You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ron Chernow Honors Journalists at White House Correspondents’ Dinner With a History Lesson

WASHINGTON — President Trump may have succeeded in drawing attention to a rally on the same night as the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, but the annual Beltway event went on as if it didn’t matter that the administration was boycotting it.

At the Washington Hilton, there were few celebrities, not even that many elected officials and this year, there wasn’t even a comedian. But the event still sold out, a tight fit in the oval-shaped ballroom.

Instead, the host was historian Ron Chernow, the author of “Alexander Hamilton,” on which the Broadway sensation was based. His 30-minute keynote was humorous, insightful and even inspirational, drawing two standing ovations as he put in historical context the Trump presidency and what he called “this surreal interlude in American life.”

Quoting Will Rogers, Chernow said, “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”

Last year’s featured entertainer, Michelle Wolf, proved to be too much for a number of journalists and D.C. politicos, as she directed her provocative humor at some of those who were in attendance, including White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Chernow may not have been as biting as Wolf, but he still was critical of Trump, particularly for his attacks on the media and for contributing to a “rising tide of misinformation” that “threatens to make a mockery of the First Amendment.”

His quips weren’t caustic, but clever and a bit biting.

“Now as best as I can tell, Washington committed only one major blunder as president: He failed to put his name on Mount Rushmore and thereby bungled an early opportunity at branding,” he quipped. It was a reference to a Politico story about Trump’s remarks that Washington should have named his home after himself.

After a few self-deprecating remarks, Chernow told the story of a Norwegian tale called “Enemy of the People” — a not-so-subtle jab at Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric — in which a man is punished by his village for speaking an unpalatable truth, and likened the character’s plight to those of journalists.

“Campaigns against the press do not get your face carved on Mount Rushmore,” Chernow said. “But when you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy.”

Chernow stressed that Trump wasn’t the first American president (“and won’t be the last”) to have “jitters” about the media, before noting this country’s “best presidents” who have handled the press with “wit, grace, charm and humor.”

The historian’s speech, which championed a free press and more unified nation, quoted everyone from James Madison to Martin Luther King to Mark Twain.

“Whether Democrats or Republicans, we are all members of bonafide USA and not members of enemy camps,” he said.

As unprecedented as Trump’s attacks on the media have been, Chernow also cautioned that the role of the press should not be different than it has been for Trump’s predecessors. In other words, the news media is not the opposition party, but there to report the facts and the truth, and perhaps a history lesson is a bit more fitting for the times than a standup comedy act. He told the press to “be humble, be skeptical, and beware of being infected by the very things that you are fighting against.”

Some Hollywood figures did make the event, like James L. Brooks and “House of Cards” star Michael Kelly. So did Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who arranged the Trump Tower meeting, the subject of a significant chunk of the Mueller report.

And despite the Trump administration’s boycott of the dinner, some Trump associates did attend other events. Conway and Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s lawyers, were at the annual Garden Brunch on Saturday, a mix of media celebrities, lawmakers and business executives, and one Democratic presidential candidate, former Rep. John Delaney, who launched his campaign in 2017. Also at the event, held at the Beall-Washington House in Georgetown, was Rod Rosenstein, the soon-to-depart deputy attorney general.

For a few moments Rosenstein chatted with Jay Leno, who was there to help honor military veterans. Leno presented an award to Master Sgt. Angela Morales-Biggs.

Leno, too, noted the talk that this year was “painfully slow on celebrities. Pretty much reached the bottom of the barrel here. ‘Well, let’s get Leno. He’ll come in!'”

Gary Cohn, Trump’s former chief economic adviser, was among those at the NBC News-MSNBC After Party on Saturday at the Italian Embassy, along with Boris Epshteyn, chief political correspondent at Sinclair Broadcast Group, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and Jason Miller, spokesman for the Trump campaign and the transition. Also present were Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser; Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.); along with news personalities and executives Andy Lack, David L. Cohen, Phil Griffin and Noah Oppenheim.

On Friday night, UTA and Mediate hosted an event that drew many of the agency’s news clients, as well as former Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jordan Klepper and Minnie Driver. The TV show “Extra” was covering the event, but its special correspondent was Spicer, and he interviewed such figures as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for several minutes. If this year didn’t have quite the glitz and glam of years past, they’ll make do.

Other highlights:

CAA hosted a party on Friday at Eaton DC, a new Washington hotel, gathering spot and workspace, that drew a number of news personalities such as Andrea Mitchell, Phil Mattingly, Cecilia Vega and Kate Bolduan.

CBS News and Politico hosted a reception at the Hilton with guests including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Rick Santorum, anchor Jeff Glor and “Face the Nation” anchor Margaret Brennan. Also present was a 2020 Republican presidential rival to Trump, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, and a potential GOP contender, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), at The Washington Post reception, said that although many elected officials did not trek back to D.C. for the dinner given the recess, his district is just about an hour’s drive away.

Popular on Variety

More Politics

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Peter Coyote Riffs on 'Country Music' and How He Admires and Challenges Ken Burns

    Though an instantly recognizable face from films such as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Erin Brockovich,” it is Peter Coyote’s voice — a coolly authoritative baritone with a Zen master’s holy roll — that has endeared him to documentary lovers and makers. Alrhough director-writer Alex Gibney used Coyote’s wisened narration for “Enron: [...]

  • Lowell Smokes Cafe Marijuana

    With Cannabis Lounges, On-Site Consumption, Marijuana-Infused Meals Go Legit

    Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain [...]

  • President Donald Trump waves as he

    Trump Holds Fundraiser in Hollywood's Backyard

    President Trump paid a visit to Los Angeles on Tuesday, as part of a West Coast fundraising swing expected to raise $15 million. Trump is set to appear at a dinner at developer Geoffrey Palmer’s house in Beverly Hills, where tickets range from $1,000 to $100,000 for VIPs. Though set in Hollywood’s backyard, the event [...]

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Burning Image Debate Ad

    ABC Runs Debate Ad Showing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Burning Image

    ABC aired an ad during Thursday’s Democratic debate that depicted a burning image of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and likened her politics to those that caused the Cambodian genocide. New Faces GOP funded the ad, which features Elizabeth Heng, a Republican who lost a bid for a Fresno-area congressional seat last year. Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, [...]

  • Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris.

    ABC News' Democratic Debate Lacked Energy and Purpose

    At long last, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren were on the same stage. And the result was a long and fairly dull evening. After two Democratic Party debate stages in which the field of candidates had been bifurcated — splitting, in both cases, the perceived frontrunners from the establishment and insurgent [...]

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden responds

    Protesters Interrupt Joe Biden During Democratic Debate

    Protesters interrupted presidential candidate Joe Biden during Thursday’s democratic debate. The chants came nearly two and a half hours in as moderator George Stephanopoulos asked the former vice president about any professional setbacks he’s faced and how he recovered from them. “We’re going to clear the protesters,” Stephanopoulos said as the chants began. “We’re sorry.” [...]

  • Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren,

    Dems Debate in Houston: Moderates Push Back on Medicare for All

    The third Democratic debate on Thursday was billed as the first showdown between the top contenders: Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden did challenge the liberal senators on health care early in the debate, which was broadcast on ABC. He asked repeatedly how they would pay for their multi-trillion [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content