Filmmaker: White House Correspondents Dinner Increasingly ‘Out of Touch’

Washington, DC

A new film by former Politico journalist Patrick Gavin is challenging the culture surrounding what has become DC’s most self-absorbed annual event, the White House Correspondents Association dinner. His assessment: things started to go south around the same time Hollywood began using the event as an excuse for a four-day party.

Nerd Prom, which was released online this month, asserts that the four-day “circus” now surrounding the event is bad for business, and something has to change.

The official dinner attracts the who’s who of journalists, Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and wealthy donors, and even sees the President of the United States and others making jokes, which are broadcast live on C-SPAN, as well as other cable networks.

Nerd Prom takes a critical look at the association dinner and what has now grown into almost a week of parties and mixers leading up to the event.

Gavin published a piece in Politico on Thursday, wherein he describes the festivities as “out of touch”:

I’ve watched the whole rise of the weekend over the last decade, as it sprawled increasingly out of control and increasingly out of touch—first as a blogger at FishbowlDC and a reporter at the Washington Examiner, then later as a reporter here at politico. Last year I left my job at politico to work on a documentary about White House Correspondents’ Week in Washington, D.C., the year’s most momentous week in arguably the world’s most powerful city. I thought I knew what I’d find, but even I was surprised—much of what I discovered wasn’t pretty. The week acts as a tacky and vainglorious self-celebration at a time when most Americans don’t think Washingtonians have much to be commended for.

The filmmaker also spoke with the Associated Press recently about his feeling that the dinner, which is intended to honor journalists and raises money for scholarships, has become about something more.

Page Six reports Gavin said he set out to create the film to shed light on the true nature of exactly what the dinner has become:

“It had really become Washington’s signature event. For me, whatever the signature event is in one of the world’s most powerful cities I think bears some research. I definitely wanted to do some real reporting on it. The thing that made me make a slight 45-degree turn more critical was as I was interviewing everybody, it just sort of dawned on me that all the things the weekend was supposed to be about — White House correspondents or scholarships or even fun — just weren’t really holding up. … I just kind of realized the bottom was falling out of this weekend. And then, of course, that leads you to say, “Well, if it’s not about those things, then what is it about?”

Gavin also said the culture surrounding the association dinner changed sometime in the 1990s, “when celebrities started coming and the introduction of the red carpet.”

“From my perspective, it’s really been in the past 10 years. I remember when I started, it was really four events,” he said. “There was the dinner, one afterparty, maybe one brunch. And now businesses have really changed it in the past 10 years. Now you’ve got 25 parties; you’ve got corporate involvement like you’ve never seen before.

Gavin continued: “My real issue is not with the dinner. It’s not with not getting invited to parties. It’s not with corporate sponsorships. … My issue is with this being our Super Bowl. My issue is with this being our No. 1 event every year, simply because this is a town that’s not supposed to be about self-celebration. It’s not supposed to be about glorifying ourselves and doing well by ourselves. It’s about doing well by others, making the world a better place.”

In Politico Thursday, the filmmaker outlined some changes he feels must be made, in order to restore the dinner back to its intended purpose. Those changes include the president missing the dinner on occasion; raising money or confessing that scholarships aren’t a priority, calling out those who do not contribute t the scholarship program, jokes which are more critical of the president, doing away with the red carpet, and holding celebrities accountable for their lack of knowledge regarding the purpose of the event.

Nerd Prom’s producers plan to release the film on iTunes, Amazon and Netflix in the near future.

This year’s event will air Saturday night with Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong as the featured entertainment.