“This is a moment when people already think the press is too cozy with government,” said Dean Baquet, The New York Times’ Washington, D.C., bureau chief. “And I think these events confirm that.”
Mr. Baquet was on the phone on April 30, nine days after his first-ever trip to a White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner—and his last, according to the newspaper’s current plans.
On April 29, op-ed columnist Frank Rich harangued the Washington press corps for its prewar reporting and its apparent coziness with Bush administration officials. Roughly 1,100 words into his weekly column, Mr. Rich buried the lead: “After last weekend’s correspondents’ dinner, the Times decided to end its participation in such events.”
Mr. Baquet confirmed that Mr. Rich’s report was correct, and that the annual correspondents’ dinner will go on without The Times.
“We’re going to start reviewing them all,” said Mr. Baquet, the former Los Angeles Times editor who took over the bureau in March. He mentioned the annual Gridiron Dinner skit-comedy night as another event being reconsidered.
Executive editor Bill Keller, in an e-mail to The Observer, confirmed that the new policy change could extend far outside the beltway: Events that cater to City Hall and Statehouse reporters in New York—the Inner Circle dinner and Legislative Correspondents’ Dinner—are also on the hit list.
The May 5 Legislative Correspondents’ Dinner in Albany will be the last one for The Times, one staffer said, citing an internal memo. The most recent Inner Circle gala was April 14. (Metro editor Joe Sexton declined to comment on the local events.)
“I think we need to start sending a signal to the public that journalists and the people we cover have a polite but adversarial relationship,” said Mr. Baquet of the D.C. events. “We shouldn’t do anything that goes against that right now.”
The Times’ final snuggle with the Bush administration was a memorable one. Mr. Baquet, sat at Table 92 in the Washington Hilton ballroom, along with Maureen Dowd, Jim Rutenberg, Adam Nagourney, David Sanger, Douglas Jehl, Kate Phillips—and Karl Rove, the President’s bare-knuckled chief advisor and strategist.
The Times’ guest had been invited a few months earlier by Mr. Rutenberg, prior to the time that Mr. Baquet took over the bureau.
Mr. Rove’s presence led celebrity guests Sheryl Crow (a guest of Bloomberg News) and Laurie David (a guest of CNN) to confront him over environmental policy. Angry words ensued. Though the spat occurred at The Times’ table, it was The Washington Post—not The Times—that broke the story the following day.
Mr. Sanger said that he saw the two women speaking to Mr. Rove but didn’t think it was a big altercation, and that the event didn’t influence the rest of the evening.
However, he said he understands the masthead’s decision.
“I don’t think there’s any reportorial loss from not attending the dinners,” said Mr. Sanger. “I think the imagery of these on television creates a false impression that we regularly sit around with members of the administration, laughing at each other’s bad jokes. That’s not what life in Washington is like, so it’s probably just as well not to attend.”
Mr. Baquet said that the decision to stop participating in the dinners “has nothing to do with the Rove dustup.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Baquet—who later attended the Bloomberg News after-party, waiting in the long line of tuxedos outside the Costa Rican embassy to gain admission—said that he felt “uncomfortable” with the entire night.