Since taking office, President Donald Trump has not attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The possible reasons for reality television star turned politician vary, but the two most prominent concern his distaste for the press and for the many comedians who regularly roast him. Trump’s public feud with CNN’s Jim Acosta illustrates the former perfectly. As for the latter, many point to Seth Meyers’s appearance at the 2011 dinner, where he poked fun at Trump mercilessly. Either way, it seems the recently rocky relationship between the WHCA and comedy is now over and past host Michelle Wolf isn’t taking the news lightly.
The organization announced on Monday that writer and historian Ron Chernow would be the 2019 dinner’s featured speaker. In a statement, WHCA president Olivier Knox explained, “As we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history.”
Neither Knox nor the WHCA itself mentioned the glaring absence of a more comedically-inclined master of ceremonies. Chernow, however, referenced the tradition in his own statement. “While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian,” he quipped, “I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry.”
It’s obviously not a strict requirement that a stand-up comic or comedy actor should appear at the WHCA’s annual dinners. Considering the event’s storied history, however, it’s easy to see why Knox and company’s decision — which, as CNN’s Brian Stelter noted, has been in the works since just after Wolf’s controversial performance at last year’s dinner — comes as a shock. Bob Hope and Milton Berle performed at some of the first WHCA gatherings in the 1940s and 1950s. Richard Pryor and George Carlin did the same decades later, while Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and late night hosts have shown up for the gig.
Wolf, a former The Daily Show correspondent who briefly hosted The Break on Netflix, responded to the WHCA’s decision on Twitter. “The @whca are cowards. The media is complicit,” she wrote. “And I couldn’t be prouder.”
Fellow comedian turned CNN correspondent W. Kamau Bell also chimed in, saying the blame was squarely on the organization for its inability to handle the pressures that came with hosting the event despite Trump’s refusal to attend (and his inability to take criticism): “Yes. Because after the way the WHCA & many journalists talked about Michelle Wolf, it was official that no comedian worth a damn would take this gig.”
The criticisms of Wolf, Bell and many other comedians notwithstanding, it seems the 2019 WHCA Dinner will be abandoning an unofficial tradition that the organization itself has propped up since the mid-20th century. But hey, at least Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal program will have less competition should they decide to do another edition of their Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.