Saturday Night Follies are ridiculous

Published 9:16 am Friday, May 5, 2017

By Peter Funt

Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week, crooned Frank Sinatra, to which we can now add: and for presidents and the reporters who cover them, the most embarrassing.

Pick your spectacle.

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President Trump held a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania to “celebrate” having survived in office for 100 days. He bashed media for more than 10 minutes, fell back on distorted campaign rhetoric, and even read the crowd his vulgar stump favorite: a poem called “The Snake,” a parable about the risks of helping strangers.

Analyst David Gergen, who has served as an advisor to four presidents, said on CNN it was “the most divisive speech I’ve ever heard from a sitting U.S. president.” He called it “deeply disturbing.”

Also disturbing, for profoundly different reasons, was the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, which presidents traditionally attend and which Trump chose to skip.

It was a dreary event that underscored its own uselessness. The only remotely funny utterances by hired hand Hasan Minhaj of “The Daily Show” were his slams at the dinner itself.

He noted that few comedians wanted the job this year, in fact, “Don Rickles died just so you wouldn’t ask him to do this gig.”

After that it was a crashing embarrassment. For instance: “Mike Pence wanted to be here tonight, but his wife wouldn’t let him because apparently one of you ladies is ovulating.”

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg…

“A large group of Hollywood celebrities and Washington media,” Trump told rally-goers hanging on his every word, “are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom. I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp, with much, much better people.”

Trump’s media bashing is despicable. Yet, the imagery at the Correspondents’ Dinner doesn’t help. Reporters shouldn’t be sipping champagne in black ties and gowns and snickering at lame jokes about the administration they cover 24/7.

The strained explanation by the WHCA that its event is really about raising money for scholarships is ridiculous. There are countless other methods of raising money, and much better ways of showcasing the winners than by having them don formal attire and parade across a stage without saying a word.

Even speeches by the legendary Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein felt tired, as the duo spoke about knocking on the doors of potential news sources in the middle of the night. They identified the mission of reporters as seeking “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

That nuanced description of journalism is clearly too much for Trump. He railed at his rally that it’s all “fake news.”

To which Woodward said, almost as if the president were seated at the dais, “Mr. President, the media is not fake news.”

It’s too late to worry about the labels; too late to hope the president will change his act. But it’s not too late for journalists covering the presidency to focus on the difficult task at hand.

“Welcome to the series finale of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,”  Hasan Minhaj told the DC banquet-goers. I’ll join Donald Trump in hoping that Minhaj had that part right.

Peter Funt is a syndicated columnist.