Junior Prom or Memorable Moment: The Radio Television Correspondents Association Dinner

Just because some in the Washington press corps refer to it as “Junior Prom” doesn’t mean the Radio & Television Correspondents Association Dinner hasn’t had its share of memorable moments.

Washington Honors Media At Radio And Television Correspondents Dinner

President George Bush at 2008 RTCA Dinner

In 2008, even its entertainer/host Mo Rocca dissed the RTCA dinner, calling it the Nicky (Hilton) to the White House Correspondent Dinner’s Paris. And indeed the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (aka “Senior Prom”) in recent years has bigger celebrities (the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Pamela Anderson, Ben Affleck and Mariska Hargitay), more of them and more-buzzed about pre- and post-parties.  Check out some of the pics from last year here.

The RTCA dinner is now in its 65th year. It’s Hollywood quotient in the last decade was mostly limited to activist actors Ron Silver and Al Franken and hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, although Jon Voight and Fran Drescher also put in appearances. But it has a recent history of making headlines from the stage; highlights (lowlights?) include entertainer Don Imus’ raunchy jokes about President Bill Clinton’s personal life in 1996, a major PR gaffe by President George W. Bush in 2004, and, in 2007, a bizarre rappin’ “MC [Karl] Rove.” And unlike the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner, the RTCA’s, which in recent years has been held at the Washington Hilton, is open to TV cameras.

Once upon a time, the tables were switched: Radio and television correspondents worked for richer news organizations and were better paid than their print colleagues and many were glamorous stars in their own right, giving their dinner the higher profile of the two. In 1987, however, the Baltimore Sun’s Michael Kelly started inviting the likes of Fawn Hall and Donna Rice to the White House Correspondents’ dinner and the competition was on.

The Washington Post’s Kim Masters called Mr. Imus’ appearance in 1996 “a roast that turned into an inferno.” The radio shock jock, as President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton sat just feet away, joked that: “When Cal Ripkin broke Lou Gherig’s consecutive game record, the president was at Camden Yards doin’ play by play in the radio with John Miller. Bobby Bonilla hit a double, we all heard the President in his obvious excitement holler ‘Go Baby!’ I remember commenting at the time, I bet that’s not the first time he’s said that. Remember the Astroturf in the pickup?”

He also poked fun at ABC News’ Peter Jennings (who wasn’t there) and CBS News’ Dan Rather (who was.)

Don Imus Appears On Al Sharpton Radio Show

Don Imus

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"NewsHour," ABC News Cutting Back on RTCA Tables This Year

McCain And Obama Square Off In First Presidential Debate

Jim Lehrer of PBS' "NewsHour"

Two of the news organizations that won’t be taking as many people to the RTCA dinner this year as in the past are PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” and ABC News.

In conjunction with “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill & National Journal,” “The Newshour” normally takes 15 tables, but this year, it is down to just two. The show’s financial crunch in the last year, due to corporate underwriting cutbacks, has been well documented.

“It’s a tight economic climate and we can’t afford it,” says Rob Flynn, VP of communications and marketing. “The organization is important to us and we’d like to do more.” Indeed, Linda Scott, producer of Capitol Hill and Congressional coverage for “The NewsHour,” will serve as chair of next year’s dinner.

Despite the smaller presence, the “NewsHour” snagged a high-profile administration guest. Sitting at one of its tables will be retired Marine Gen. James Jones, the National Security Adviser, and his wife Diane.

Also at the tables: “NewsHour” correspondent (and soon to be co-anchor) Judy Woodruff, PBS President CEO Paula Kerger and her husband Joe Kerger; the new COO of PBS, Michael Jones and his wife, Vicki Hawkins-Jones; and Les Crystal, the president of MacNeil Lehrer Productions. Ms. Ifill won’t be in attendance because “Washington Week” duty calls.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl

ABC News' Jonathan Karl

ABC News, meanwhile, will have just a single table. George Stephanopoulos won’t be there, but Jonathan Karl, the network’s senior congressional correspondent, will be in attendance, and of course Robin Sproul, VP and Washington bureau chief.

“We made a decision to cut back and have a smaller presence at the dinner this year. Since the White House Correspondents’ dinner was Obama’s first journalism dinner as President, we had a greater presence there and the guests to show for it. We’d also rather focus our resources on covering the news right now,” said spokeswoman Emily Lenzner.