The Evening Included a Private Reception with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
By Kip Hill
Washington, D.C. (May 9, 2013) — Pundits and public alike refer to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as “nerd prom.” The moniker may apply to the seven Missouri School of Journalism graduate students who attended this year’s bash (some more than others), but as honored recipients of scholarships and encouragement from the president and first lady, the wonky nature of political journalism gave way to dizzying sights, spirits and stars.
The students were enrolled in the School’s Washington Program during the 2012-13 academic year. As part of their studies they interned at the Dallas Morning News, FleishmanHillard, Kiplinger, National Geographic, NPR, Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman Review and the Washington Post. The students also had the opportunity to meet and network with news media and strategic communication professionals in the D.C. area. Barbara Cochran, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, directs the program.
Proceeds from the annual dinner go toward funding more than $100,000 in scholarships and awards that recognize aspiring and accomplished journalists. The Missouri School of Journalism had the largest group of scholarship winners.
A private reception with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama kicked off the night. Students Alexandria Baca, Gina Cook, Anqi Du, Kip Hill, Yan Lu, Ruisha Qian, and Steven Rich met the pair for a few words and an official photograph. Du said she was a little nervous before meeting the first couple, especially on stage in front of giants of journalism and Hollywood alike.
“But when I hugged with Michelle Obama and also shook hands with the president on the stage, the only impression that I had was that they are really friendly and easygoing without giving the feeling of distance,” Du said.
The dinner floor staged luminaries from film, television and radio. CBS News‘ Gayle King introduced scholarship award winners following the dinner consisting of broiled filet, poached halibut and that staple of the Washington Hilton, Lord Baltimore cake for dessert.
Cook met Gerard Butler, the Scottish heartthrob who starred as King Leonidas in the film 300. Also on hand was Peter Sagal from National Public Radio, who took time to chat with the students about the hardships of getting into broadcast news. A shout-out during King’s introduction landed Rich a hug from Brian Fantana himself, Anchorman actor Paul Rudd.
WHCA president Ed Henry kept the focus of the dinner program, which included a send-up of attendee Kevin Spacey’s role on “House of Cards,” on the current crop of journalists and their heirs.
“The focus shouldn’t be on what the Hilton is serving tonight, but who we are serving tomorrow,” Henry said.
For all the glitz and glamor of the event, the honored students kept their focus on what the dinner meant to their future in the industry. After an embrace, Michelle Obama told Lu to “keep it going.”
“She looked so sincere that I told myself, ‘Oh man, I really need to do good journalism all my life because of this,'” Lu said.
The WHCA was born on Feb. 25, 1914, after the White House let it be known that President Woodrow Wilson was interested in having an unprecedented series of regularly scheduled press conferences but was unsure how to pick the reporters to invite to these sessions. Today, the Association operates completely independently of the White House and the White House credentialing process.