Guest column: Get rid of ‘Beltway Fever’

One of the reasons that “fake news” fools so many people is that many Americans have lost faith in journalism, writes Roger Plothow.

All research indicates that a vast majority of Americans don’t trust journalists, putting us right down there with members of Congress.

I point to two reasons for this, though there undoubtedly are others. First, much of what many people call journalism, like the cable TV “news” shows, is actually something else. Second, however, is that journalists too often shoot themselves in the foot.

One example of the latter is the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, which has morphed from a simple gathering of men (women weren’t invited until 1962) under simple and quiet circumstances, to a televised event attended by Hollywood A-listers, politicians and select high-profile journalists. It’s an embarrassment to journalists everywhere.

It sends the message that journalists are just as susceptible to Beltway Fever as politicians are, which almost certainly is true. When journalists organize a VIP event and make a comedian the keynote speaker (who often bombs dreadfully), it’s time to rethink the whole idea. With that in mind, I recently sent the following letter to the current president the White House Correspondents Association:

Dear Jeff Mason and members of the board:

I’m writing to ask you to either cancel permanently or revamp the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. Increasingly, it has become an embarrassment to journalists everywhere and in the current environment it, more than ever, sends the wrong message.

To those of us laboring “in the field,” and to much of the public, the dinner appears to represent a collusion between journalists, Hollywood and certain politicians. We all understand the need for stress relief and occasional levity, but this event goes well beyond that.

Journalists need to re-educate our intended audience regarding our true mission. When one of our vocation’s highest-profile events is the correspondents dinner, in its current format, it sends a terribly wrong message.

Please, change the dinner to a quiet, private affair in which you honor good work and perhaps recognize journalists killed in the prior year.

Many Americans perceive “Beltway Fever” to be a real thing, and it’s safe to assume that they include beltway journalists among its victims. I urge you to send a strong message that journalism takes its mission seriously by rethinking the dinner. I think you’ll be surprised at the positive message that will send.

Respectfully,

Roger Plothow, Editor and Publisher, Post Register

Vice President, APG/Rockies, LLC

This view of the dinner is hardly unique to me. Mason has responded to increasing calls to boycott the dinner with this inadequate statement: “This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic,” he wrote.

He needs to do better. If the main purpose of the event is as he insists, it needs a complete restructuring. Now would be a good time to make it happen.


Plothow is Editor and Publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a yearlong weekly series on news and media literacy.


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