Let's say that Brad Pitt was going to be presented an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement (hey, it could happen).
And let's say that the Academy's board of directors picked two people to bestow the award — Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston.
If you were Brad Pitt, you'd no doubt think: "Boy, these guys are really out to get me. Think I'll give that a pass."
That's precisely the situation President Trump is in with regard to the annual pressfest, the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner. Every April, the media throws a party for . . . itself. The whole affair has become pretty disgusting: The big "news" organizations invite as many celebrities as they can, then 2,000 sweaty people pack into the Washington Hilton for a drab night of boring awards and some lukewarm salmon (plus a lot of alcohol, but not enough to make the night tolerable).
The evening is, however, punctuated with one big exclamation point: The president of the United States shows up and, nearly at the end of the tedious lovefest, roasts the media in a good-hearted way. Usually. But last year, Trump decided not to attend, likely for these two reasons:
- The media has been heavily skewed against him since the day he entered the 2016 presidential race.
- The professional entertainer who was set to follow the president onstage is a professional Trump hater.
In 2017, the WHCA decided to pick comedian and “The Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj. He was predictably unfunny. He joked about Russia: “The leader of our country is not here. That’s because he lives in Moscow, it’s a very long flight.” He joked about Trump playing golf: “The longer you keep him distracted, the longer we’re not at war with North Korea.” He joked about Trump not attending the dinner: “He’s done far too much bombing this month.”
Oh, and he called Trump the "liar in chief." Hilarious!
This year will be more of the same. The WHCA announced this week that Michelle Wolf, a contributor to "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" who has a new show on Netflix, will be the entertainment for the evening.
Wolf is another bona fide Trump hater. "I think Trump might be our dumbest president ever," she tweeted in October. "And that's including all the ones that thought leeches were medicine." On Trump's daughter Ivanka, a White House advisor, Wolf tweeted last April that she "helps women about as much as an empty box of tampons." (So edgy!)
The WHCA, though, touted the "big get" in Wolf. "Our dinner honors the First Amendment and strong, independent journalism," said Margaret Talev, president of the WHCA. "Her embrace of these values and her truth-to-power style make her a great friend to the WHCA. Her Pennsylvania roots, stints on Wall Street and in science and self-made, feminist edge make her the right voice now."
The dinner was once a dignified affair. The top media invited powerful people as their guests, and the night truly was a celebration of the First Amendment. But then news agencies began to try to one-up each other by inviting mega-Hollywood stars, and the evening grew into a weeklong bacchanalia of excess, with lavish A-list parties thrown by Vanity Fair and corporate sponsorship by huge companies, including Absolut Vodka. E! and C-Span now cover arrivals at a "red carpet" for the evening — a true sign that it's all gone south.
By the way, the dinner once attracted top-notch entertainers. Bob Hope appeared at the 1944 dinner, Frank Sinatra the following year. In 1956, James Cagney emceed and Nat King Cole, Patti Page, and Dizzy Gillespie performed. Other performers include Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin.
The WHCA skews toward comedians, and there's been some big names there, too, like Danny Thomas, Milton Berle, Peter Sellers, The Smothers Brothers, Richard Pryor, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.
But by 2001, when George W. Bush took office, the entertainment fell off a cliff. B-list comedians like Darrell Hammond, Cedric the Entertainer, Stephen Colbert, Wanda Sykes, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart were picked. The last few years have been pathetic: Joel McHale, Cecily Strong, Larry Wilmore, then Minhaj.
The attacks on Bush also got uglier and uglier. Of course, none of the comedians laid a glove on former president and Chosen One Barack Obama, but the vicious attacks on Republicans and conservatives flourished during his terms, too. And the lapdog media, heavily liberal, whooped and cheered every putrid joke.
In 2013, old-school newsman Tom Brokaw had had enough and announced he wouldn't attend, wondering why on earth "news" organizations were inviting the likes of Lindsay Lohan. “She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break," Brokaw said.
But Brokaw also objected to the excess. "It's who can bring in the most telegenic and outrageous celebrity. What we’re doing is saying ... we’re Versailles,” he said. “We’ll let the rest of you eat cake.”
Trump has, as a private citizen, attended the dinner (and in one famous episode, Obama attacked him). But he hasn't said if he'll attend the April 28 dinner this year. He has, though, announced that he'll attend another smaller media soiree, the Gridiron dinner. But that event is very different: There are no cameras allowed and Hollywood isn't invited.
I've been to both dinners (the WHCA nearly 20 times). The Gridiron is far more classy (it's white tie, after all). But it's more than that: the club's motto is to "singe, not burn." The WHCA dinner is all about slamming the president (as long as he's a Republican) in the most vicious way possible.
That's why Trump should just RSVP that he'll be busy that night.