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Scholarship Money Dwarfed by Lavish Party Spending

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On Saturday, the annual orgy of media self-congratulation known as the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner will draw D.C. elites and Hollywood stars together to celebrate the event’s supposed primary mission — handing out scholarships to aspiring journalists.

LOL. In reality, the real reason anyone shows up is for the party. When the hangover dissipates, the money given to j-school students is easily dwarfed by the lavish spending required to put on the vulgar show.

Orbiting the main event, a slew of pre and post-parties hosted by the likes of CNN, NBCUniversal, Politico, and even two Hollywood talent agencies is keeping the party vibe going all weekend.

The White House Correspondents’ Association said it has given out more than $1.5 million in scholarships since 1991, and last year awarded a total of $105,900. To put that number in perspective, it is less than what WHCA executive director Steve Thomma makes in a year, which was $108,258 in 2020, the most recent year for which tax documents are available.

Guests attend the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner at Washington Hilton on April 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Without question, it’s significantly less than what the WHCA spends to produce the dinner. The vast majority of the money raised each year at “Nerd Prom” goes to paying expenses like food, beverages, and celebrity emcees — this year, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show host Trevor Noah will do the honors.

In 2019, the WHCD raised $777,300 but cost close to $560,000, according to tax filings. That year, the group gave out $118,000 in scholarships, which means the WCHA spent nearly five times more on the party than it gave away to students.

View of gift bag during TIME and People’s Annual White House Correspondents’ Association Cocktail Party at St Regis Hotel on April 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Time and People)

To put it another way, the WHCA spent just 15 percent of its take on its so-called primary objective of helping foster the next generation of reporters.

The cost of admission to this year’s dinner is $3,500 per table, which establishment news organizations like CNN and the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post will gladly pay for the opportunity to rub elbows with politicians and celebrities.

In past dinners, there have been as many as 260 tables, which means Saturday’s event could bring in as much as $910,000. (This year’s shindig is likely to feature slightly fewer tables due to lingering coronavirus concerns).

California Representative Nancy Pelosi attend the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner at Washington Hilton on April 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The WCHA said it has “allotted” $131,500 for this year’s round of scholarships, which means the scholarship prizes could represent less than 15 percent of the money raised.

Then-President Donald Trump famously boycotted the annual WHCD during his tenure in office, calling it “boring” and “negative.” Given the organization’s bizarre spending priorities, it’s also a rotten deal.

Follow David Ng on Twitter @HeyItsDavidNg. Have a tip? Contact me at [email protected]


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