Absent glitter and President Trump, U.S. journalists honour press freedom
Prominent Washington journalists, if not Hollywood stars, celebrated the First Amendment during the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event that lacked the glitter of past years because of the absence of the president of the United States.
With President Donald Trump sending his regrets, the attention was no longer focused on an in-person roasting of the commander in chief and his humorous remarks about politics and the press. The red carpet that once featured Oscar winners, TV stars and a few major-league athletes barely turned heads.
Instead, speakers at the dinner promoted press freedom and responsibility and challenged Trump’s accusations of dishonest reporting.
The stars of the night were Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who recounted what they learned about journalism from their reporting for The Washington Post that helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation more than 40 years ago.
“Like politicians and presidents sometimes, perhaps too frequently, we make mistakes and go too far,” Woodward said. “When that happens we should own up to it. But the effort today to get this best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith. Mr. President, the media is not ‘fake news.”’
The evening was not without humour aimed at the press and Trump.
“We’ve got to address the elephant that’s not in the room,” cracked the entertainment headliner, Hasan Minhaj of “The Daily Show” on TV’s Comedy Central. “The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. It’s a very long flight. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.”
Trump was indeed in Pennsylvania, having scheduled a rally in Harrisburg to mark his 100th day in office. He began his remarks with a lengthy if familiar attack on the news media while dismissing the dinner and its participants.
“A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now,” Trump said. He added: “And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people, right?”
Trump became the first president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 to skip the event - and Reagan was recovering from an assassination attempt.
The official WHCA dinner began in 1921. In recent decades, the event offered Washington’s press corps an opportunity to wear black tie and stunning gowns while mixing with celebrity guests.