Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: White House correspondents’ dinner provided crucial perspective on American press

The annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner took place Saturday in the nation’s capital. While a comedic address traditionally takes center stage for the night, this year, the keynote was given instead by Ron Chernow — the historian who wrote the book on which the musical “Hamilton” is based.

Chernow largely traded wit for facts at the dinner, and made an invaluable contribution: perspective. He recounted the history of journalists in the White House, while also touching on misinformation and the lack of trust people have in the media.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump skipped the WHCA dinner to lead another one of his demagogic, fear-mongering rallies halfway across the country in Wisconsin.

Chernow did not prioritize laughs, and he should not have. Trump’s consistent denunciation of the press is not a joking matter. In a time when the president continues to encourage people to attack the media, and even inspires them to do so, a break from tradition is warranted.

Chernow worked in a few quips, such as when he said, “I applaud any president who aspires to the Nobel Prize for peace, but we don’t want one in the running for the Nobel Prize for fiction.” Yet he also gave a call to action to the government and its citizens.

“Campaigns against the press don’t get your face carved into Mount Rushmore, for when you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy,” Chernow said. “… We must recall that civility has been an essential lubricant in our democratic culture, and that even our best presidents have handled the press with wit, grace, charm, candor and even humor.”

The WHCA dinner has always served as a unifying night where press, politicians and the American people come together to make fun of the president. People on both sides of the aisle laugh along, or at least, pretend to. Yet Trump has never attended the annual dinner and is the first of the last 15 presidents not to do so while in office.

Of course, this is far from a surprise. Trump is quick to dish out insults to people he doesn’t like, but he’s far too sensitive to take any heat himself. Skipping the WHCA dinner for a campaign rally is more than just political theater — it speaks volumes to the president’s insecurity.

In some ways, it’s worth asking what the value of this dinner even is anymore.

At its core, the event celebrates the importance of free speech and the sanctity of the First Amendment. The fact that citizens of this country have a stage to openly and publicly insult their leader is, in the context of world history, pretty rare. But Trump has decided that his ego is more important than this American tradition that, really, we ought to be proud of.

Chernow’s predecessor last year was comedian Michelle Wolf, whose address faced criticism for hard-hitting and arguably cruel jokes about female members of Trump’s administration.

Wolf called White House press secretary Sarah Sanders “an Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women.” She also said Ivanka Trump was “as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons.”

Olivier Knox, the president of the WCHA, said he received many emails following the 2018 dinner with suggestions for how to improve it.

“No entertainer. No comic,” Knox said in an interview with The New York Times. “A serious speaker. Maybe a musician. Maybe don’t televise it.”

Knox and the WHCA read the room and chose to embrace the facts of history as Trump traveled far away from Washington to do what he does best — stand in the middle of a crowd and enrage, mislead and misinform.

Chernow also offered an important reminder Saturday: the press is a powerful weapon. The Fourth Estate has been at odds with the White House before, yet through tumultuous and harmonious times, it has played a crucial role in the nation’s democracy.

“Donald J. Trump is not the first and won’t be the last American president to create jitters about the First Amendment,” Chernow said in his speech, “so be humble, be skeptical, and beware of being infected by the very things you’re fighting against.”





5 Comments

  1. You lean way too far left and think you are right about everything. In your own world, why don’t you post some right stuff and actually debate about it and chalk it up difference of opinions, respectfully,and not call everyone that has a different view “wrong”. What garbage weaponizing a newspaper. Leftist fish wrap is all that remains.

    • Student Journalist

      Editorials represent the opinion of the current editorial board. If you’d like right-leaning opinions, join the e-board. You’ll soon realize you don’t have time to appease to grown men that don’t know what they’re talking about in your comments section.

  2. The WHCA Dinner is a joke … they masquerade as if this is all about ‘charity’ and ‘scholarship’ and yet, with all the luminaries that appear at this goofy little ‘self-adoring prom’ they raise very little money – I think I read something like $200k for the night, a mere pittance considering the vast wealth in attendance … and it’s certainly NOT worthy of being televised.

    The MSM has completely failed in their coverage of the Trump administration, and they refuse to accept ANY responsibility for the false narrative they’ve been pitching since before he was even elected POTUS …. and rest assured, the general population, at large, couldn’t possibly care any less that DT skipped the dinner!

    If journalists want to earn/regain the respect of The People again, they need to start reporting the NEWS and skip the OPINION. They may be the only ones who believe in the entire Russia collusion delusion – it absolutely consumes their coverage … and they’ve largely just ignored the positives; a thriving economy; booming stock markets; massive spikes in consumer and business confidence numbers; record low unemployment numbers; wholesale slashing of regulations; creation of new trade deals; opening of conversations with NoKo, Russia, China; restoring the US as being the adult in the room around the world by demanding more of countries who routinely take so much from us; pushing conservative judges and assuring a center/right balance to the SCOTUS for at least another generation; challenging the judiciary at the Circuit level, which drifted into ‘making law’ as opposed to ‘interpreting law’ from the bench; etc etc etc … start covering the administration with genuine balance, and people will listen, or continue down the slope of ‘Orange Man Bad’ and know that nobody is taking them seriously.

    So, focus more on being solid White House Correspondents and reporting the news, and less on being the news with their fake little party.

  3. “Campaigns against the press don’t get your face carved into Mount Rushmore, for when you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy…” — Chernow (looking like an ass, because….)

    “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.” — Thomas Jefferson (who is on Mount Rushmore)

  4. “Campaigns against the press don’t get your face carved into Mount Rushmore, for when you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy…” — Chernow (looking rather foolish, since…)

    “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.” — Thomas Jefferson (who is on Mount Rushmore)