George W., meet Sanjaya

04/24/2007 10:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What can you say about an event that boasts in attendance George W.
Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, The New York Times, Hollywood celebrities, former
hustler Jeff Gannon, and Sanjaya Malakar? The White House
Correspondents' Dinner, formerly an exclusive confab of Washington
insiders, now has less credibility than Dancing With The Stars. The
event has now become a schmooze fest for table-hopping brown nosers, a
spectacle of seeing and being seen more suited to a Long Island bar

Say what you will about Sanjaya, he's a star, and is at least better at
what he does than the president. But his innocent presence removes what
remaining cachet, if any, remained of the event. The idea of paparazzi
jousting for a picture of a hapless teen who's entire notoriety is
based on being so bad he's good, who rated more television coverage
than any Important Person in the room, is the perfect metaphor for our
time. Add to that headliner Rich Little, evidently engaged because
Anita Bryant was unavailable and whose idea of cutting edge material is
a Viagra joke, and you get a sense of the collective
let's-sweep-it-under-the-rug ennui that has taken hold of Washington.

Laurie David and Sheryl Crow's testy exchange with Karl Rove perfectly
illustrates the pitfalls of failing to adhere to this code of conduct.
The ladies dared to engage Rove with few honest questions about global
warming and he momentarily flashed his true satanic id, like Bilbo
Baggins grabbing for Frodo's ring. Rove, knowing full well he had no
answers, resorted to the latest fashionable tactic of the right, which
is to contemptuously pooh pooh the talk as just more leftist drivel. He
then dismissed them with what might rate as the biggest lie of his
entire tenure: "I work for the American people." Rove, our Machiavelli,
counts on the fact that most Americans are uninformed, have no
attention span and seem to have adopted the mantra favored by desperate
housewives everywhere, "Ignore it and it will go away."

David and Crow violated the sacred creed of the evening, which is to
pretend that everything is fine and that the administration is really a
bunch of nice folks. It isn't, they're not, and they said it and were
treated like they had defecated on the lawn at a garden party. It was
probably the evening's only genuinely honest moment.

Stephen Colbert also violated the code in his notorious performance
last year, which will be remembered as one of the most audacious comedy
performances ever. He did what he does nightly on Comedy Central,
lampooning the right wing while impersonating one of them, yet he did
it in the very presence of his targets, and the organizers of the party
were so out to lunch that they had no idea what they were getting into.
They only hired him because he is hot and popular, which is all that
matters. Aside from the fact that most of the attendees, especially the
president, don't understand genuine satire, the ineptitude of the
administration has trickled down to even the event's booking agents.

The press, whose ability to hold the administration accountable for the
last 6 years has been at best grossly inefficient and at worst a felony
seems to have no problem jovially slapping on the back the very
perpetrators of our current crises. Had they really been doing their
jobs, Americans would long ago have been channeling Frankenstein,
storming the White House with lit torches, screaming, "Get the
monster!" and demanding that heads roll. Already this administration
has gone down as one of the most damaging in history, yet the press is
as complicit as they. But the press understands the real danger of
seriously confronting the powers that be: they could lose their White
House access, their place at the Vanity Fair table and the opportunity
to meet Mariah Carey.

The sight of the nation's supposed watchdogs glad-handing the people
they should be exposing seems like the nail in the coffin of any real
progress. It makes one pine for the halcyon days of Watergate, when a
maverick press risked their careers and actually got to the bottom of a
corrupt administration's misdeeds. But no more. They're all living in
the same gated community, and they like it. No soiled lawns there.

Had the press the courage of Woodward and Bernstein, or even David and
Crow, we might not be living through these disastrous times. The powers
that be would be where they should, which is handcuffed in the back of
a cruiser on the way downtown for fingerprinting. Iraq might never have
happened, or, for that matter, the entire Bush presidency. But don't
hold your breath. The fourth estate still wants power, access and
social status. They are still hesitant to demand the truth and lose
their privileges. They are still able to distract themselves, and us,
with endless coverage of Don Imus and Anna Nicole. And if they're
really lucky, they might even get their picture taken with Sanjaya.
Talk about status.