James Warren, Poynter
Per usual, President Obama was very funny and very cutting at the celebrity meat market that's now The White House Correspondents Dinner. (USA Today) Per usual, much of the audience probably didn't get how acidic he was toward the press. (Vox) But it clearly squirmed when the professional comic, this year Larry Wilmore, cut too close to the bone for its taste. "I am a black man who replaced a white man who pretended to be a TV newscaster. So, in that way, Lester Holt and I have a lot in common." Ouch, for Holt and my friend, Brian Williams. Speaking of Obama and NBA star Steph Curry: "Both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances." There was this: "Speaking of drones, how is Wolf Blitzer still on television?" To Obama: "Who you killing tonight? Can't be print journalism. That industry has been dead for awhile now." And this: "Some of our finest black journalists are here tonight. Don Lemon is here, too. Hi, Don. Alleged journalist Don Lemon, everybody." The C-Span camera caught Lemon then giving Wilmore the finger.
The overweening self-regard of the event was underscored by CNN's own pre- and post-red carpet coverage and analysis. It was Oscars Lite and very lame (too bad they missed the after-party brawl between Huffington Post and Fox News reporters). (New York Daily News) Like Hollywood and music awards shows, there's a link between the unimportance of a gathering and the self-absorption it inspires. There was even a post-dinner exchange on CNN in which a Kayleigh McEnany ("Trump supporter" was the most nuanced designation they could offer) inveighed about how Wilmore "assassinated people's characters and profession," prompting Lizz Winstead, a professional comedy writer-producer and a creator of "The Daily Show," to respond that a comic's job is to make folks uncomfortable. (YouTube) Yes, yes. She might have added how his humor revealed a lot about Wilmore's own sense of vulnerability and how precious few journalists have a sense of humor about themselves, with crusades for truth and any well-honed sense of irony tending to operate merely externally. They are outraged when a joke is also on them.
Fortunately, I simultaneously watched the San Antonio Spurs throttle the Oklahoma City Thunder on TNT. The Spurs, if you don't follow sports much, are a marvel. Many of their players are far more accomplished at what they do than the vast majority of folks attending the White House dinner (and they make more money than an even larger majority). There were a lot of big egos of modest achievement in that ballroom. Typically, during one long dinner break, C-SPAN caught many carrying on conversations while looking over shoulders to see if somebody more alluring (perhaps a politician to curry favor with) was coming their way. It's the Washington modus operandi.
By contrast, we have the Spurs, who practice a wondrous degree of selflessness and, thus, wipe out most of their opposition with likely greater accuracy than Obama's drones. Their way of operating is not found much in Washington, especially among ambitious members of the media. It was refreshing to see.