Washington’s political and media elites observe their annual truce of a few hours Saturday at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. President Joe Biden will find himself the butt of jokes and hit back with his own.
The ritual is a landmark on the US capital’s social calendar and once again takes place in the Hilton Hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot and nearly killed by John Hinckley Jr. in 1981, as he left from delivering a speech to trade unions.
The dinner institution had started to wither — first boycotted by Donald Trump, then shut down for Covid-19 altogether.
Even last year, strict Covid testing, frequent use of masks, and diminished attendance resulted in a relatively low-key affair.
Saturday’s event, said White House Correspondents Association President Tamara Keith, is “completely sold out.”
Keith, a correspondent for NPR radio, said hundreds of people had been turned away after tickets ran out.
“It’s post-Covid. People last year were pretty nervous about going into a ballroom with 2,600 people in it, and this year, they are climbing over each other to get there,” she told The Hill.
Among those extra guests is Vice President Kamala Harris, who joins the 80-year-old Biden on stage the same week they announced their re-election bids in 2024.
The presence of the president and vice president will revive a practice last observed in 2016, the final supper before Trump took office.
On Saturday, Hollywood celebrities, Washington politicians, and representatives from every media organization imaginable will cram inside.
As in previous years, a prominent comedian will perform, this time “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr.
The occasion is meant to celebrate the constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of free speech — and a free press. However, the jokes tend to get the headlines. Wood, speaking to CBS News, said the two aspects are mutually reinforcing.
“I have an opportunity as a citizen to look elected officials in the face and go, ‘Here’s where you’re all messing up,'” he said, adding, “It needs to be funny.”
If prior editions indicate, many jokes will be thrown at both Biden and the journalists covering him. Polls suggest that fewer than half of the public approves of Democrats, while many of the country dislikes the media, which provides many easy targets.
Wood is also likely to target members of Congress and, given the new election season, Trump and other Republicans vying for the presidency.
Tucker Carlson, a significant figure in Republican politics who frequently interviewed Trump and was abruptly ousted from Fox News last week, might potentially be a target.
In response to remarks that he might have to update his speech to include Carlson’s destiny – who was severely chastised for spreading disinformation and nightly reams of hate-filled vitriol – Wood wrote: “‘Updating?’ “Man, I have to throw out the entire script.”
Biden will get his own slot and an opportunity to show he can take the heat. He may have been practicing on Friday, delivering his trademark brand of self-deprecation about his age — though more dad joke than edgy late-night TV fare.
Referring to a speech by President Dwight Eisenhower 65 years ago, Biden quipped at a ceremony honoring the Air Force football team, “I wasn’t there.” After pausing for laughter, he added: “No matter what the press says.
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