President Joe Biden appeared at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, marking his first time at the black-tie gathering in Washington since he announced the launch of his reelection campaign earlier this week.
The annual dinner, hosted inside the Washington Hilton, drew thousands of guests in support of freedom of the press. The event raises funds for the White House Correspondents’ Association scholarship fund and offers a rare opportunity for journalists and politicians to rub elbows – but also features remarks from a comedian often tasked with walking a fine line between gentle ribbing and legitimate criticism.
The dinner gives Biden a rare chance to flex his comedic muscles in front of entertainers and members of the media. The audience is also expected to be a “who’s who” of officials across the Biden administration, and other top White House officials will be seated at the dais – with first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff in attendance.
Typically, presidential speechwriters work through remarks for a few weeks. Last year, at his first correspondents dinner since becoming president, Biden told his team he envisioned an address that went beyond just a series of one-liners, wisecracks and gags.
Biden’s speech Saturday is likely to be calibrated to his reelection campaign priorities and the topical issues he so often discusses at the podium – such as the economy and the ongoing war in Ukraine. But undoubtedly, a White House official told CNN, his speech will address the issue of wrongfully detained Americans abroad.
During his remarks, Biden will “speak to the importance of the First Amendment, how critical press freedom is around the world, and his unwavering commitment to bring home wrongfully detained journalists and other Americans,” a White House official said in a statement to CNN.
Saturday’s dinner is taking place place a month after the arrest of Evan Gershkovich, an American Wall Street Journal correspondent based in Moscow. The United States has designated him as wrongfully detained by Russia.
This week, the US issued new sanctions on groups in Russia and Iran accused of taking Americans hostage as it works to prevent more captive-taking and potentially secure the release of citizens currently being detained.
This year’s dinner also comes amid a media industry reckoning. The state of the economy, fears of a recession and dried up investment capital have played a large part in what’s driven the dramatic industry changes over the last several months. But other struggles, like high-profile legal issues and ratings woes, have also been apparent.
In just the last two weeks, the media industry has been in the grips of high-profile terminations, layoffs and the complete shut down of a news organization.
Host Tucker Carlson and Fox News severed ties. Anchor Don Lemon and CNN parted ways. Comcast announced NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell was leaving company after an outside investigation “into a complaint of inappropriate conduct.” Vice Media announced layoffs and the cancellation of its acclaimed program “Vice News Tonight.” BuzzFeed News shut down.
In pictures: The history of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
This year’s dinner headliner is “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr., who told CNN on Friday that his goal is to leave Saturday evening’s event with his job intact.
Still, he plans to pull no punches in critiquing the power brokers of Washington during his comedic remarks, telling “CNN This Morning,” “I got to talk about everything this week – there was a lot of stuff that happened this week … and those things have to be discussed in a fair way.”
“Trust me, I’m not going to lose my job. I’m not trying to get in trouble – the most important part of the correspondents dinner is to leave employed,” he added.
In 2018, comedian Michelle Wolf drew fire after she delivered a brutal monologue taking the Trump administration to task for its positions on abortion, press access and coverage of the beleaguered White House.
This year’s dinner comes weeks after Biden signed legislation to end the national emergency for Covid-19. Attendees are still required to submit proof of a negative Covid test before the event.
Last year’s dinner was the first time the gala had been held since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden was the first president to address the dinner’s attendees in six years, after former President Donald Trump famously boycotted the event throughout his tenure in office.
Biden last year used the appearance to loudly affirm his belief in a free press – a bold contrast to a predecessor who labeled reporters the “enemy of the people.”
This story has been updated with additional information Saturday.