WASHINGTON — After fallout from the biting performance of comedian Michelle Wolf at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the organization is going in a different direction: Author and biographer Ron Chernow will be the featured speaker at the annual gathering of reporters and White House officials.
Olivier Knox, the chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM and president of the WHCA, said that “as we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history.”
Knox had told the board during the summer that he was leaning against scheduling a comedian for the upcoming event, which will be held on April 27, 2019. Instead, with Chernow, the focus will be on history and the First Amendment.
Chernow, whose biography of Alexander Hamilton inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation “Hamilton,” has also penned biographies of John D. Rockefeller, George Washington and J.P. Morgan, and most recently, Ulysses S. Grant.
“Freedom of the press is always a timely subject, and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics,” Chernow said in a statement. “My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory. While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry.”
The organization has grappled with whether to schedule a comedian at the upcoming event, as has been tradition. Last year, Wolf drew criticism for comments she made about Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the White House press secretary sat nearby on stage. That set in motion discussion on whether there should be major changes to the event, which usually sells out, by giving the evening a more serious focus.
The WHCA already had been giving more attention to the issue of press freedom at the event. President Donald Trump has not attended the dinner since he has been in office. In his place, the WHCA in 2017 invited Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to speak, and a year later Egyptian-American social activist Aya Hijazi shared her story.
Wolf tweeted a response to the news of Chernow’s selection instead of some kind of comic.
“The @whca are cowards. The media is complicit. And I couldn’t be prouder,” she wrote.