Highlights From Samantha Bee’s ‘Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner’ & the Actual WHCD
This weekend saw the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner and Samantha Bee's inaugural Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner show. Both events offered a look — often comedically, sometimes seriously — at how life in the media and political worlds has changed since the election of Donald Trump as president.
The Full Frontal host put on the #NtWHCD in pseudo-competition with the WHCD as an alternative to Washington's business-as-usual. It wasn't just two hours of Trump-bashing or media-skewering, though Bee and her lineup of guests did take plenty of shots at both.
The event also celebrated the media that's been covering Trump. Being a journalist is, in many ways, tougher now than ever, with a president who singles out reporters at rallies attacks newspapers and wires.
Since launching his presidential campaign two years ago, Trump has assailed the press relentlessly, going so far as to call them "the enemy of the American people." He has lied relentlessly, exhausting fact-checkers and doing his best to discredit major media outlets the public has long relied on. And he has tried relentlessly to create his own reality, in which things like "alternative facts" take precedence over "fake news" (which, as many have pointed out, is really just a term he uses for any news he doesn't like).
These non-alternative facts make it all the more essential for events like the NtWHCD (and even the standard WHCD), which provide high-profile opportunities to remind everyone — the press, the politicians, and the people — that we are not living in normal times, under a normal administration.
One instant-classic segment at the NtWHCD came when Will Ferrell took the stage and did five minutes as George W. Bush, bringing back a character he performed for years on Saturday Night Live and even for a time in a one-man Broadway show. “For the longest time, I was considered the worst president of all time," Ferrell/Bush said. "That has changed.”
To conclude the show, Bee gave viewers a look at an imagined world in which Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, and Bee was the host of the 2017 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Standing in front of a lectern, she said:
In conclusion, Madam President, I want to say thank you. You may have your faults, but because of you, I can tell my daughters that they can do anything and that sexism won’t hold them back. The world will not magnify their faults and ignore their virtues because of their gender. That time has truly passed. No hard feelings, men. If there’s one message that echoes through this dinner, let it be that men’s rights are human rights and human rights are men’s rights.
It's a tough, poignant message for many liberals to hear — Bee herself had difficulty delivering it without choking up — but a fitting way to close things out. No word yet on whether the NtWHCD will be an annual event, but if Bee does decide to do it again, it'll be worth watching.
Hasan Minhaj, a correspondent on The Daily Show, was the headliner over at the standard White House Correspondents' Dinner, which has come under fire in recent years for making the White House press corps and the administrations it covers appear too close and friendly. Politicians and the press are supposed to have an adversarial relationship, and at times the WHCD did make it look like everyone was getting along just a little too well.
The WHCD is supposed to honor the First Amendment, a point reinforced by White House Correspondents' Association president Jeff Mason. "We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency," he told the audience. "Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy. Undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic."
Minhaj taunted certain media organizations — CNN and USA Today took particularly brutal shots — but he also made a point of honoring what a free press does and what it protects. "This event is about celebrating the First Amendment and free speech," Minhaj said. "Free speech is the foundation of an open and liberal democracy from college campuses to the White House. Only in America can a first-generation Indian-American-Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president."
Speaking of the president, Trump chose, very publicly, not to attend the WHCD as presidents have for decades, but rather to appear at a campaign-style event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. ("I think he's in Pennsylvania because he can't take a joke," Minhaj quipped.) Unsurprisingly, he took the chance bash the media all over again, to the delight of those in attendance. "I could not possibly be more thrilled," Trump said, "than to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people."
Minhaj took on Trump's absence directly. "We got to address the elephant that's not in the room," he said. "The leader of our country is not here. And that's because he lives in Moscow. It is a very long flight. It would be hard for [Russian President Vladimir Putin] to make it."
It wasn't all gags about Trump and the media, though. Like Bee did at the end of the NtWHCD, Minhaj took care to make a serious point or two in between the jokes. "It is 2017 and we are living in the golden age of lying," Minhaj said. "And Donald Trump is the liar in chief." He's right about that, and it's worth remembering every day.