mention the lack of paying jobs in journalism, you might consider that as billed, your unpaid interns would be doing work very much like what we might expect journalists to be paid for.

    We never did get a response in the Internship thread, by the way. Having raised the question, is the Monthly willing to go on record about their role in all this?