President Joe Biden called for the release of journalists and citizens detained abroad at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, before mocking everything from his age to Elon Musk.
“Let me start on a serious note,” Biden said, “and members of our administration are here to send a message to the country and, frankly, to the world. A free press is a pillar, perhaps a pillar, of a free society, not the enemy.
The audience at the Washington Hilton represented a “who’s who” of officials in the Biden administration, with some top White House officials sitting on stage. First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff were in attendance Saturday evening. The event also boasted several high profile celebrity guests such as Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.
Beyond one line, the president’s comments are about his re-election campaign priorities and the hot topic issues he frequently discusses on stage — like the economy and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
But Biden paid special attention to the issue of Americans wrongfully detained abroad.
Saturday’s dinner came a month after the arrest of US citizen Ivan Gershkovich, a Moscow-based Wall Street Journal reporter. The United States has declared that he was wrongfully detained by Russia.
“Tonight, our message is this: Journalism is not a crime,” Biden said Saturday.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration imposed new sanctions on groups in Russia and Iran accused of taking Americans hostage.
This year’s dinner also comes amid a media reckoning. The state of the economy, fears of a recession and dried-up investment capital have played a large role in spurring dramatic industry changes over the past several months. But other struggles are evident, such as high-profile legal issues and ratings woes.
Typically, presidential speechwriters work through comments for a few weeks. Last year, at his first correspondents’ dinner after taking office as president, Biden told his team he envisioned an address that went beyond a series of one-liners, wit and gags — a tactic he used again Saturday night.
Still, the dinner gave Biden a rare opportunity to flex his comedic muscles in front of entertainers and members of the media, which he used to joke about his predecessor’s recent scandals.
Biden joked that he would be paid $10 to continue his speech within ten minutes. “It’s a switch, a president being paid hush money,” he quipped, referring to Trump’s accusations of an alleged hush money scheme.
In the past two weeks, the media industry has been hit by several high-profile layoffs, layoffs, and the closure of a news agency altogether.
Host Tucker Carlson and Fox News cut ties. Anchor Don Lemon and CNN part ways. Comcast announced that NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Schell is leaving the company after an external investigation “regarding a complaint of inappropriate conduct.” Vice Media announced layoffs and canceled its acclaimed show “Vice News Tonight.” BuzzFeed News shut down.
In Pictures: History of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
The event raises funds for the White House Correspondents’ Association Scholarship Fund and provides a rare opportunity for journalists and politicians to rub elbows — but a comedian must walk a fine line between comments, gentle ribbing and fair criticism.
This year’s dinner headliner was “Daily Show” reporter Roy Wood Jr., who took aim at both parties and the media when he criticized politics in Washington.
As Biden stepped away from the stage to make room for Wood, the comedian quipped: “Real quick, Mr. President. I think you left some of your classified documents here, referring to the classified documents found at Biden’s Delaware home.
Wood also poked fun at Fox News’ settlement with Dominion voting systems, the ouster of Carlson and Lemon, the ethics scandal surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Trump, whom he called the “king of scandals.”
“Following the Trump scandals is like watching the Star Wars movies,” he said. “You have to see the third one to understand the first one, and then you’ve got it – you can’t miss the second one because you’ve got Easter eggs for the fifth egg.”
In 2018, comedian Michael Wolff came under fire after delivering a brutal monologue taking the Trump administration to task for its stances on abortion, press access and coverage of the beleaguered White House.
This year’s dinner comes just weeks after Biden signed legislation to end the national emergency for Covid-19. Prior to the event, participants must submit proof of a negative Covid test.
Last year’s dinner was held for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden was the first president to address dinner attendees in six years, after former President Donald Trump avoided the event throughout his tenure.
Last year Biden used the appearance to loudly affirm his belief in a free press — a bold contrast to a predecessor who branded reporters “the enemy of the people.”
This story was updated Saturday with additional information.