The 2019 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner will be no laughing matter.
That’s the message the WHCA is sending with a Monday announcement that the latest iteration of Washington’s so-called “nerd prom” will forego the traditional headlining comedian.
In a press release, the WHCA announced the booking of acclaimed historian and biographer Ron Chernow as the 2019 event’s “featured speaker.”
“The White House Correspondents’ Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige,” Chernow said in a statement. “Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory.”
Chernow’s biographies of important American figures have been met with widespread acclaim. His 2004 “Hamilton” biography inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical of the same name, and his latest work on Ulysses S. Grant will be turned into major motion pictures by Steven Spielberg.
But Chernow is no comedian, something he noted in his remarks on the announcement.
“While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry,” he said.
The statement from the WHCA doesn’t specifically mention the decision to change courses from the traditional comedy routine — or the controversial 2018 dinner at all. Comedian Michelle Wolf drew the ire of the White House, and some of Washington’s journalists, with pointed jokes that were deemed by some to be too mean.
Watch Michelle Wolf’s 2018 performance below, via C-SPAN:
The WHCA released a statement after Wolf’s routine at the last dinner, say that her performance was “not in the spirit” of the group’s mission. The group likely won’t have to put out a statement apologizing on behalf of Chernow next year.
It’s not the first time the dinner has overcorrected after some controversy. After Stephen Colbert angered just about everyone in Washington with a no-holds-barred routine in 2006, the WHCA booked the much tamer Rich Little for the following year’s performance. Earlier this year, Colbert skewered the correspondents’ association for not standing by Wolf amidst criticism.
The WHCA dinner has always been about more than just a comedian making jokes at the expense of the president, the press, and other Washington power players. The dinner celebrates the hard work of journalists covering the administration and raises money for scholarships for the next generation.
But with the timing of this latest change, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a capitulation to a White House that can’t seem to handle any criticism at all — tasteful or otherwise.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.