The Gridiron's Betters, Skewered With a Butter Knife

At the Gridiron Dinner, journalists mingled with politicos such as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and, below from left, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.
At the Gridiron Dinner, journalists mingled with politicos such as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and, below from left, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. (Photos By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ask members of the Gridiron Club -- a group of mostly senior reporters who staged their annual dinner at the Capital Hilton last night -- why it exists and you'll usually get three answers. 1) It's a rare venue for biting humor. 2) Politicians are off-duty and, therefore, will do and say outrageous things. 3) Journalists are off-duty and, therefore, will do and say outrageous things.

But the truth is: These things aren't true anymore.

Satire is everywhere. And in places like Don Imus's morning radio show and Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," politicians and journalists will say or do all manner of ridiculous thing to get airtime. Politicians are never off-duty. Neither are journalists. And now that journalists are power brokers and politicians have their own talk shows and Web sites, the two groups pretty much run in the same circles.

Still the dinner went on. And official Washington arrived, often unescorted. Men in white tie and tails. Some in boots. Women in comfortable shoes. Safe dresses with a touch of glitter, very little skin. There was Madeleine Albright in black sequins, unescorted. There was Rep. Steny Hoyer alone in his tails. And Mayor Anthony Williams with no wife and no mother.

There was Sen. George Allen in tails and black cowboy boots.

For 121 years, the dinner has been for Washington pols and press "a place for them to relax and tell stories," said Gridiron President John Hall, an affair where people could let their hair down and crack a few jokes without having to pay for it politically.

President Bush spoke. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois spoke for the Democrats. Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president, spoke for Republicans. Most of the evening was taken up by journalists -- and on-key ringer singers -- doing song parodies of recent news events: New Orleans, the Iraq war, Cheney's hunting mishap.

Ha. Ha.

How shocking is it to know that there was irreverent humor on such subjects as FEMA, NSA wiretapping and Dubai? That between the Marine Corps Band opener and the first course of crab and oven-roasted tomato tian there'd be cracks about cowboy-meets-cowboy movies and the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal?

The Washington-as-Broadway-style-revue idea is so quaint, it makes the Capitol Steps seem hip and Mark Russell as relevant as 50 Cent. The real world has bypassed the Gridiron Dinner like it was a Yugo dealership.

This being a classic Washington office party, nobody ever really gets drunk and dances on the table, but the idea is for the 65 members and the 600 or so guests to lighten up, loosen up, show a little menschitude -- let the world know that Washington is not the stuffiest, most uptight city in the world.

For some asinine reason, reporters are not allowed to report on the dinner. But since reporters are involved, information does leak out.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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