Frank Rich: ‘NY Times’ Will No Longer Participate in WHCA Dinner

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By: E&P Staff

Tucked inside Frank Rich’s Sunday column in the New York Times is indication that the newspaper will no longer play ball with the annual White House Correspondents Association dinners in Washington, which he calls “a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era.” He writes that the event “illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows….

“After last weekend’s correspondents’ dinner, The Times decided to end its participation in such events,” wrote Rich. “But even were the dinner to vanish altogether, it remains but a yearly televised snapshot of the overall syndrome. The current White House, weakened as it is, can still establish story lines as fake as ‘Mission Accomplished’ and get a free pass.”

Rich mixed this criticism of the press in with regret over the death of David Halberstam this week, who Rich said it would be hard to imagine “yukking it up with Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz and two discarded ‘American Idol’ contestants” at the dinner. “It’s our country’s bitter fortune that while David Halberstam is gone, too many Joe Alsops still hold sway,” writes Rich, comparing the Pulitzer-winner to the now-forgotten Vietnam War cheerleading columnist.

The column also looked at this year’s dinner, and compared it to previous ones, noting tie-ins between the 2004 WHCA event and the military’s cover-up and fictionalized retelling of Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan.

“When President Bush spoke at the dinner at week’s end, he followed his jokes with a eulogy about Tillman’s sacrifice.” writes Rich. “But he kept the circumstances of Tillman’s death vague, no doubt because the White House did indeed get the message that the Pentagon’s press release about Tillman’s losing his life in battle was fiction. Yet it would be four more weeks before Pat Tillman’s own family was let in on the truth.”

The Rich column also includes a slam at fellow columnist David Broder:

“It?s our country?s bitter fortune that while David Halberstam is gone, too many Joe Alsops still hold sway. Take the current dean of the Washington press corps, David Broder, who is leading the charge in ridiculing Harry Reid for saying the obvious ? that ‘this war is lost’ (as it is militarily, unless we stay in perpetuity and draft many more troops). In February, Mr. Broder handed down another gem of Beltway conventional wisdom, suggesting that ‘at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback.'”

The full column is behind the TimesSelect pay wall at www.nytimes.com.

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