National Commentary

Better Without The President

The Washington Post coverage, the article by Dan Zak, of last weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner was, on behalf of journalists everywhere, self-deprecating and decidedly underwhelming.

Frankly, it marked a major and stupid oversight as its flagrant immaturity (the headline was, “Without You-Know-Who or the Who’s Who, They Soldier On at the Correspondents’ Dinner) torpedoed what was, in fact, probably the most edifying and gratifying WHCA Dinner maybe ever.

With Trump and the entire White House roster absent, protesting the media’s unwillingness to heap adulation on the president, and almost no “celebrities,” including very few elected officials, the event provided its attendees (still sold out) and television viewers everywhere with what came off as a political demonstration on behalf of the virtues of the First Amendment and the good and indispensable work most journalists do to keep the nation democratic and free.

When WHCA president Jeff Mason affirmed to everybody that “We are not fake news. We are not the enemy of the people!” there was a truly sustained standing ovation, the longest and most heartfelt of any I’d experienced at the numerous WHCA dinners I’ve attended since the late 1980s.

Perhaps such a powerful affirmation was too schlocky for the oh-so-stylish Post style section, where the article reinforced the notion that without celebrity, or the president, to show off, journalists just don’t matter that much. “Everyone survived without the president, or without the crush of Hollywood celebrities who for years had decorated the dinner in ever-increasing density, until now,” the author intoned, comparing it to “an off-year high school reunion,” and suggesting that everyone was hungering for celebrity star power.

Frankly, if I could, I’d vote for all future WHCA Dinners to be like the one last weekend. It was actually a celebration of the news profession, and for that matter, with the bloviating president spewing hate at a rally in Pennsylvania at the same time, its timing was spot on.

As much as past WHCA events were hosted by journalists and their organizations, they’d always wound up revolving around the president in the room and, of course, the last decades’ growing accumulation of the so-called “celebrities.”

But my favorite “selfie” this time was not with Barbra Streisand but with my own managing editor.

We were both gratified listening to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the heroes of the Watergate investigation that actually brought down a U.S. president for the first time in American history 45 years ago. Pulitzer Prize winners for their efforts, they relayed their thoughts about the importance of what we journalists do, and frankly, we don’t get to hear that nearly as much as we should these days.

Even the comedian for the night, a young, bright-eyed Hasan Minhaj, introduced himself as a news correspondent for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” which indeed is the role he plays on the nightly comedic take on the day’s news.

He had some good jabs at the media organizations represented in the room, though he saved his best, most irreverent stuff for Trump, “the elephant not in the room.”

Such a shame that the Post’s coverage of the event was so lame, because the Post was held up for major heroism not only by the prominent roles given to Woodward and Bernstein, but also because one of the WHCA’s major awards went to the Post investigative reporter David Fahrenthold, whose stories on Trump’s actual charitable giving (by contrast with his claims) scored another Pulitzer announced just last month.

A proud Marty Baron, the hero of last year’s Oscar winner, “Spotlight,” from his days at the Boston Globe and now in charge at the Post, had to have enjoyed the night’s celebration of his craft.

As for me, when asked why or how I started my D.C.-area newspaper, the mighty Falls Church News-Press, 26 years ago, I tell about how I published my first newspaper at age seven, and my usual quip is, “So either I have printer’s ink in my veins, or I’ve just never grown up.”

Whichever, I just felt really good about how the WHCA Dinner went down this year.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at