KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Harger: White House Press’ ‘Nerd Prom’ is a bad look

Apr 26, 2024, 7:54 AM | Updated: 10:09 am

nerd prom...

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrived at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner April 30, 2022. (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)

(Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)

Saturday night, Washington D.C. will roll out the red carpet for the Annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

It’s the event where journalists, who usually report on the White House, instead wine-and-dine with the president, political leaders, lobbyists and a who’s who of D.C. power. There’s a comedian, the president cracks jokes and it’s all live on CNN — what’s not to love?

Well, everything.

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This dinner — affectionately nicknamed “Nerd Prom” — is a terrible idea and does a disservice to those of us working in local newsrooms. Attendees might disagree, but many on the outside will see this as a cozy relationship between journalists and the political figures they are supposed to critically report on.

That can create the perception of bias or conflict of interest, even if there is none. That’s no way to build trust. Just the mere appearance of a journalist sharing a good laugh and getting a pat on the back from the president “heebies my jeebies.”

Journalism — at least objective, factual journalism like the type we do in the MyNorthwest.com and KIRO Newsradio newsrooms (and in most local newsrooms across the country) — can be a lonely job. You have high expectations of what my team and I do here.

I don’t want to be all buddy-buddy with a politician because I don’t want to think twice if I have to report on something that could upset them, tank their career or blow up funding for one of their pet projects.

You want us to get the truth and to get it right. If we have to upset the powers-that-be in order to tell you what’s happening — oh yeah, you want us to hold them accountable.

Politicians should grit their teeth when a reporter is in the same room with them. We’re the fly in the ointment. The sand in the shell. The fourth estate. We’re supposed to be the watchdogs, not the lapdogs.

And that, I’m afraid, is what’s wrong with this White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. People are going to tune in, see network news anchors rubbing elbows with political leaders, and say, “I knew it. That news guy is in the tank for these politicians.”

In a profession that hinges on trust and credibility, why gamble with that perception?

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Every political season, I remind my team about journalism 101: We don’t go on social media and share our political opinions. We don’t put out yard signs or slap on bumper stickers. We don’t contribute money to campaigns.  When I was a reporter, there were a couple of years I didn’t even vote because I didn’t want that vote to influence my coverage.

And now, we have to add this one to the list: Don’t go out and crack jokes with politicians at some, “hey we’re cool with each other behind the scenes” event.

We’re journalists, and politicians are not our friends. The only ‘prom’ I ever wanted to attend was one where I could spike the punch bowl, not spike the public’s trust. Say no to Nerd Prom.

Charlie Harger is the News Director for MyNorthwest.com and KIRO Newsradio.

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Harger: White House Press’ ‘Nerd Prom’ is a bad look