We descended into the bowels of the hotel around 7 pm, just as the event was starting, and were soon directed to the press table, which was in the back corner of an enormous hall. The press table wasn't full, but I did make some friends there, among them Ian Schwartz, the 18-year-old conservative blogger behind such sites as firedavidgregory.com. Also at my table were David Lat, who co-edits Wonkette, Greg Pierce, who writes the Inside Politics column for the Washington Times, and Mary Katherine Ham, who blogs over at Hugh Hewitt's site. (Here's Ian's write-up of the festivities, and here's Mary Katherine's.) Other mediafolk in attendance were Jeff Gannon, aka James Guckert, the former Talon News White House reporter whose personal and professional life became a major media story last year, and National Review Online's Kathryn Jean Lopez, known to her fans as K-Lo, though both managed to secure better tables than I did. [NOTE: As it turns out, K-Lo did not attend. We were told by a media rep that she was there -- he even told us what table! -- but apparently she couldn't make it. My apologies.]
And tables at the event didn't come cheap – they each sat about 8, and each table, with a few exceptions, cost $2,000. (There were nearly 100 tables in the hall.) Once we settled in, master of ceremonies Cal Thomas, a conservative syndicated columnist and Fox News Channel contributor, did a quick introduction, and then the Rev. Robert A. Sirico offered up a politically charged invocation that railed against the way "truth and goodness are distorted" by the mainstream media, with its "lies that obfuscate decency." After that, everyone recited the pledge of allegiance, which Thomas suggested was an act of rebellion. When it came time to say the words "under God," the crowd got considerably louder.
Then we ate. There weren't any choices for the meal – a big piece of meat was placed in front of everyone, and waiters came around to refill wine glasses. I thought about asking if there was a vegetarian option, just for fun, but thought better of it. (Besides, my steak was pretty damn good. It should be noted here that members of the press did not pay for the food that MRC provided.) As for the event itself, here's how it worked: A presenter would make a little speech about the evils of the MSM, and then show video clips of the nominees in each of the Dishonors Awards categories. There were five categories, with names like the "Cindy Sheehan Media Hero Award" and the "Slam Uncle Sam Award," and three nominees in each category. Each nominated clip would be played on the four giant monitors in the hall – this was largely an event about television news – and then the presenter would announce a winner. Chris Matthews won both of the awards mentioned above; the "Send Bush to Abu Ghraib Award" went to Jack Cafferty, the "I'm Not a Political Genius But I Play One on TV Award" went to Rosie O'Donnell, and the "Aaron Brown Memorial Award for Stupidest Analysis" went to Ted Turner.
Speaking of Turner, both the presenters – CNBC's Larry Kudlow, the Washington Times' Tony Blankley, and talk show host Mark Levin – and those accepting the awards were excessively fond of "no one watches CNN" jokes. (They usually went something along the lines of "each day, literally dozens and dozens of people across the country watch Jack Cafferty…") The low point of the evening was probably the speech by former Secretary of Labor nominee Linda Chavez, who accepted an award "on behalf of" Chris Matthews and claimed that liberals who want Bill Clinton back in the White House should stop rooting for Hillary and throw their support behind Barbara Streisand – because, apparently, that's who Bill is sleeping with these days, hardy har har. She wrapped up by criticizing Matthews for driving a Mercedes, unlike herself, a bit of faux-populism that may not have been exactly the right call considering that she was standing before a group of people in suits and tuxes who'd just paid $250 each for dinner.
Some of the moments spotlighted at the awards were indeed cringeworthy, however, chief among them Turner's argument that North Korea really isn't so bad, because though people he saw there were thin, and rode bikes, he didn't see any brutality. (Wolf Blitzer helpfully pointed out in the interview that a lot of the thin people Turner saw were probably starving.) CBS News came up more than once over the course of the evening, mostly in familiar references to Memogate and Dan Rather, though one has to give the MRCers credit for playing a clip of a "60 Minutes Wednesday" segment on yard sales in which Steve Hartman assured a potential buyer that a CBS News Standards book has "never been used."
But the event got old fast, at least for me. Part of the problem is that it's hard to look at someone like Chris Matthews as emblematic of a vast, left-wing media conspiracy, since the liberals over at Media Matters and other places seem to spend just as much time attacking him as do conservatives. I'm sure Media Matters could have had a nearly identical event, in fact, a gathering of like minded souls laughing at clips ostensibly proving an overwhelming conservative bias and irresponsibility on the part of the media, though it should be noted that there I would have probably have been offered a vegetarian option. In today's era of 24 hour news networks and blurred lines between opinion and news, people operating from both the left and right can easily find enough fodder for an evening of fine wine, fine food, and confirmation of one's own fine, fine opinions.