From the tote bags to the strange blend of celebrity/politician/journalist-elbow-rubbing to hard-to-look-away from collections of selfies, there are lots of outlets for hating on the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
There are also a few redeeming things.
1. They’re sorry for being racist in 1944.
In 1944, when black journalist Harry McAlpin wanted to attend White House press briefings, the White House Correspondents’ Association fought him on it, George E. Condon Jr. wrote May 1 for National Journal.
Even after President Roosevelt overruled the Correspondents’ Association and McAlpin became the first African-American reporter to cover a presidential press conference, the group continued to undermine him. It remained totally unrepentant.
Until today. Seventy years after Roosevelt’s decision and almost three decades after McAlpin’s death, we at the White House Correspondents’ Association are using this week’s annual dinner to say we are sorry. WHCA President Steve Thomma will announce the creation of a scholarship named after McAlpin. And he will introduce his son, Sherman McAlpin, to President Obama—who, as the nation’s first African-American president, dramatizes just how much things have changed since Harry McAlpin was fighting the establishment in the 1940s.
On Saturday, Jesse Holland wrote about McAlpin for the Associated Press.
Harry McAlpin was standing outside the Oval Office, moments away from becoming the first black reporter to attend a presidential news conference, when one of his contemporaries approached with a deal.
Stay out here, the reporter told McAlpin. The other White House correspondents would share their notes, and McAlpin would have a chance to become an official member of the correspondents association. McAlpin marched into the Oval Office anyway. Afterward, President Franklin Roosevelt shook McAlpin’s hand and said, “I’m glad to see you, McAlpin, and very happy to have you here.”
On Saturday night, the group gave out the first Harry McAlpin scholarship of $7,000 to Howard University student Glynn Hill, according to the AP. The late McAlpin was also inducted, at last, into the group. Here’s NPR’s story about McAlpin.
2. They give out a lot of money in scholarships.
Money raised from the dinner helps fund scholarships for 16 journalism students, according to the association, “while funding programs for hundreds more in local DC high schools through our partnership with Prime Movers Media.”
On Saturday night, the association gave out more than $60,000 in scholarships to journalism students at colleges around the country.
3. It’s entertaining for the rest of us.
Stop cringing already. Journalists at a big, fancy event are still journalists. See? They’ll proofread you even in black tie:
— J. Freedom du Lac (@jfdulac) May 5, 2014
They’ll tell you what really happened, as Ted Scheinman did Friday in Pacific Standard with a collection of stories from past dinners. This one’s from Jenny Rogers, now Washington City Paper’s assistant managing editor, who covered the event when she was a gossip columnist for the Washington Examiner:
I first attended the dinner as one of the scholarship winners in 2010. I was more easily impressed with celebrities back then and actually asked Kevin Eubanks if he would pose for a photo with me. I also hugged Michelle Obama and told Anna Kendrick where the bathroom was located. My subsequent dinners, which I attended as a reporter, slid considerably downhill. In 2012, I found myself trapped on a red carpet at a Capitol File party at the Newseum. And I do mean trapped—reporters were not allowed off the red carpet, not to get a drink and certainly not to mingle with the real guests. While waiting an hour to interview Claire Danes, I talked to noted notables like Sookie’s brother from True Blood and Omar Epps, who refused to answer most of my questions. Claire Danes finally arrived and blew me off, and I do not forgive her.
And even if they’re celebrity/politician-elbow-rubbing, at least they can appreciate how strange it all is:
Ultimate OH at the #WHCD: “That’s the president from Scandal.” “No, that’s the president from House of Cards.”
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 3, 2014