The most glitzy, glamorous, guzzling night of the year in Washington.
No, I’m not referring to Inauguration Day and its attendant balls the newly oathed-up president begrudgingly puts in a 30-second appearance at. Nor am I talking about the State of the Union Ambien-oration, where “hard-working,” “never-lose-hope-ing,” “red-blooded American strivers,” are flown in to DCA, Uber-whisked to the Capitol, just to sit for two hours in the House gallery and be clapped at for five brief second-hand ticks.
The glorious night in question is the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. The evening, which typically features a crack wising MC and a presidential cameo, is a high-hat preenfest for the Georgetowniast toney set of the District.
It’s such a big whopping deal that CNN squeezed eight—eight!—tongue waggers on a panel to preview the evening this year. It’s a wonder how the network’s premium service tanked faster than Hunter Biden at an open bar.
Former Alaskan governor and VP manqué Sarah Palin famously called the journo-studded shindy a “nerd prom.” Because journalism lacks both self-stem words—awareness and respect—media scribblers immediately appropriated the moniker, Twitter-posting “thrilled to attend #nerdprom” like a badge of honor. The reflexive vanity is all the more irritating because the WHCA junket isn’t a prom, nor is it figured by geeky poli-nerds. Proms have dancing and underage drinking; the WHCA evening’s pre-games have watered-down cocktails named after Madeleine Albright. (An Iraqi gin-and-genocide, anyone? Perhaps a saffron and starvation-sanction Negroni?) Nerds are also gracelessly intelligent whereas journalists are just the adverb and an entire slew of pejoratives that can’t be printed in this family-friendly publication.
But—and this is such a big BUT that my hands are unconsciously reaching for a straight razor to run tracks across my wrists instead of type hereafter—this year was an exception. Not because the fourth estate finally discovered the virtue of humility. And not because Kim Kardashian’s camera-captured canoodling with junkie Q-Tip Pete Davidson will inspire more tabloid tantrums from a scorned Kanye West.
The WHCA rubber-chicken chow marked the unofficial end of the COVID pandemic. I say “unofficial” so as to deny any satisfaction to the prestige media, who believe it’s their apostles’ job to decide when a medical emergency winds down. Any concern about COVID-19 should have receded when the vaccines were distributed and hospitalizations fell. The subsequent fits and starts of cases, and even occasional uptick in med-room visits by the non-jabbed, were irrelevant. The COVID corslet was free for all who wanted to intramuscularly adorn it (excluding children, who were never, and still are not, in mortal danger from the virus).
Yet COVID theater—the masking, the non-association rules, the voluntary social circumscribing, the Facebook “I got boosted!” avatar frames, the fascisty “I ❤️ Pfizer” t-shirts, the Dunkin’ Donut brawls over lack of maw coverings, the devotional-like chanting of SCIENCE SCIENCE SCIENCE—continued. The performance was promoted avidly by the media, who, from the safety of their N95-covered Twitter profiles, relentlessly hounded anyone who questioned the wisdom of hitting the societal pause button.
For over a year, we were unwilling witnesses to a mass moralizing campaign of identifying, doxxing, and shunning of COVID-stanching policies skeptics. The elite press, more fear merchant than fact dispensing, branded anyone questioning the “official” wisdom on the respiratory virus an ignoramus, a grandma-killer, a MAGA stooge, and evil company. Anyone who raised concern about stunted social development among children in lockdown—such as Bethany Mandel—was branded with a viral scarlet letter.
The very notion that the illness, much like all contagious pathogens, should be managed via personal responsibility was not only irresponsible, but equatable to mass genocide. Journalists over-egged the dangers of COVID not just for the righteous gratification shaming brought, but also the panic clicks their admonitions drew. But even the most Twitter-addicted couch cushion-sinkers needed to shake off the isolation jeebies after twenty-four long months. So they partied like it was 2019.
And wouldn’t you know it: their confab morphed into the plaguey red-state vector they tsk-tsked since Dr. Fauci became a household name.
Let’s start from the end, which is a good place to start, in this instance. The iatrogenic side-effect of the glossy weekend soirée: dozens of partiers snotting positive on COVID tests.
Surely this was a super-spreader on par with a spring break in Miami, right? Or even the infamous Rose Garden nomination of now-Supreme Court Justice (and poised Roe killer) Amy Coney Barrett?
Not a chance. The press revelers were ready to excuse their own indulgence faster than phlegm-hurling Trump ralliers. “I understood that there was a risk and I knew it was on me to evaluate it. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I still would have gone,” one bravely anonymous ‘rona-positive journo told the Washington Post. Another profile in courage waved away concern by insisting “I feel like it was worth [attending].”
Some COVID-positive cases weren’t shrouded in anonymity. WHCA head Jonathan Karl caught the bug during the do; as did Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who, besides having the misfortune of courting the virus, is also busy essaying to steer the U.S. away from full nuclear war with Russia. (Once upon a time—precisely two years ago—a sitting Foggy Bottom head patronizing a rasp gala while NATO and Moscow have warheads on trigger-alert would be a major administration-sinking scandal. Now it’s just an occupational hazard.)
In all, journalists at every major media organ swabbed positive on COVID lollis. Yet during the evening, none of the virus-warding precautions were taken. No masks were donned, not even by our nearly octogenarian prez. The entire fête, emetic pomp and all, was a real return to normalcy. Journalists patted themselves on the back for holding a president accountable as he chuckled and spittled in their Chablis-smeared faces. Our conceitocracy returned, more vain and solipsistic than ever. A few inky sneers took home COVID as a party favor. After a blessed quadrennial sabbatical under Trump, Washington is back to its usual overstuffed antics.
I almost prefer COVID isolation. Almost.