The absolute collapse of the media in America can be seen through the prism of the White House Correspondents Dinner held Saturday in Washington DC. Set up to raise scholarship money for under funded students who might want to pursue journalism, the event used to be an enjoyable evening that attracted hundreds of media and political notables.
This year the dinner was a sparsely attended disaster.
One of the reasons is that President Trump refused to show up, knowing very well the press generally despises him and would relish diminishing his presence. President Bush the Younger felt that way too, but did go to the dinner a few times knowing that some boundaries were in place.
When shock jock Don Imus viciously attacked President Clinton in 1996, the press was not pleased and Imus got hammered. He crossed the line.
President Obama, of course, received gentle treatment from the likes of Jon Stewart and Seth Meyers. As emcees, they poked him a little but it was completely within reason and Mr. Obama seemed to enjoy himself.
On Saturday sans Trump, the emcee from a left wing satire show put on a hateful display that even liberals criticized. Anyone surprised? Obviously, the President made a wise decision not to go.
In the past, I attended a number of the dinners mainly because my charitable foundation donated money to the kids. In 2015, I sat next to one Donald Trump at the Fox News table. The crowd was generally nice to him back then.
To me, the dinners were pretentious but fun. Many journalists take themselves ultra-seriously and that is always boring, but I met a lot of folks with whom I never would have spoken had I not been there.
One year the rapper Ludacris approached me and I thought all hell was going to break loose. I had criticized Pepsi Cola for using the guy in ads because his lyrics are violent and harmful, I believe, to impressionable young people. Ludacris and I had a private conversation which was instructive. I didn’t change my opinion but saw a human being rather than a caricature.
Another time, I was seated next to Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia. When I told him that I was writing a book called “Killing Jesus” he actually scolded me saying the Gospels have that covered. It was amusing debating my book with the very powerful judge.
The highlight of those dinners was the big party held at the French Embassy afterward. One year, I spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder for a while. The conversation was respectful and I learned a lot about his point of view.
Later, I met Katy Perry and the actress Elizabeth Banks. Both are very liberal but we had a few laughs and they couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, all kinds of folks mingled with those who oppose them politically. But no meanness was on display.
That’s all changed now.
If President Trump and his wife Melania had attended the Saturday event, disrespect not humor would have been hurled in their direction. Nothing good natured about it. The emcee would have played to her base – a media that has changed both in its goals and presentation. Today it’s all about “getting” Mr. Trump and anyone who may support him.
Gone is the actual search for truth by the press. That’s been replaced by lurid headlines often based on nothing more than self-serving allegations or political bias.
Last week Tom Brokaw seemed stunned that the media “perp walked him” based upon a misconduct accusation from 25 years ago. I was surprised by Mr. Brokaw’s surprise. Has he missed all the figurative executions in the press over the past year? Is that possible?
President Trump has not missed those because he has been a prime target. If he had agreed to sit on the dais at the Correspondents Dinner you know some one would have invited Stormy Daniels and her attorney to the event simply to be crass.
The American people have picked up on the nastiness and unfairness that the media now embraces so warmly. That has made a deep impression, alienating millions of news consumers in the process.
Because of that, the media will not recover its reputation – no matter how many dinners it throws. It’s become a hateful and unfair industry. For certain.