Gridiron Dinner: ‘Speech in the Dark’

Right off the bat, USA TODAY Bureau Chief Susan Page made a crack about C-SPAN.

A bold move for a woman who was at odds with C-SPAN and some other Washington journalists this week for not permitting cameras into last night’s Gridiron dinner.  “Please be seated. I’m Susan Page of USA Today, president of the Gridiron Club and Foundation,” she said. “Welcome to the 126th anniversary Gridiron Dinner. Or, as we like to think of it, Glee meets C-SPAN Three.”

The speech was generally light but had serious parts such as a tribute to WaPo‘s David Broder, who died this week.

Page’s speech was called “Speech in the Dark.” It ends with her reading the Giridon Rules. For example: “The Gridiron’s first rule: Ladies are always present. This rule dates from the time when ladies were never present. It was meant to caution the speakers that their humor wasn’t supposed to be too blue. Sorry, Charlie Sheen.”

Some sound ancient. See the speech in its entirety…

As we all know, journalism has been pulling through some hard times. Even this club has been forced to seek corporate sponsors. So I now give you the Speech in the Dark — brought to you by PEPCO.

Here we are: The president of the United States and ambassadors from around the world, senators and governors, network anchors and newspaper columnists. Dressed up in white tie. Sipping fine wine. Standing around — all buddy-buddy — in the dark.

Exactly as the Tea Party suspects.

And guess what? The Federal Reserve is in charge of the goodie bags.

After 126 years, it’s hard to be the first of anything at the Gridiron. But I am the first Gridiron president from USA TODAY.

So I’ll be brief.

I am also the first member of the Baby Boom generation to serve as Gridiron president. As that may indicate, things are slow to change here at the Gridiron. It’s only been five years since we acknowledged television was more than a passing fancy and admitted TV reporters as members.

I predict bloggers will be due for consideration — about 2025. After all, some in the club still think Twitter is an ailment that afflicts our older members. Oh, who are we kidding? Even our younger members are older members. They remember when Arianna Huffington was a conservative.

I’m also the Gridiron’s fifth woman president. Although, according to the Club historian, the 17th to wear a dress.

It’s been 37 years since the Gridiron Club voted, narrowly, to admit women. When I was elected to membership 25 years ago, some members were still in — well, denial. Imagine Hosni Mubarak at an Internet café.

On the day I was elected, one of the Gridiron’s more senior members took me aside and said: “I want you to know that I’m not against having women in the Gridiron Club. . . . I’m just against the women we have.”

We are so pleased that President Obama has returned to the warmth of the Gridiron. Welcome, Mr. President. Benjamin Harrison was the first president to address a Gridiron Dinner while in the White House, and every president since Grover Cleveland has done the same.

President Obama, thank you for continuing that long tradition.

In 2006, Senator Obama was the Gridiron’s Democratic speaker.

Mr. President, you joked that as a freshman senator you already had won a Grammy, been on magazine covers and written a best-seller. You wondered what else there was to do. You said, “Well, I guess I could pass a law or something.” Since then, you’ve been elected president and won the Nobel Peace Prize. About the only thing left for you to do now is. . . pass a budget?