Volcanic Ash: Attacks on First Amendment are not a laughing matter
When I moved from Hilo to Washington, D.C., in 1978 to cover the Hawaii congressional delegation for the Honolulu Star- Bulletin, I called the Gannett News Service office I’d be working from to tell them I’d landed safely.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
When I moved from Hilo to Washington, D.C., in 1978 to cover the Hawaii congressional delegation for the
Honolulu Star- Bulletin, I called the Gannett News
Service office I’d be working from to tell them I’d landed safely.
“Great,” said my new boss. “We have a staff meeting this afternoon, and you can meet everybody.”
“Um, I can’t come in until tomorrow,” I said. “I need to shop for clothes.”
The aloha prints, work shirts and jeans I wore on my Big Island reporting rounds weren’t going to cut it in the nation’s capital. I taxied to a Sears store and outfitted myself with sports coats, slacks and appropriately drab dress shirts.
I later learned the yokel from Hawaii was the subject of much joking at the staff meeting. It got worse when the clip-on tie I wore because I didn’t know how to knot a real one fell off in the elevator in front of new co-workers.
The clothing issue went from joking to contentious when it came to the annual black-tie dinners of the White House Correspondents Association, where the media hobnobbed with Washington’s political elite and assorted celebrities
and comedians roasted the president.
Everybody in our small bureau was strongly encouraged to attend to raise the company’s profile in D.C.
I’d conformed as much as I was going to on dress and simply wasn’t going to put on a monkey suit. I told my boss that if he forced me to go, I’d wear a T-shirt from a street vendor with a tuxedo printed on it.
Beyond wardrobe, the grand display of coziness between journalists and public officials we covered struck me as pompous and unhelpful to our credibility with readers.
My boss relented after I offered to man the night news desk so others who wished to could go.
Forty years later the dinner is getting a long-needed makeover as the Washington media contends with the Donald Trump era.
Previous presidents took the joking at their expense in reasonably good humor; Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama gave as good as they got, slinging one-liners like Rodney Dangerfield.
But Trump was stung at the 2011 dinner by jokes about his “birther” conspiracies by Obama and comedian Seth Meyers and has refused to attend since
becoming president, instead directing angry tweets at
the dinner and its barbs about his administration.
The White House Correspondents Association finally recognized the bad optics and will ditch the comedian at the next dinner in April in favor of a speech about the First Amendment by noted historian Ron Chernow.
They’ll still be wearing monkey suits, but it’s good to see the attention of the capital media establishment back where it belongs as our country’s vital free press comes under unprecedented attack.
Reach David Shapiro at email@example.com.