Sunday, April 29, 2018



"Those were the days" I thought as I was watched the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Nope, I wasn't recalling when Archie Bunker shocked the world in All In The Family (he really didn't but the political correct had to pretend) but my trips inside the American bubble to mingle with the famous and those who wished they were.
I also wasn't remembering when the dinner's guest comics were clever and funny like Stephen Colbert and not killing their good lines with foul expanses of dubious humour like Michelle Wolf.
Early Sun expeditions were legendary but our trips to Washington were great even by those standards. Led by Doug Creighton, the Sun founder and a delightful Pied Piper, the Sun mafioso used to invade the White House dinner because we owned the Houston Post, one of the larger U.S. newspapers that died a couple of decades ago. (One of Doug's few mistakes came when he bought the Post rather than the Chicago Sun-Times. Most directors wanted Chicago.)
The dinner's a magic time in Washington. The city's pretty with blossoms, the summer humidity not yet soaking, but mainly because major politicians spend a lot of nice time cozying up to major journalists even if they would never dare confess that in public.
 On this journey, there was a special tour into White House corners the public never sees. Some  Americans got annoyed when I pointed out an error in the plaque on a Truman portrait and was indiscreet enough to remind them it was nicknamed the White House after it was painted to cover scorch marks left when we burned it after winning the War of 1812.
Toronto used to have a great weekend when the Toronto Press Club flourished. The Byline Ball, revue and dinner that invited media greats like Walter Cronkite. Corporations and pols rushed to have receptions for three days.
Both Doug and I had been press club presidents and missed the decline and eventual death of that fine time of media smoozing. So we threw ourselves into this similar Washington weekend with abandon.
We had so many notables at our reception before dinner that no one really caught the name of a tiny U.S. cabinet minister who was pulled in by Don Hunt, one of the three Sun founders. Don who was quite large had reverted to his days as a rowdy sports reporter and had found the minister in a hotel hall.
Doug viewed his colleague's kidnapping with more humour than the minister's security detail. "Is Don carrying that guy or just dragging him?" he asked me. Fortunately the perplexed minister found out the friendly giant ran the Post before his guards were ordered to rescue him.
The dinner was a cross between a World Series game and the Academy Awards.
The Sun/Post had two tables.  I was sitting beside Miss Universe, whose date was a famous Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson. (Tom Hanks played him in the movie Charlie Wilson's War from a book that detailed how Charlie wangled huge sums for the CIA in Afghanistan.)
Across the table were Ken Taylor and his wife Pat. I tried to wiggle insights out of our former ambassador about his sheltering of the Americans trapped in Iran in 1979 but the dinner roar took the moxie out of major questions.  ( Ben Affleck's mischievous movie Argosy which downgraded Taylor and the Canadian role was far in the future.)
The star of the dinner was, of course, an actor who never rose above supporting roles. Yet Ronald Reagan was a better president even at the end with his Alzheimer's than Donald Trump is on his best day.
The mood was mellow and the applause was warm. Then Reagan, a great talker, rattled his sabre and got standing applause when he reminded us about his bombing of Muammar Gaddafi (there are many spellings.)
I did not stand. After all, he was boasting about bombing the home of the Libyan leader in a raid where two sons were wounded and Gaddafi claimed his four-year-old adopted daughter was killed. (The West still doesn't know if that's true.)
I looked over at Charlie Wilson, who was such a blithe spirit operating from his hot tub that he was nicknamed by colleagues as "good time Charlie." But Charlie wasn't standing either. And he had been a naval officer. "I don't think you clap or stand when you injure the innocent family of a leader," I said, and Charlie nodded his support.
It's hard from TV to grasp how the dinner has evolved from what used to be a grand party. Now it appears everyone is posing for the nearest camera. It doesn't help when CNN gives us those endless panels as we wait for hours to judge the latest verbal assassination.
I don't know why the correspondents' association bother with one comedy hitman when no one can top Donald Trump as a clown. The dinner audience is sophisticated enough to figure out his lies, and all the Trump supporters watching on TV will swallow any fib from his supposed fortune to his supposed accomplishments.
Poking this president with a stick of humour is like expecting a porcupine to feel the prick of a pin.
The dinner in this form has been ruined by the man who didn't come to dinner. CNN is going to have fill a Saturday night some other way, perhaps with Senate mud wrestling.

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