Yesterday, Chatterbox posted an item about William Safire's difficulties getting into the Gridiron, Washington's 60-member club for newspaper journalists. Just now, Chatterbox received an extraordinary e-mail response from Doug McKelway, co-anchor of WRC-TV's News4 at 5. WRC is the NBC owned-and-operated station in Washington, D.C. Chatterbox reprints McKelway's letter in full below, with no comment other than the addition of a few links. (McKelway, it should be pointed out, is not affiliated with the Gridiron.)
Your piece on the Gridiron Club is a perfect example of what has led to the sad decline of these wonderful old institutions. I carry in the back of my head an admonition from a long deceased relative who was a past president of the Gridiron Club. He once told me, "Never criticize a club to which you do not belong." I understand that this piece of advice is heretical to today's thinking, but it makes perfect sense. Any exclusive club, whether it's the Gridiron, Alfalfa, NAACP, the Aryan Nations, or the Women's Knitting Circle of Chevy Chase, loses its exclusivity when it feels pressure to conform to some outside influence.
The exclusivity, secrecy and privacy of these clubs serves a valuable societal function. Simply, it allows club members to behave in ways they want to. Freedom of assembly, you might call it. Deprive them of that choice, and their behavior--no matter how benign or pernicious--will seek other outlets, usually more extreme or destructive in nature.
There was a time when what went on behind the closed doors of the Gridiron Dinner would have remained behind closed doors and off the record. That is precisely what made it so appealing. To be outrageously politically incorrect, I've often wondered if those "Good ol" boys in their smoke-filled rooms knew from generations of tradition, that to let Helen Thomas, or any other woman, into their midst, or simply to be compelled to admit anyone whom they deemed inappropriate, was to breach the all-important wall of exclusivity. And, of course, the same can be said of the Women's Knitting Circle of Chevy Chase when it admitted its first man.
Of course, none of this applies to government institutions or government-funded institutions.
But perhaps most importantly, the real taboo of "criticizing a club to which you do not belong" is that it speaks so loudly of two of the most disdainful of human qualities, jealousy and envy. Better to form your own club.Doug McKelway