THE White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner – known for his amusing if fierce jabs in Washington – took on a more solemn tone this year when President Joe Biden acknowledged the many American journalists beleaguered in authoritarian countries around the world.
“We are here to send a message to the country and, quite frankly, to the world: the free press is a pillar, perhaps the pillar, of a free society, not the enemy,” Mr. Biden said in his speech.
President and first lady Jill Biden, upon arriving at the Washington Hilton on Saturday, met privately with the parents of the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, imprisoned in Russia since March. He was accused of espionage, despite strong denials from his employer and the US government. Some guests wore buttons with “Free Evan” printed on them.
Also among the 2,600 people at the gala was Debra Tice, the mother of Austin Tice, who has not been heard from since his disappearance at a checkpoint in Syria in 2012. US officials say they are operating in assuming he’s alive and working to try and get him home.
“Journalism is not a crime. Evan and Austin should be released immediately along with all other Americans detained overseas,” Biden said. “I promise you I’m working like crazy to bring them home.”
The Bidens have also headed to Britney Griner, the WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist who was held in Russia for nearly 10 months last year before being released in a prisoner exchange. Griner attended with his wife, Cherelle, as CBS News guests.
“At this time last year, we were praying for you, Brittney,” Mr. Biden told the basketball star.
The annual black-tie dinner has drawn a wide array of celebrities and media moguls to Washington, with parties held across the capital. Among those in attendance were actor Liev Schreiber, singer John Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen, the model and TV personality.
Actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the dinner with a pre-recorded video on the importance of a free and independent press, calling journalists “allies of the people”. Mr Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were seated on stage with comedian Roy Wood Jr., correspondent for “The Daily Show”, who was the featured performer.
While Mr Biden devoted the majority of his speech to the issue of press freedom, he took time to lash out at some of his most vocal political critics as well as himself. The occasion is familiar and comfortable for Mr. Biden, who attended several of the dinners as Barack Obama’s vice president. The Washington Event returned last year after being kicked out by Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Mr. Biden was the first president in six years to accept the invitation after former President Donald Trump avoided the event during his tenure.
But this year he came not just as commander-in-chief, but as a presidential candidate. He took a few swipes at the potential Republican nominee of 2024 Florida Governor Ron DeSantissaying “I had a lot of Ron DeSantis jokes ready but mickey mouse beat the hell out of mearrived first.
He began his punchlines with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy taking direct aim at a recent bill House Republicans passed it would lift the debt ceiling in return for a series of budget cuts, including some of Mr. Biden’s key legislative achievements.
“The last time Republicans voted for something this unfortunate, it took 15 tries,” Biden said, referring to the horrible fight that McCarthy endured become a speaker in January.
And he didn’t stop there, going after the chairman of Fox Corp. Rupert Murdoch on his age. “And you call me old?” he said to the crowd.
Mr Biden even made a few self-deprecating jokes, mostly around criticism of his age as he mounts a second re-election bid. “I believe in the First Amendment and not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it,” he told a cheering crowd.
Wood, who took the stage after Mr. Biden, also focused on the president’s age.
“We should be inspired by events in France. They rioted when the retirement age was raised from two years to 64,” Wood said. “Meanwhile, in America, we have an 80-year-old man begging us for four more years.”
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