Tom Brokaw has now become spokesman for middle America. So how do regular folks view politics? “I think that they feel it’s a closed game,” says Brokaw in the video above, a chat with the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz. The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner isn’t helping to open up this particular game, argues Brokaw. Over the weekend, he said it was time to “rethink” the event, and to Kurtz he says, “If you go, it’ll steal your soul.” The crux of the Brokaw critique is this: “We’re more interested in the celebrities than we are in the concerns of real folks who are out there.” And so the solution, as Brokaw confirmed to Kurtz, is to dump the celebs and go back to the era when he was a White House correspondent: “I...met people who came down from the Hill or came from the agencies and I had an evening to know them personally,” he said.
A ban on celebrities might be a difficult stunt for a profession that’s filled with them. Nor is there consensus on the soul deficit. White House Correspondents’ Association President Caren Bohan responded level-headedly to that Brokaw slam: “I still maintain that there is substance there at the dinner,” says Bohan, who concedes that some association members have raised concerns similar to Brokaw’s. “I think the celebrities are what tend to get a lot of attention, but the mission is still very important.” That mission is to provide scholarships and mentoring opportunities for aspiring journalists---and this year, that means “$132,200 in scholarships to 16 worthy college students” along with programs for kids in local high schools. Bohan hastens to note that her employer, Reuters, didn’t contribute one bit to the celebrification of the 2012 event. “We invited newsmakers,” she says, featuring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
So would Bohan get behind a move to bar the door against Hollywood types? “I don’t favor a ban on celebrities because I don’t think I should be telling news organizations whom to invite or not invite,” she writes via e-mail. “I do favor a continued discussion about how we can address the concerns of some of our members who feel the WHCA’s mission of promoting excellence in journalism gets overshadowed.”