On the Deep Grammar of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner

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Press Think

On the Deep Grammar of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner

'The Washington press corps is like that big extended family with a terrible secret that cannot be confronted because everyone knows how bad it would be if the discussion ever got real.'

President Obama has a good laugh at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 25, 2015. When the elite of the DC press corps get together with the DC elite... the funniest thing is how clearly it proves the fact that for the remaining nights of the year, the joke is always on us. (Photo: Twitter/@BostonGlobe)

Have you ever come to know members of a family who collaborate in staying silent about something bad that happened in the past, something no one wants to talk about because to talk about it would probably tear the family apart?

The innocent would have to accuse the guilty. The guilty to defend themselves would find a way to spread responsibility around— or just lie about what happened. Which would then enrage people who were there because it rewrites history and erases their experience. If you have ever come to know such a family — or been part of one, as I have — then you know how participants in the conspiracy share a signaling system that can instantly warn an incautious member: you are three, four hops away from violating the pact of silence… if you don’t want to bring the whole structure down, then I suggest you change the subject… or switch to one of the harmless work-arounds we have provided for the purpose of never getting too close to the source of our dread.

None of that has to be said, of course. It’s all done by antennae. The result is that serious talk about certain subjects is off limits. Key routes into that subject are closed off, because the signaling system activates itself three or four rings out from dread center. To an outsider this manifests itself as an inexplicable weirdness or empty quality, difficult to name. To insiders it becomes: this is who we are… the people who route around—

I mention this because I think it helps in interpreting a bizarre event that [unfolded Saturday night] in Washington and on many a media platform: the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

Read the full article at Jay Rosen's blog, Press Think

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen teaches journalism at New York University, where he has been on the faculty since 1986. He is the author of PressThink, a blog about journalism's ordeals in the age of the web. He tweets @jayrosen_nyu

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