The 2022 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Photo: AFP via Getty Images
“Welcome to the series finale of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” Hasan Minhaj said at the top of his speech at the 2017 dinner, the first held under the Trump administration.
Technically, that year didn’t mark the end of the official event, which allows journalists, politicians and an assortment of seemingly random celebrities to mingle each spring while a comedian and (usually ) the President mock DC’s media circus. . In 2018, Michelle Wolf served as a host and apparently offended enough attendees by mocking Sarah Huckabee Sanders for being a liar historian Ron Chernow was asked to host in 2019. Then the whole thing stopped for a while. two years due to COVID. President Trump has not shown up exactly once during his tenure.
So even though Minhaj was exaggerating when he called the event the final five years ago, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Things have looked different in the years since its hosting gig, which is why 2022’s Correspondents’ Dinner went down like the equivalent of a TV reboot, a vibe that may have particularly resonated with those watching from home on C-Span, America’s No. 1 network to watch celebrities dine at a hotel ballroom on a Saturday night.
As with most reboots, there were plenty of familiar elements present. The structure of the program – handing out awards to journalists, listening to the president give a funny speech, listening to the host give a funny speech – remained the same. The show’s star, the President of the United States, made his return, with a familiar face from the Before Times in the role. Some celebrities, though admittedly not as numerous as before, were in attendance again, including Drew Barrymore, J. Smith Cameron (Gerri Kellman isn’t going to pass up an opportunity to network among the elite), and the American weird power couple of the moment, Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson. (C-Span: America’s #1 network to follow Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson for several minutes as they walk to a dinner table.)
But as is often the case with reboots, things looked a little different. While there was certainly a lot of comedy (or attempts at comedy; see the pre-recorded track with James Corden), this pen pals dinner seemed to be finding its place and meaning.
“We came here to answer an important question on everyone’s mind: why the hell do we keep doing this?” Biden asked at the start of his speech.
“It’s a great honor for me to speak tonight at the nation’s most distinguished broadcast event,” said this year’s host Trevor Noah, before adding, “No, for Really, folks: what are we doing here?”
It was a good question, and a question that was asked, asked againand re-asked on pen pals’ dinner for years. This year in particular: why organize a traditional but not necessarily crucial event when COVID is still a factor? Biden said it was to demonstrate that the country was moving forward and added that everyone present had to provide proof that they had been vaccinated and strengthened. “If you’re at home watching this and wondering how to do this, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter,” Biden said, alluding to the network. increasingly anti-vaxx stance. “They are all there, vaccinated and boosted. All.” Cut to Peter Doocy, Fox’s White House correspondent who asks the most willfully ignorant questions, for a look of indignant irritation.
But Biden and Noah didn’t just throw darts at Fox, perhaps the most obvious and deserving target in the room. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the very real dangers facing those covering it, an underlying purpose was conveyed in this year’s event: that this ostensible tribute to the free press was taking place because it’s something that we in the United States should be grateful to still be able to do.
This could be heard when Biden introduced Noah noting, “Now you can roast the president, and unlike Moscow, you won’t go to jail.”
This also echoed in the conclusion of Noah’s speech.
“Ask yourself this question,” he said. “If Russian journalists who lose their livelihoods, as you were talking about, and their freedom to dare to report on what their own government is doing, if they had the freedom to write any word, to show any story or ask any question – if they essentially had what you have, would they use it the same way you do? Ask yourself this question every day, because you have one of the most important roles in the world.
In this environment, with the ongoing war and a new appreciation for reviving traditions like dinner, this subtext may have resonated more than any pointed joke. An in memoriam tribute to journalists who lost their lives covering the conflict in Ukraine and a tribute to the first black women to serve as White House reporters, Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne, stood out as one-night highlights with more emotion than usual. That said, there were still some pointed jokes, both from Noah and Biden, aimed at the politicians making the news and those bringing this news to us. They each received a few good ones.
“There’s nothing I can say about the GOP that Kevin McCarthy hasn’t already put on tape,” Biden joked, referring to the revelations about the Real reactions from the House Minority Leader the day after the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.
“Whenever there is a disaster anywhere in the world, Chef José is there,” said Noah, acknowledging the presence of chef and humanitarian José Andrés. “Which I guess is why he’s sitting at the CNN table tonight.” Noah told a number of jokes at the expense of CNN and its recently deceased affiliate, CNN+.
“Republicans seem to be supporting a guy, a guy named Brandon,” Biden joked, alluding to the utterly stupid “Let’s Go Brandon” Song supported by some conservatives. ” I’m happy for him. He is having a good year.
Noah: “As you all know, President Biden’s lack of a filter sometimes gets him in hot water. Last month, he caused a huge international scandal when he declared that Vladimir Putin should be ousted from power. It was very, very upsetting for Russia. Until someone explains to them that none of the things Biden wants are actually done.
Biden didn’t just sit there and take that. He’s laughing.
Granted, President Biden isn’t as adept at the art of comedy as President Obama, and Noah didn’t say anything inflammatory enough to spark the kind of controversy that Wolf did. But they did fine, and when you’re talking about a reboot, that’s all you need. The WHCD is back, for better or worse, mostly looking the same but feeling a little different, and probably getting little attention from Americans who aren’t into media or politics, like it has always been the case. That’s certainly enough to grant him another season. Despite the events of the past four years, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner cannot be permanently canceled. It’s the series that, unlike CNN+, seems destined to continue whether anyone pays attention to it or not.