How Howard Fineman Spells Rhinoceros: ‘Rhinocerus’

It was at times an intense standoff last night as nine Washington journalists squared off against nine members of Congress in a Spelling Bee at the National Press Club.

Throughout the evening, Politico Deputy White House Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand (pictured here alongside Kaine) seemed to have the whole thing locked up. Calm and cool, unlike some of the other journalists, she stepped right up and spelled her words correctly, without a lot of hesitation.

That is, until the end, when, in a standoff with the unassuming Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), she lost and he won on “nonpareil.”

The Spelling Bee, a benefit to raise money for the club’s non-profit Journalism Institute, was organized by TIME‘s Katy Steinmetz. Before the bee began, comedian Mark Russell shocked some 400 people in the audience with a Navy Yard shooting joke. Considering the shootings were just two days earlier, the crowd balked when he cracked that the shootings pulled Larry Summers off the front page. An awkward hush fell over the crowd.

He semi-redeemed himself with a pretty funny Anthony Weiner joke. “Anthony Weiner takes his dog to the vet. The doc asks, ‘Want to get him neutered?’ The dog says, ‘yes.'”

Following closely on Sinderbrand’s heels was NYT‘s Ashley Southall, whose standard question to the pronouncer throughout the night was “Can I get the etymology of the word?” At different points she played tough girl, stepping up to the mic and saying, “Hit me.”

Each speller had two tries. A ringing bell indicated when they were being dinged out of the bee.

Maybe the quickest journo to fall from the bee’s grace was CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett. His first word: “entrepreneur.” He spelled it, “entreprenenur.” The audience collectively groaned, “nooooooo.” He was soon dinged out of the bee on the word “vaccination.” He felt strongly the word had one “c.” Garrett’s performance was poor – yes – but only compared to BuzzFeed‘s shaky speller Kate Nocera. Nocera screwed up both “bureaucracy” and “pseudonym.” Both journalists should be pleased that computers have spell check.

FNC Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry held his own on “duplicitous” and “scuttlebutt” but “laryngitis” threw him for a loop. HuffPost Editorial Director Howard Fineman gave a lengthy speech (we’ve blocked out the subject matter), and endured cracks from Garrett and others. Fineman had the last laugh, however, when Garrett’s spelling prowess appeared to be slimmer than his.

Fineman had jitters. “I was proud of myself for not having a drink before this,” he said at the podium. “Now I really need one.” One of his words was “rhinoceros” which he spelled as follows: “r-h-i-n-o-c-e-r-u-s.”

CQ Roll Call‘s Meredith Shiner stood out because she kept attracting hecklers each time she approached the podium. “You can laugh at me but I’m going to take my time and not screw it up,” she snapped. She spelled “streusel” and “dilapidated” right. Unfortunately she lost her footing on “vinaigrette.”

WaPo‘s Karen Tumulty, it seemed, kept getting off easy with relatively simple words to spell such as “ethereal.” But as the rounds increased, so did the spelling of the words and eventually she was out.

See the full list of lawmakers and journos who participated after the jump…

Female journos bond as they await their turn.

Fineman and Henry are good sports about the whole thing.

Members of Congress

Rep. Matt Cartwright
Rep. Gerry Connolly
Sen. Chris Coons
Rep. Peter DeFazio
Rep. Ted Deutch
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Sen. Jeff Flake
Sen Tim Kaine
Sen. Christopher Murphy

Journalist spellers include:

Howard Fineman, Huffington Post
Ed Henry, Fox News
Major Garrett, CBS News
Kate Nocera, Buzzfeed
Rebecca Sinderbrand, Politico
Meredith Shiner, Roll Call
Ashley Southall, New York Times
Karen Tumulty, Washington Post
Toby Zakaria, Reuters