Kenan Thompson & Hasan Minhaj Will Host the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Donald Trump Definitely Isn’t Going to
Hasan Minhaj and Kenan Thompson have been tapped to host this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 25th, all but guaranteeing Donald Trump will once again not attend the event.
In 2017, Trump became the first president in 36 years to skip the annual dinner, choosing instead to hold his own rally. (To be fair, other presidents have missed the event on occasion. The last president to miss it was Trump’s hero Ronald Regan, though he had a pretty decent excuse, as he was recovering from an assassination attempt–and even then, he called in from his hospital bed. Trump just has the excuse of very thin skin.)
Minhaj hosted that year, which was also the first year of Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents Dinner, launched as a counter-event and fundraiser for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The WHCD host’s speech is usually a comedic roast of both the president and the press–pointed but fairly friendly. Minhaj’s speech was different. While it was still very funny, his scathing speech focused heavily on Trump’s war on the press and freedom of speech.
“Even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment. But the president didn’t show up because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech,” Minhaj said towards the end of the 25-minute speech. “The man who tweets everything that enters his head refuses to acknowledges the amendment that allows him to do it.”
The next year, comedian Michelle Williams hosted. That was the year Republicans pretended to be outraged over a joke about Sarah Huckabee Sander’s eye makeup that everyone could see wasn’t really about her eye makeup but about her complicity in pushing Trump’s lies.
The year after that, the White House Correspondents’ Association decided to forgo the traditional comedian host and bring in historian and Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow to headline the event, as if jokes were the problem here. The WHCD–affectionately dubbed “Nerd Prom”–has long been criticized for allowing the press to get too cozy with what are essentially its journalistic subjects. As far back as 2007, the New York Times’ Frank Rich condemned the event in the “post-9/11 era,” writing, “it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows.”
None of that has gotten less true since Trump took office. And eschewing comedy after Republicans and conservative media figures made such a big deal over willfully misunderstanding hosts’ jokes felt like cowardly capitulation to that outrage machine. It felt like silencing.
So it’s heartening to see the return of comedians, especially ones who are known for their political comedy. (Saturday Night Live’s political commentary may be fairly toothless, but it is known for politics nonetheless. And Minhaj pulls no punches in his comedy, which centers issues like freedom of speech and the experiences of immigrants–two things Trump hates–so these two should be a good pair.)
Still, the question remains of why this event even exists any more. If journalists want to gather for a fancy ball and celebrate themselves and their industry, that sounds fun and fine, no more dangerous or self-congratulatory than, say, the Oscars. But by combining it with glad-handing the Trump administration, it seems likely that this fancy party is doing real damage to journalistic integrity, both as a concept and in practice.
Also, Donald Trump has so far declined to say whether he’s attending but I can’t imagine that happening this year, or any year that he’s in office. I’d also be shocked if his current press secretary Stephanie Grisham attends. How few representatives from the White House can attend before they admit there’s no White House association worth celebrating?
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