December 22, 2016

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It could be a dinner akin to the disastrous ones in “Meet the Parents,” “Talladega Nights” and “Wedding Crashers.”

Or maybe “American Beauty,” where newly unemployed Kevin Spacey turns to his wife (Annette Bening) and daughter (Thora Birch) and says with dark, Spacey-ish foreboding, “Will someone please pass me the fucking asparagus?”

It’s the suddenly ambiguity-laden White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. It seems way off — April 29, 2017 — but the election of Donald Trump is already raising questions and some fears among association members.

“This is unchartered territory,” says a former board member who’s discussed the matter with board members. “We’ve never had a businessman-reality TV star as president, somebody who understands the importance of this particular event.”

We’ve also never had a president-elect who so openly disdains much of the media — and won in part by ridiculing the “swamp” of politicians, lobbyists and press that largely comprise the 3,000 attendees at Washington’s celebrity-filled, self-reverential social event of the year.

The association is predictably more concerned right now about fundamental coverage questions, such as whether Trump’s chief flack will hold the traditional daily (mostly non-news) briefing. Jeff Mason, a Reuters reporter who is this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association president, is happy to discuss coverage issues, but not the dinner.

However, two former board members confirmed the mutual Trump-press wariness has brought ample informal discussion among current and former board members pertaining to what could play out.

Does Trump even come? After all, he should associate the affair with public humiliation. In 2011, he sat red-faced and uncomfortable, front and center, as both President Obama and comic Seth Meyers skewered him. (YouTube)

The Washington Post’s Roxanne Roberts sat next to Trump that evening as Meyers followed Obama and she wrote, “Trump was so humiliated by the experience, they say, that it triggered some deep, previously hidden yearning for revenge.” (The Washington Post)

Or does a man well-attuned to ratings, circulation and media revenue decide to come precisely because the ratings and coverage would overwhelm any previous dinner? Gone are the days when it was left to C-SPAN to air it live, though now cable news networks slobber over an Academy Awards for nerds and wonks.

“Will he come? Ask for money to go a charity? Threaten not coming? Or does he see it as a high-profile event, drawing more attention to it?” asked a former board member who cited informal discussion of such issues with key current and other former board members.

Remember when he tried to force CNN to acknowledge his ratings power by saying he wouldn’t show at one of their Republican presidential debates unless they gave millions of dollars to charity? Well, why not do likewise here potentially, maybe strong-arm the association into selling the TV rights?

Then there are ancillary social issues. If the Trump animus toward the press doesn’t at least public diminish, might some media organizations resist the temptation — craving for many — to carouse with the high and mighty of Washington and Hollywood?

Could they belatedly follow the long-time New York Times policy of not buying tables — or perhaps decide not to hold separate pre- and post-dinner parties, as is true for many A-list organizations, including mega-party hosts Bloomberg and Vanity Fair?

“Will this guy who sat here and took it in not altogether gracious fashion from President Obama sit there and take it as president of the United States while a comedian who is hired does what comedians normally do? Can he take it?” asks Bill Plante, just-retired CBS News White House correspondent and a former association president.

“And can he do (at the dinner) what presidents do, make fun of himself?”

“It certainly has the potential to be a train wreck, and it’s possible that the Trump team would see that as a good thing,” says Tom Goodman, president and chief executive of Goodman Media who was once head of communications at CBS News and CBS Inc.

“Regardless, I believe Donald Trump would absolutely show up and use the event to lambast the media, which would play into his ongoing narrative. I think the biggest difference between the current and next president (at this event) is that Barack Obama would be joking about the media, and Donald Trump would not — and he would name names, too.”

“I think the whole extravaganza would give new meaning to the old saying, ‘Minutes later, they weren’t laughing.’”

Finally, there’s Debi Lilly, a party planner who operates worldwide and does parties for, among many others, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Lady Gaga. Her advice for the correspondents association?

“Anything, everything can wrong at a party. I’ve made this fact my full-time job, Chief Officer of Party Chaos. But fixing a sound check problem or cake that dropped to the floor is one thing. Managing an emotional battlefield and negative, disruptive energy is quite another party challenge.”

“My advice? Keep your chin up. And pick your battles. This is a cornerstone event thousands look forward to celebrating each year, and 2017 has more eyes on it than ever.”

“Try not to take anything off-color that is said throughout the party personally. Try not to react. Bring the zen to the party. Do more listening, and nodding, instead of responding if provoked.”

“Glide through the ballroom like a duck: calm on the surface and paddling like hell underneath.”

Mika and Wolf working Rahm

Chicago’s Better Government Association got hold of previously undisclosed 2,700 pages of personal email accounts of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They show him working the press, including Chicago Tribune Editor-Publisher Bruce Dold, but also show media folks trying to work him, including Wolf Blitzer and Mika Brzezinski. (Rob Feder)

While Blitzer is trying to get an interview for “The Situation Room,” signing off, “Love to the family,” Brzezinski is going to bat for her artist mother. She references the head of the Chicago Park District, Mike Kelly, and its chief of arts initiatives, Mike Dimitroff.

“Apparently, my mother’s sculpture has been crossed off the Chicago Parks Department short list! This is disappointing news. All of this happened after a visit by Mike Kelly to her studio, a trip by her publicist to meet with Mike Dimitroff and Mike Kelly and survey the spaces available in the city, all the while receiving reassuring signs that this project would go through. Lack of funding is not an excuse as we both know there are avenues to secure money.”

“Could you please help put this train back on the tracks for me so she can take advantage of the momentum currently building up around her work?”

“This week we had a wonderful ribbon cutting for her monumental bronze Lament (pics below). Couldn’t you see a piece like this along your trails?”

“Hoping you can do something.”

Headline of day

“When Rex Tillerson Looked Into Putin’s Eyes, He Found Black Gold.” (Bloomberg)

Why Lydia Polgreen sees limits at The New York Times

There’s a very good (classy move) de facto exit interview on the “Times Insider” podcast with Lydia Polgreen, who’s leaving to head The Huffington Post. The election, she says, was a big factor. “It’s clear to me there was fundamental disconnect between the institutions of the establishment and where most Americans were actually living their lives.” (The New York Times)

Does she deem the paper and HuffPost as part of the establishment? “Yes,” she answers.

Does that mean the paper is removed and insensitive? No, she says, but with a pretty big “but.” She thinks “there are limits as to what the Times as an institution that occupies — and rightfully so — occupies a very high place in the kind of broad establishment of the world, and power centers of the world, that there is an inherent kind of skepticism that people who feel left out by that establishment might feel toward The New York Times.”

Susan Lehman, a Times editor who oversees “Times Insider,” asked Polgreen how she could actually connect to those people. Polgreen doesn’t give any roadmap (beyond “openness” and “listening”) and concedes that’s her new professional challenge.

Knockout on refugees

Washington’s Pulitzer Center, a nonprofit that assists many organizations with overseas reporting, is on a roll. Its new efforts include a terrific Huffington Post saga, “The 21st Century Gold Rush,” on the huge sums people are making off the refugee crisis.

Yes, yes, we know about slimeball smugglers here and there. But this details the huge business of exploiting the crisis on a far greater variety of levels in Niger, Italy, Turkey and Germany. My favorite is Germany, which “isn’t a story about organized crime or small-time hustlers.”

No, “It’s about what happens when a rich nation has to absorb more than 1 million people virtually overnight. Huge government contracts, guys who can build a shelter in 24 hours: Germany is showing the rest of the world how to monetize refugees on an industrial scale.” (Huffington Post) Read this and the new Time magazine cover on four Syrian children born stateless in refugee camps. (Time)

Eater chews delicately on Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain: The Post-Election Interview” is found on, with executive editor Helen Rosner falling somewhat short of Chris Matthews’ wonderful combativeness with Trump in Green Bay, Wisconsin during the Republican primaries.

“Yes, I reached out to Bourdain because I’m a journalist and journalists reach out to people for comment, but I also got in touch for my own reasons, she writes. “Spend any time in contemplation of the astronomical map of food-world celebrities, and it becomes clear that Bourdain is not actually a star — he is a nebula. His fame is almost incomprehensibly vast, his brightness — or sometimes, his darkness — defines the very shape of the expanse, he’s so influential and creatively fecund as to regularly birth stars of his own.”

Yes, this is short of a hatchet job on the CNN reality star. But it has its insider foodie moments, such as when she asks, “So what do you make of Alessandro Borgognone bringing Sushi Nakazawa into the Trump D.C. hotel?”

“I will never eat in his restaurant. I have utter contempt for him, utter and complete contempt.” (Eater)

List of the day

“22 Things You Didn’t Know Your Chromecast Could Do.” (PC Mag) That falls about 18 things short of what I assume I don’t know but, FYI, it includes “Game Time Decision,” namely:

“It’s not a PlayStation 4, but the Chromecast can be used to play some fun family games. Test your trivia knowledge with “Trivia Bash,” get your groove on with “Just Dance Now,” or serve up some nostalgia with “Sonic Jump Fever.” Download games to your Android or iOS device to use your phone or tablet as a controller, while the game runs on your TV. Dozens of games for Chromecast can be found in Google Play alone.”

That’s what I need: more reason for two kids to dispense with normal human interaction and stay plastered to a video screen.

Facts on a TV golden age

“The number of scripted television shows on broadcast, cable and digital platforms has grown 71 percent over the past five years, according to an analysis by 21st Century Fox’s FX Networks unit.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“In 2016, there were a record 455 scripted shows compared with 266 in 2011, according to FX. Even since last year, the number of scripted shows has risen by 34, or 8 percent. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have driven the surge with their heavy spending on original content, followed by commercial and noncommercial cable television networks.”

A book for writers

After seeing our recommendations for holiday book-buying from journalists yesterday, Chicago Tribune sports columnist Steve Rosenbloom wrote, “I’ll tell you the book of the year for writers: ‘The Godfather Notebook.'”

“It is the greatest lesson in storytelling. Ever. It’s (Mario) Puzo’s original words, (Francis Ford) Coppola’s annotated margins and outlines, including the pitfalls and clichés that could kill every scene, and the greatest movie not named ‘Slap Shot’ playing in your head all the while. It should be a class at Medill. That and ‘Casablanca.'”

“World On Edge”

“World On Edge” was the succinct opening on “Fox & Friends” as a result of the Berlin terrorism. MSNBC’S “Morning Joe” flicked at the topic at its start, then eschewed the apocalypse for Eric Trump.

Joe Scarborough went to the Miami Herald’s version of, “Amid scrutiny, Eric Trump to stop raising money for charity,” an AP wire story that recovered a Eric Lipton New York Times exclusive. (The New York Times).

CNN predictably went to its large reservoir of international security pundits to discuss the Berlin suspect and why neither Italy nor Germany deported him earlier in what Paul Cruickshank referred to as a “Catch-22” situation. Quick cultural quiz: how many still understand the once-famous reference to the Joseph Heller novel published in 1961?

Oh, a short time later Fox segued from “World on Edge” to “Grinch Behind Bars,” with an exclusive interview with Polk County, Florida Sheriff Grady Judd on a woman who stole hundreds of toys from Toys for Tots after posing as a volunteer. “Who dropped a dime on her?” wondered Steve Doocy: Answer: Crime Stoppers. (Tampa Bay Times)

Covering Obama on vacation

So you can track President Obama’s Hawaii vacation via the White House press pool, which is tightly circumscribed and sees little. Then you can check out local media, which doesn’t have such tight wraps on it, and knows more of the local scene, such as via Hawaii News Now.

Oh, the pool report the other night did note that the First Family dined at the Vintage Cave in Honolulu and had the $295 tasting menu. It fell woefully short in not informing the world what you get actually for $295 (without booze). So here’s the “French-Japonaise Kaiseki Menu”:

1st course — Zensai (assorted appetizers)
amadai (horse head snapper) fried scale and ikura (salmon roe) mille-feuille
2nd course — Kawahagi (filefish) carpaccio
with ponzu gelée
3rd course — Grilled wild unagi (freshwater eel)
with white sturgeon caviar
4th course — Vanilla poached spiny lobster bisque
with cheese crostini
5th course — Pan seared foie gras
with sauteed petite vegetables
6th course — Sushi — hon maguro otoro
bluefin tuna belly
6th course — Sushi — seared keiji
premium young salmon
6th course — Sushi — kue
longtooth grouper
7th course — Smoked duck breast
served with Asian pear compote and pickled vegetables
8th course — Sauteed keiji (premium young salmon)
with yuzu grain mustard beurre blanc
Shiso sorbet
9th course — A5+ sendai wagyu ribeye steak
with mashed satoimo (Japanese taro) and Tokyo negi
10th course — Japanese style risotto
topped with Burgundy truffles
11th course — dessert
nashi (Japanese pear) and vanilla ice cream
12th course — Sweet
matcha green tea cheesecake

Where’s Anthony Bourdain when we need him?

Job advice for photographers

“The Photographer’s Guide To Choosing the Right Bio Picture” in the blog Petapixel includes this counsel:

“First things first, you must go with black and white — this isn’t negotiable. Go for moody light — window light will do — harsh shadows and crazy exposures are welcomed.”

“Don’t smile at all, you need to be serious and in deep thought to show your serious and somewhat sensitive side. Adding a scarf will definitely up your game.” (Petapixel)

Let’s see: I’m moody, go for long periods without smiling, know lots of shadowy places in the house and, since it’s Chicago, have tons of scarves. If only I were a photographer. Damn.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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