For the third year in a row, President Donald Trump did not attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event designed to celebrate the press corps that covers the president.
But while Trump’s absence is now a common occurrence and the White House’s reported ban made it so that no Trump administration officials attended, the night was an even more muted affair than previous years.
Instead of a comedian hosting the dinner, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) chose historian Ron Chernow, whose books include the biography of Alexander Hamilton that became a hit Broadway musical.
WHCA president Olivier Knox, the White House correspondent for SiriusXM radio, said the night was designed to be “more serious” and “put the focus back on journalism.”
Last year’s dinner became a source of controversy after comedian Michelle Wolff delivered a searing speech, making numerous jokes at the expense of Trump administration officials — most notably Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
While the night lacked the viral flair of previous correspondents dinners, Chernow did manage to take a few swipes at Trump during his speech.
The historian joked that George Washington “bungled an early opportunity at branding” by not putting his name on his famous estate, Mount Vernon. The crack alluded to Trump’s reported critique of Washington during a recent trip to Mount Vernon.
“If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to Politico. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”
Chernow also took jabs at the White House’s decision to bar administration officials from the event, saying it was because “a rumor was circulating in Washington that I was going to be reading from the redacted sections of the Mueller report.” The historian also quoted the legendary author Mark Twain.
“I leave you with one last gem from Twain. ‘Politicians and diapers must be changed often and for the same reason,'” Chernow quipped.
Chernow also offered more serious defenses of the press’ role in America’s public life, critiquing Trump’s repeated attacks on the press as the “enemy of the people.”
“When you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy,” Chernow said.
At the same time hundreds of miles away, Trump held a rally for supporters in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During that alternative event, the president attacked 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, called FBI officials “scum,” and said the administration was sending detained migrants to sanctuary cities around the country.
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