Political Read: Psy, Katy Perry And Journalism In DC

04/30/2013 11:00 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2013
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WASHINGTON -- Lord help me, but I like Katy Perry. She had that one album of pop as perfectly synthetic as Cheez Whiz and as hooky as Neil Sedaka in his prime: sunny, mindless California.

So when I spotted her hurrying past me in a hotel corridor before the White House Correspondents' Dinner last weekend, I did what any 14-year-old would do: I shouted, "Katy, I'm a big fan!"

BuzzFeed caught me, as well they should have.

Before last weekend's Lost Weekend fully fades from view -- it can't happen fast enough -- I wanted to share some thoughts about the event.

I don't want to get all hair-shirty or lugubrious. Much of the weekend is innocent fun (though poor Katy looked confused and alarmed, as if asking herself, "Why is the old guy shouting at me?").

But let's face it: the event has long since metastasized into a symbol of something deep -- and sometimes deeply troubling -- about media culture in general and Washington journalism in particular.

What was Katy Perry of all people doing there? And what was I doing swooning over her?

And what about Psy? He was there, too, which may have been the final jumped shark: a YouTube star so vapid as to make Katy seem as substantive and deep as Billie Holiday by comparison.

The way I would summarize it is this: the dinner has become a three-day religious festival devoted to veneration of the power of celebrity.

Celebrity is the iron ore of our age.

And like any raw material made suddenly crucial by new technology, it can benefit society in unimaginable ways, or destroy it just as utterly.

Iron and steel made the railroads, which made us one country in the mid-19th century under the leadership of a railroad lawyer named Lincoln.

Today, celebrity is driving digital and social media, in society and in journalism. Will it unite us for the common good and for the good of commerce? Or will it divide, distract and dumb us down in an atavistic search for the attention that begets "traffic" that begets advertising that begets profits that beget power?

These are new forms of old questions. Iron and steel not only made the railroads, but also the mass newspaper presses of the ugly tabloid wars. Television brought us Ed Murrow but also, well, television.

What's new now is that journalists have become their own distribution systems, which means that they have a reason -- or an excuse -- to be in the celebrity business, for the supposed sake of their work.

In confident, knowledgeable hands, this can be a very good thing.

Even if I didn't work for her, I would argue that Arianna Huffington is the model of how to leverage visibility into good journalism. She used her prominence to start a revolution: the first mix of social-media, community and newsgathering. You're reading it now.

We just won a series of Webby awards that further prove the worth of her vision.

But lesser hands and minds need to remember not to be distracted.

We need to be known for our work -- for what we report and write and speak -- and not for being known, or for being in proximity to the Known.

And of course I will tweet out a link to this once it is posted.