By Eddie Scarry
The director of the White House Correspondents’ Association makes more than the association pays out in scholarships.
The association, which runs the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, paid its executive director more in 2013 than it gave out to aspiring journalists that year — continuing a pattern noted in a recent documentary on the WHCA.
The association represents White House reporters, awarding annual scholarships to students seeking careers in journalism. In addition it puts on the controversial annual dinner, during which the capital’s ruling politicians and reporters are entertained by a comedian.
The gathering of Washington insiders, in the presence of the president, has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism in recent years, as it has grown into an event that attracts Hollywood stars and fuels its own sub-genre of media coverage.
Julia Whiston, the association’s executive director, was compensated $133,150 in 2013, the latest year that tax returns for the nonprofit group have been made public. That year, only $86,000 worth of scholarships were awarded to students at the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner.
Whiston’s compensation declined from the previous year, but the gap between her salary and the scholarship award total grew. In 2012, Whiston earned $141,685. The scholarship total was $132,200, according to the WHCA website.
The website also says that “scholarships for promising journalism students play an important part in the associations’ mission.”
“That salary-to-grant ratio would be relevant if we were a scholarship fundraising organization, but we are not,” said Christi Parsons, a Los Angeles Times reporter and president of the association. “We are a group that fights for openness and transparency at the White House. That’s what our outstanding executive director is paid a competitive salary to help us do.”
Parsons said the WHCA could raise more money for scholarships but that “we are not fundraisers.”
“I don’t think most of our members would be comfortable with the idea of fellow journalists going hat-in-hand to corporations trying to raise money,” she said. “That would not be consistent with the mission of our board or our organization.”
Filmmaker and former Politico reporter Patrick Gavin noted the discrepancy between Whiston’s pay and the scholarship money in his new documentary “Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week.”
The association’s annual dinner for 2015 takes place Saturday. The scholarship award total this year is roughly $134,000.
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