Reporters wait outside the White House for news of Japan's surrender, 1945.
VIEW GALLERY | 27 PHOTOS
Reporters wait outside the White House for news of Japan's surrender, 1945.George Skadding—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Reporters wait outside the White House for news of Japan's surrender, 1945.
Reporters work away as President Harry Truman, his wife Bess and their daughter Margaret wave from a train during a whistle-stop at Pocatello, Idaho, in 1948.
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Reporters on a plane with Lady Bird Johnson, mid-1960s.
President Lyndon Johnson talks to the press at his ranch in Texas, 1965.
President-elect John F. Kennedy at Georgetown Hospital after the birth of his son, John Jr., Nov. 1960.
Reporter Mary McGrory (left) working with CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl (right) and others during the Senate Watergate hearings, 1973.
Harry McAlpin, pictured the same year that he became the first African American journalist to cover a White House press conference, 1944.
Vice-President Richard Nixon talks to reporters on a plane, 1957.
Newsmen eat while wait for news on Japan's acceptance of surrender terms, Washington, 1945.
President Lyndon Johnson (far right) talking to the press outdoors at the White House, 1965.
Reporters at the White House after President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a mild stroke, Nov. 1957.
Reporters in Washington, DC, on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
A young journalist following and reporting on Eleanor Roosevelt, 1943.
Official press accompanying President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959.
The White House press (incl. long-time Washington journalist May Craig), 1965.
Lyndon Johnson's press secretary, George Reedy, addresses reporters at the White House, 1965.
Reporters after a press conference at the White House, 1941.
Reporters in the bowels of the University of Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum during the school's Founders Day Convocation, at which President Johnson spoke, Feb. 1965.
Reporters after a John F. Kennedy press conference, 1961.
Reporter (and later celebrated columnist) Marianne Means waiting for President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.
Reporters (incl. Newsweek's Norma Milligan, right, with name tag) on a plane with Lady Bird Johnson, mid-1960s.
Reporters and photographers (incl. Harry Benson, at left in black shirt) waiting for information on President Lyndon B. Johnson's condition after a gall bladder operation at Bethesda Naval Hospital, 1965.
Elated reporters race to spread the news of Japan's surrender, August 1945.
Journalist May Craig, Washington, 1945.
Reporters and photographers at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration in 1941.
Equipment used by newsmen waiting on news of Japan's surrender, Washington, 1945.
Reporters wait outside the White House for news of Japan's surrender, 1945.
George Skadding—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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The Washington Press Corps at Work and at Play: Classic Photos

Apr 30, 2014

Each year, much of the mainstream media manages to work itself into a self-congratulatory lather around the time of the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner -- and, of course, the event's attendant parties, meet-and-greets and other (largely booze-fueled) functions. That said, not everyone is besotted with the spectacle.

Some notable outfits, like the New York Times, don't attend the dinner, evidently finding the cheek-by-jowl mix of celebrities, journalists, politicians and other characters rather smarmy -- or, as one Times editor reportedly put it: "The press and pols take their costumes off, sing together, mingle with celebrities and act like we are all in it together."

An unsettling image, no matter how literally one chooses to take it.

But even those who view the proceedings with a decidedly jaundiced or gimlet eye can, perhaps, appreciate the spirit in which the dinner takes place. After all, one can hardly expect White House correspondents to constantly, perpetually inhabit their dogged, adversarial reporting roles. Right? And besides, now that the correspondents' dinner has become a kind of South by Southwest for wonks, with celebrities and tech upstarts on hand all weekend to lend the affair a gloss of sex and relevancy, who can really hold it against the pols and the press if, for one night a year, they feel like -- in the words of our anonymous friend at the Times -- taking off their costumes and singing?

Here, in tribute to the intrepid men and women who cover the White House, and Washington in general, LIFE.com presents a series of photos from the last century -- pictures of reporters, correspondents, photographers and newscasters who, with their pens, cameras, typewriters and microphones, tried to make sense of the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that is the modern American political landscape.

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