The funny thing about truth

Pakistan should have its own version of the White House Correspondents Dinner, writes Razia Aftab

The funny thing about truth
For the second time in a row, President Trump was missing from the White House Correspondents Dinner where comedian Michelle Wolf took her “roast” mandate to a new level: She mocked Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, Michael Cohen, Scott Pruitt, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Chris Christie, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Vladimir Putin, multiple anchors and correspondents from CNN, Fox News as a whole, Bill O’Reilly in particular, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, print journalism, television journalism, journalism in general.

The quality of Wolf’s performance is debatable. Her set had many funny moments and a lot of these were also met by awkward silences and guffaws. Wolf was funny because she was speaking the truth, but it is precisely why the entire performance was also disliked by many in attendance as well.

The first White House Correspondents’ Dinner was held in 1921, at the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event’s purpose was modest and practical: to inaugurate the new officers of the group that had been formed to advocate for the interests of journalists. There were 50 guests in attendance, who, at the end of the evening, sang songs and made jokes. The event has expanded greatly since then. Today, there are many more participants, which include a mix of journalists and politicians, and a lot more pomp. The dinner has also expanded thematically. It now presents itself as a general celebration of the First Amendment.

In the process, the WHCD has become its own kind of media event. It provides a reliable source of news clips and Twitter fodder and people talk about the jokes for days.

It had become traditional for American presidents to attend this dinner in the spirit of fun and transparency, and Donald Trump is the first to deviate from this in a long time.

This dinner makes one wonder whether such an exercise is possible in Pakistan. We know that our journalists and our politicians meet and socialize. Some of them are even friends. Our television screens are full of scenes of politicians and journalists loudly arguing with each other. The Parliament is a serious forum but often, tensions between various groups often play out in an ugly manner. The everyday public is sick of seeing the same images every day and it is time to think of spaces and forums where citizens, political leaders and newsmen can interact with one another freely and perhaps even laugh together at some absurd things they do.

Sharing a meal and a few jokes together for the sake of the public would greatly enhance the impression that democracy in Pakistan is taking root and that our political and media institutions are becoming stronger. And the recent White House Correspondents Dinner shows, nothing too horrible happens, even if some people leave feeling offended.