Growing up, before I knew much about politics, policy or the people involved in it, I knew about the Gridiron Dinner.
I first learned about the dinner by flipping through old family photo books. My grandfather was President of the Gridiron Club in 1989. That year, my parents and uncles got dressed up in tuxedos and ballroom dresses and went to the gala. They took pictures with my grandparents, Barbara Bush and George H.W. Bush.
My one-dimensional view of the world at the time allowed me the luxury of exclusively thinking that such events were cool. I begged my parents to go to the “next one” on numerous occasions. They informed me that I had to wait until I was 21, since alcohol would be served.
At long last, I was scheduled to go to the dinner in March 2011. But my grandfather, who was the connection to the whole society, passed away two days before the dinner. It was an extremely difficult time. I really loved and admired my grandfather, and still miss him to this day.
The dinner left my mind as I graduated from school in 2011 and moved to the D.C. area to look for a job that I didn’t have and desperately needed. I got to know some family friends better as a result and I was floored when a family friend asked me to be a guest at the dinner in 2012.
It was an emotionally polar evening. I was beyond humbled at the generosity of my friend and incredibly sad that I didn’t get to share the evening with my grandfather. I got dressed up in a tuxedo and walked in feeling great, but I was disappointed when I got inside. I recognized so many people, having seen them on television or online, but I didn’t know them. They weren’t my friends. And after interacting with a few of them, I decided that I’d be better off in life following my own moral compass.
The breaking point was seeing Wolf Blitzer schmoozing (this dinner is entirely off the record) with Rick Scott. Scott, lest we all forget, was the CEO of a company that was committing record-setting Medicare fraud, a company that made him insanely wealthy. I wanted to ask him where he kept his scam-money. Blitzer wanted to sip champagne with him.
It wasn’t just the Wolf. Many other prominent journalists and publishers were in attendance, rubbing elbows with the politicians they were supposed to be grilling, and toasting to a “one percent life.” It is extremely far removed from the financial realm of reality that most Americans occupy and even further removed from the institutional practices that they deserve.
The event flies in the face of democratic values. Politicians and journalists should not be buddies. These relationships should be kept professional and journalists should try to tear into politicians like lions on zebras. And in light of Donald Trump’s continued attacks on the free press, democracy and the American people, it is incredibly dangerous to normalize a misguided spectacle for a tyrant.