Comedian Or Historian, The White House Correspondents’ Dinner Is Still A Silly Orgy Of Elitism
Emily Jashinsky
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To the extent the White House Correspondents’ Dinner matters, it’s as an opportunity for the rest of the country to watch Washington put its worst foot forward—usually outfitted in expensive heels that will only slow revelers down en route to a blurry ballroom selfie with some B-list celebrity whose name they barely know.

That’s all become much less fun in the Donald Trump era, as the affair draws fewer guests from Hollywood and the president skips town. It made sense, then, that after Michelle Wolf’s offensively lame routine at the 2018 dinner, those in charge would design a different farce, feigning solemnity by swapping a comedian for a historian. It was, at least, more nakedly dull. In an ironic twist, the pivot also turned out to be a joke.

“When I ran for the job in early 2016, I told folks that I felt the dinner needed a reset, to be more serious, to put the focus back on journalism, on the job of chronicling a presidency and holding it to account,” Olivier Knox, then-president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said ahead of last year’s dinner. “I’ve kept that campaign promise.”

“It’s just we reached a point where you were more likely to run into a sitcom star than a sound engineer — and that’s a shame,” he added.

Those sentiments lasted exactly a year. On Tuesday, the WHCA announced Kenan Thompson is hosting 2020’s dinner, at which Hasan Minhaj will perform as a featured entertainer. Justifying the return to form, current WHCA president Jonathan Karl told The New York Times, “The dinner has a serious message, but we also believe it is as important as ever to be able to laugh — at ourselves, as well as at the people we cover.”

With that, I could not agree more. But we all know the press doesn’t really want the joke to be on them. (Given Minhaj’s involvement, it’s a real question as to whether there’ll be any jokes at all.) They want to wax sincere about scholarships while sipping champagne and breathing the same stale Hilton air as Julie Bowen because Washington is Hollywood for ugly people and despite all this town’s power, its denizens are just as desperate to feel cool now as they were in high school.

This undying quest for acclaim also perfectly explains last year’s pivot from comedy to history. In Washington media circles, it’s highly en vogue to signal the gravity of one’s concern for our times. The operative word there is “signal.” Comedian or historian, it’s all a pretense for partying, which makes the dinner a glistening emblem for the most pretentious city in America.

What the press seems to have discovered last year is that 1) few people care about a dinner they frame as major national news and 2) the people who do care already see it for what it is. So why bother with boredom when the alternative is more fun?

If the people who told us Hillary Clinton would definitely win the 2016 election all want to gather in one room, wear tuxedoes, laugh at liberal comedians, and pat themselves on the back every year, that’s fine with me. As with their journalism, however, the real problem is with the industry’s insistence on a pretense of virtue. Much like your trust, they really believe they deserve the champagne. What the press needs to realize is they actually just want it.

Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. You can follow her on Twitter @emilyjashinsky .

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