President Donald Trump was out of sight but far from out of mind at this year’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner, broadcast on CSPAN.
Trump announced two months ago that he would be skipping the annual fete, where the sitting POTUS not only withstands any zingers directed his way, but then takes the podium to unleash his own.
Kicking things off, WHCA president Jeff Mason acknowledged that this year’s (sold-out) event “looks a little different, but the values that underpin this dinner have not changed. In fact I think they’ve been reinforced. We are here to celebrate good journalism. We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency.”
Mason went on to note that although the WHCA has “worked very hard to build a constructive relationship with [Trump’s] press team” (and save for one “lamentable” incident, has enjoyed success), “We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and about what we do [as journalists]. Seeking to delegitimatize journalism is dangerous to a healthy republic.”
“We are not ‘fake news,’ we are not ‘failing news organizations,’ and we are not the enemy of the American people,” he said toward the end of his remarks, earning a standing ovation.
As this year’s host, The Daily Show senior correspondent Hasan Minhaj stepped up to welcome everyone to “the series finale of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” which he said was featuring a Muslim at the mic “for the ninth year in a row.” (Watch his complete monologue above or here.)
Minhaj denoted that he had been “asked not to roast the president and the administration in their absentia.” As if that would stop anyone.
“We’ve got to address the elephant that’s not in the room,” Minhaj said. “The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania [for an impromptu rally] because he can’t take a joke.”
Though Trump would have had the chance to roast the press as well had he shown up, Minhaj said it’s just as well — “He’s done far too much bombing this month.”
Among his string of hit-and-miss(-and-miss) barbs, Minhaj marveled that the alcohol-averse Trump apparently “tweets, at 3 am, sober”; said that “the news coming out of the White House is so stressful, I’ve been watching House of Cards just to relax”; and noted how with this administration, journalists rank as Public Enemy No. 1, above “ISIS and normal-length ties.”
Minhaj, as WHCD hosts do, then took some stabs at individual news organizations.
* “I had a lot more MSNBC jokes, but I don’t want to just ramble on.. otherwise I might get a show on MSNBC.”
* Mocking CNN’s propensity to overload its screen with boxes, “I’m try to watch the news, not pick a player in Street Fighter!” He then asked, “If you have nine experts on a panel, what is your barrier to entry?”
* He also targeted CNN’s breathless style, imitating Anderson Cooper: “Is Trump a Russian spy? You tell me. Tweet us at AC360. No, you tell me! I’m watching the news. But it feels like I’m watching CNN… watch the news. Take an hour, figure out what you want to say, then go on the air.”
In closing, Minhaj got a bit serious, saying, “Only in America can a first-generation, Indian-American, Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president, ‘the orange man behind the Muslim ban.'” Again ignoring the “no roast” rule, he got in a final dig, saying, “The president didn’t show up because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech. The man who tweets everything that enters his head refuses to back the amendment that allows him to do it.”
Minhaj then noted the time, 11 pm, and conceded that “in about four hours,” Trump would be on Twitter, sober, carping about how WHCD host “Nicki Minaj” bombed.