Ironing the Grid

Posted: Mar 13, 2006 3:43 PM

SAP ALERT: Today’s MULLINGS is one of those “O, What a Great Land This Is” columns. If you’re not in the mood, I understand. See you Wednesday.

  • O, What a Great Land This Is. This past Saturday night the annual Gridiron Dinner was held in Washington. The Gridiron Dinner consists of senior journalists singing amusing, occasionally very funny, parodies of well-known tunes with current affairs as their focus and politicians as their target.

  • There is always one speaker for each side – Saturday night it was Barak Obama for the Ds and Lynn Cheney for the Rs.

  • The President and Mrs. Bush were in attendance, as were many members of the Cabinet, two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief Justice of the United States, leaders of the House and Senate;

  • And me.

  • The annual dinner is the only white-tie-and-tails event left in Washington, maybe anywhere in the near Solar System. I was invited by George Condon of Copley News and was thrilled to go.

  • The Gridiron Club is an association of senior journalists (used to be senior PRINT journalists – senior MALE print journalists) but they have loosened up over the recent past and now operate under rules which wouldn’t seem odd to anyone living in, say, 1960.

  • The reason I get so misty about this sort of thing is because I truly believe there is no other nation on earth where it could – or would – take place.

  • Maybe there is a Gridiron-like activity in London where the senior press corps dresses up in funny costumes and sings songs making fun of the people who govern them, but of there is, I’ll bet Queen Elizabeth doesn’t go.

  • This has been going on in Washington since about 1885, which explains a good deal about the humor.

  • Although the official rules of the Gridiron Dinner hold that it is all off-the-record, it is most certainly ON-the-record. So much so, that Senator Obama’s staff distributed advanced copies of his remarks and at every change of course the junior members of the press corps raced out to the hallway to file their stories on who had said what to that point in the proceedings.

  • The audience laughed at the funny lines, groaned at the painful puns, offered robust applause for the high and the mighty, and lustily cheered the Marine Band which played the Star Spangled Banner and a medley of the five service anthems.


      There is a tradition at large dinners many of which have a military band, for the band to play the song associated with each of the services – Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and Marine in a medley.

      The tradition requires that a veteran stand when the song associated with his or her branch is played.

      As a former member of the Army National Guard, I didn’t think I had earned the right to stand when the Army song was played.

      After serving with very brave members of the National Guard in Iraq, I do now.

      When the strains of “Over Hills, over dales …” begin, I proudly stand to honor their continuing service.


  • So, it was a fun evening. An evening I had been so excited about, I had spent the previous three weeks working the fact that I was, in fact, going into every conversation including the guy at the discount gas station who does not even speak English.

  • I walked – in full white-tie-and-tales – from my office to the hotel; about five blocks, certain that people along the route thought I was (a) the conductor of a high school chorale; or (b) the piano player for a lounge singer.

  • It was great stuff. It said a lot more about America, I’m happy to say, than the Dubai ports deal.

  • On a the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the Washington Post’s coverage of this off-the-record event; an actual photo of me in my Gridiron outfit; and a Catchy Caption of the Day.