The Party of Resistance

   < < Go Back
from The Wall Street Journal,

Washington’s press corps plays to type.

At a black-tie dinner on Saturday night, Beltway media folk celebrated their adversarial relationship with President Donald Trump. The night was ostensibly a celebration of an independent press and the First Amendment. But event speakers gave the impression that America’s independent press has actually chosen a side.

Writing in the Washington Post, Monica Hesse sets the scene:

The White House Correspondents’ Association punched back this weekend against an administration that has denigrated it, attempted to discredit it and, ultimately, snubbed it by becoming the first administration in decades to skip out on the annual bread-breaking between the White House and the reporters who cover the presidency.

We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do,” association president Jeff Mason told a ballroom of journalists attending the correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. “We are not fake news. We are not failing news organizations. And we are not the enemy of the American people.

But sometimes fake news is in the last place you look, and the Post thought perhaps it had discovered some at the very event dedicated to denying its existence among the mainstream press. Ms. Hesse’s Washington Post colleague Emily Heil reports on the evening’s speech delivered by “Daily Show” fake news reporter Hasan Minhaj:

Minhaj implied his hosts told him not to roast Trump. “I was explicitly told not to go after the administration,” he said after launching his first jab at the president, looking over at White House Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason with a look of exaggerated apology. (An item in Saturday’s New York Post hinted at a similar embargo, citing “a source who saw the comic” at a Manhattan gig, claiming organizers had declared POTUS off-limits, “because Trump is so thin-skinned.”)

Mason disputes that — and even tried fact-checking the comedian during his act. “You were not told that,” Mason can be heard saying, with a wry smile, as Minhaj claimed he’d been gagged.

Mason told us on Sunday that he was confused by the bit, since he “absolutely” never instructed Minhaj to steer clear of Trump. The two did talk about the theme of the evening, he said, which was to honor the work of the White House press corp and the importance of the first amendment. “I had said all along that I wasn’t looking for someone to roast the president in absentia,” Mason says.

That last comment could perhaps be construed as a request not to attack the President, so maybe fake news is sometimes in the eye of the consumer. In any case, Mr. Minhaj didn’t appear to be pulling any punches. Dave Itzkoff writes in the New York Times about the comedian’s tough love for the assembled media:

We’re living in this strange time where trust is more important than truth,” Mr. Minhaj said in his performance at the Washington Hilton Hotel. “And supporters of President Trump trust him. And I know journalists, you guys are definitely trying to do good work. I just think that a lot of people don’t trust you right now. And can you blame them?

A lot of people might have become even less inclined to trust the media upon hearing members of the crowd laughing at Mr. Minhaj’s comments about certain Trump administration officials—though Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times correctly notes that not everyone was laughing:

Wary of looking biased, many prominent journalists in the ballroom kept a poker face during Mr. Minhaj’s nastier punch lines.

So were the prominent journalists simply wary of “looking biased,” or did they sincerely believe the attacks were unfair?

Over at the Washington Post, Ms. Heil says that the Minhaj performance “generally got a collective thumbs-up.” She adds:

Following the dinner, the comic got a warm welcome at the swanky NBC/MSNBC after-party. There were “tons of compliments” for the Comedy Central funnyman, says one partyer who spied the Minhaj looking relieved and relaxed as he mingled and chatted in a corner with MSNBC President Phil Griffin.

Perhaps there’s a hosting gig at MSNBC in Mr. Minhaj’s future, as he joked during his performance. And as for the correspondents who hosted Saturday’s event, the headline in Mr. Grynbaum’s story sums it up: “For Journalists, Annual Dinner Serves Up Catharsis and Resolve.” Having seen what they were serving up, Mr. Trump would be wise to skip next year’s event too.

More From The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):