Washington's "Nerd Prom"

In an new podcast from On The Media, hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield discuss the White House Correspondents Dinner, dubbed “Nerd Prom,” and how this major event has turned into a multi-million dollar business opportunity for lots of people, straying far away from its roots.

The White House Correspondents Dinner is among the many familiar spectator events during the Spring season including the Kentucky Derby, Indie 500, and the Pope’s Easter Message in St. Peter’s Square, and is characterized as being the most “self-important” of all by On The Media.

The weekend’s glamorous events are featured in a new documentary called “Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week.” Patrick Gavin is the documentary’s writer, director, and star, and he discusses his documentary and the Dinner with the hosts of On The Media, saying the Dinner has become about almost everything but the White House Correspondents. In addition to celebrating the hard work of the Press Corp, the main objective of the dinner is, or was, to raise tuition money for promising students looking to attend journalism schools. Up to $100,000 in tuition grants are normally given. It’s a great number, except for the fact that the CEO/Director of the White House Correspondents Association, gets paid more money than is given away in scholarships, which is in general a bad ratio, but that’s besides the point.

During the On The Media podcast, they play a clip from a previous Dinner, where ABC’s Ann Compton tries to make the audience aware of how their excessive chatter caused the Scholarship recipients to not even hear their names being called. It made it clear how the crowd was worried more about the superficiality of the Dinner than what the Dinner is supposed to be about, which is giving away Scholarships to hard working students. As said by the On the Media hosts, the events have turned into a weekend of “hobnobbing, shrimp eating, and celebrity spotting.” Gavin points out that the Dinner has turned into a big business conference for politicians, where they can sell themselves and their brand and establish where they fall in the pecking order; and for people outside of Washington, the Dinner has become a means for them to lobby and influence. The Dinner has greatly moved away from the actual work of White House Correspondents. The trailer of the Gavin’s documentary includes a number of powerful quotes describing the Dinner’s transition including: “A great big media, celebrity mosh pit,” “Oscars of Washington,” “Washington’s most opulent and outrageous week,” and “the Dinner is a long, long way away from its roots.”

I think that it’s inappropriate for an important charity dinner to have turned into such a high-society social event. I agree very much with Gavin’s idea that in order to go back to the Dinner’s roots, the red carpet needs to be taken away, the scholarship program needs to be strengthened, and the President should avoid the event once in a while, because celebrities are in fact attending with the expectation of meeting and socializing with the President. The Dinner needs to move away from being a celebrity posh event and go back to the focus of charity work and scholarships. Kim Kardashian and politics doesn’t really seem like an appropriate mix. Also in the documentary’s trailer, which can be watched below, Gavin makes it clear how celebrities attending the event aren’t even aware of who the White House Correspondents are. When asking actor Patrick Duffy who his favorite White House Correspondent was, he replied with a mere “that’s interesting, uhhh…” Gavin got similar answers from other public figures including Christian Slater and JC Chasez.

Attendees need to be less focused on the glitz and glam and the focus on charity and scholarships needs to be brought back to the forefront and purpose of the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Trailer for Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week:


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