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Inside a formal Washington DC dinner

Inside a formal Washington DC press and official dinner
Connie Lawn’s Sixth Kiwi Blog – June 22, 2009


From Connie Lawn in Washington DC


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Image: Charles Sneiderman

I want to take you inside another of these incestuous press and formal dinners we have in Washington, and assure you, you can live your life without them. In past years, I have been able to take several friends to these dinners, and we had a blast! But now, they are more crowded, and more expensive. Gone are the times I could take New Zealand officials and citizen friends to these affairs. But, my guests know who they are –perhaps they can write back with their own memories.

Most of these dinners are not held in the White House, with the exception of the beautiful string of Christmas dinners. We hope the Obamas will continue that tradition.

The other dinners are held in Washington DC hotels –usually the Washington or the Capitol Hilton, or the Ritz Carlton. This latest one, Friday night, was at the new Washington Convention Center. It was hosted by the Radio – TV Correspondents Association, of Capitol Hill. The one five weeks earlier was the White House Correspondents Association. There are also the more exclusive Gridiron and Alfalfa Dinners. And, there are loads of political and arts fund raising events.

In these tight economic times, fewer people are willing to pay the over $200 for a ticket, but the events still manage to sell out. Some of the biggest draws are the hospitality suites, before and after the dinner. There were fewer this year, and the food was less lavish. But, the liquor still flowed, and the conversation was somewhat unguarded. It is always amazing to see political adversaries, as well as members of the press and the people they cover, involved in intense conversation in the crowded suites! In 41 years, I have gotten some of my best stories, and made the most valuable contacts, through these dinners.

As is usually the case, the President is the honored guest, and steals the show! They have joke writers who spend weeks working on the speeches. Occasionally, when there is a major world tragedy, they scrap their jokes and become serious. That did not happen this Friday. But President Obama did end his remarks by praising the professional and citizen journalists who tell the stories of Iran and other parts of the world in crises.

At the dinners, there are also paid entertainers. They are usually overpriced and do a terrible job. I have argued against them for years, saying the money we spend on them can be converted to journalism scholarships and awards.

Awards are given for journalistic excellence in a number of categories. And, scholarships are awarded for those who still want to work in journalism, even in these tough times. Sadly, the guests in the audience often talk or walk around during the serious parts of the program, and ignore the events at the podium. It is much better to watch re-runs on cable t.v or the internet, to see what happened. President Obamas speech is still replayed on White House.gov. And the latest comic parody, known as JibJab.com, was unveiled at the dinner, and can be clicked onto anytime.

There is a big difference between the White House Correspondents Dinner, held in May, and the Congressional one of Friday night. There are a host of B list actors and “celebrities” at the White House one. Tourists gawk and scream at those walking down a red carpet – really out of character for the nations capitol. Because there are so many “celebrities,” the event is too crowded and harder to attend. The Congressional one had more lawmakers and members of the government, along with the press. That is how it should be – it was fun, but was also a more serious event. Perhaps if this trend continues in the future, I will again be able to invite more New Zealand friends to a White House Correspondents Dinner. This is Connie Lawn, in Washington

*************

Connie Lawn has a passionate love for NZ. She worked for Radio New Zealand for 20 years, and then for Radio Live for a few years. Connie has covered the White House and the world since 1968. Her other passion is skiing, and she calls herself "the skiing White House reporter." Her ski stories are on dcski.com and other outlets. Connie is also heard on thousands of radio stations, but firmly believes the internet is the future. She can be reached at connie@scoop.co.nz

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