Speakers at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner struck a somber tone amid signs that the once ultra-trendy, star-studded “nerd prom” just isn’t the event it once was.
President Donald Trump announced several weeks ago that he would not appear at the annual event — which technically raises money for journalism scholarships and awards achievements in covering White House-specific events — for the third year in a row. For the first time, however, the president said all senior members of the White House staff will “boycott” the event.
White House officials, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, instead appeared alongside the president at a rally Saturday night.
That decision came after Huckabee Sanders endured cruel taunts at the hands of last year’s featured speaker, comedian Michelle Wolf. Fearing no Trump administration associate could show up at the WHCA dinner without being personally attacked, despite a longstanding tradition of good-natured ribbing between the press and the president through dueling speeches, the White House simply stopped RSVPing to the event.
The White House Correspondents’ Association responded by making swift changes to the event’s lineup, substituting historian Ron Chernow for the expected comedy act, but it did not tempt the White House back to the dinner.
Last night’s event, instead, then took on a funerary tone. President of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Olivier Knox, first delivered what Grabien News termed a “dark sermon” on the state of the First Amendment and the all-encompassing fear journalists who cover the president are now feeling.
“I don’t want to dwell on the president,” Knox said. “This is not his dinner. It’s ours, and it should stay ours. But I do want to say this. In nearly 23 years as a reporter, I’ve been physically assaulted by Republicans and Democrats, spat on, shoved, had crap thrown at me. I’ve been told I will never work in Washington again by both major parties.”
“And yet I still separate my career to before February 2017 and what came after,” he continued. “And February 2017 is when the president called us the enemy of the people. A few days later my son asked me, ‘Is Donald Trump going to put you in prison?’ At the end of a family trip to Mexico he mused if the president tried to keep me out of the country, at least Uncle Josh is a good lawyer and will get you home.”
It is worth noting that the White House has not, in fact, locked up any reporters, nor prosecuted even President Trump’s harshest critics. Reporters who appear openly hostile to the president and the White House, like CNN’s Jim Acosta, have, at worst, suffered a temporary revocation of credentials — and even that was a decision swiftly reversed.
Historian Ron Chernow, perhaps best known for his biography of Alexander Hamilton which inspired the hit musical, also delivered a dark and ominous speech, comparing Trump’s relationship with the press to that of past presidents.
“George Washington felt maligned and misunderstood by the press, but he never generalized that into a vendetta against the institution,” Chernow told the audience.
Chernow then cautioned the audience to continue to report on the White House’s factual errors, lest the White House be allowed to whip the people into a frenzy for political gain — as though the press, which just spent the last 22 months pursuing an ultimately non-existent Trump-Russia election conspiracy, was blameless.
“H.L. Mencken once warned of a political system that would ‘keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.’ We simply cannot allow the press to become an imaginary hobgoblin exploited for political gain.”
President Donald Trump spent Saturday evening at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin.