Biden pokes fun at Fox, CNN and himself at the Correspondents’ Dinner
Whatever news gods decided that cable TV stars Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon should be fired the same week that President Biden was supposed to deliver a hilarious speech that ripped the news media were certainly generous in providing fresh material. And Mr. Biden took advantage on Saturday night as he gleefully poked fun at some of his favorite slides.
Appearing at the White House Correspondents Association’s annual black-tie dinner, the one night a year a president is expected to perform a stand-up comic, Mr. Biden took the opportunity to thank those who were skewered in time He’s usually gored by Fox News, who fired Mr. Carlson Monday just days after settling a $787.5 million defamation lawsuit.
“Last year, your favorite Fox News reporters were able to attend dinner because they were fully vaccinated and refreshed,” Biden said, referring to his coronavirus response strategy. “This year, with this $787 million settlement, they’re here because they couldn’t say no to a free meal.”
“And hell, I’d call Fox honest, fair and honest,” he told the crowd gathered in a cavernous Washington ballroom, as well as a national TV audience watching at home. “But then I could be sued for defamation.” When some groaned, he quipped, “It’s nothing compared to what they’re doing to me.”
Mr. Biden also went after CNN. Just five days after the financially strapped network fired Mr Lemon after he commented that a woman in her 50s was past her prime, the president ripped, “CNN was like, ‘Wow! You actually have $787 million? Wow!'”
At another point, Mr. Biden managed to stab both Fox and CNN while fending off questions about his age as he sought re-election. “You’d think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch,” the 80-year-old president said of the 92-year-old Fox impresario. “That’s just not true. How can I not like a guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?
“You’re calling me old?” Mr. Biden continued. “I call it seasoned. You say I’m ancient? I say I am wise. You say I’m over the hill? Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime.”
He said age is a legitimate issue. “It’s on everyone’s lips,” he said. “And by everyone I mean the New York Times. Caption: “Biden’s advanced age a big problem; However, Trump’s isn’t.’”
The dinner came at the end of a chaotic week for the media, as the chatty classes descended on Washington for their annual ritual of cuddling, drinking and gossip. The industry is rocked by a steady drumbeat of layoffs and closures, but it was the layoffs of the two high-profile, multimillion-dollar cable personalities that got everyone talking.
In its second year since the pandemic, dinner has evolved into an even spicier spectacle. Like a wealthy family’s wedding, it has now expanded into multiple events over five days, with the first pre-dinner parties and receptions starting on Wednesday night and the final post-dinner brunches scheduled for Sunday.
Politico’s Playbook, the newsletter that obsessively covers all things Washington, included “spotted at” guest lists for 14 Friday night events, a full 24 hours before the actual dinner. Some of the liveliest parties have been thrown by news start-ups looking to break out, including Crooked Media, Axios and Semafor.
The late-night party, hosted by the United Talent Agency, which represents many TV news anchors and correspondents, drew the most interest. Mr. Lemon, a client, appeared ready to blend into a crowd that also included actress Cobie Smulders, Governor Gavin Newsom of California and Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary turned MSNBC host. At one point, the man responsible for Mr. Lemon’s downfall, CNN CEO Chris Licht, was also at the party, although it was unclear if the two had seen each other.
Saturday night’s hottest ticket was the after-party hosted by media mogul Byron Allen and news website The Grio at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The event honored CBS News’ Gayle King and Diana Ross was scheduled to perform. Brunches hosted by CNN and Politico on Sunday marked the end of the festivities.
The Wall Street Journal’s new editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker, hosted a pre-dinner reception on Saturday. Attendees wore #freeEvan stickers referring to Evan Gershkovich, his reporter who has been jailed in Russia and accused of espionage, which The Journal and the US government have denied.
Mr. Biden opened his act with comments about Mr. Gershkovich and other Americans being held abroad. “Everyone in this room is behind you,” the President said, addressing Mr. Gershkovich’s family in attendance. “We are working every day to secure his release, looking for ways and tools to bring him home. We keep the faith.”
He also mentioned Austin Tice, a journalist held in Syria for nearly 11 years, and Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia over what the US says are fabricated espionage charges . In the audience, Mr. Biden pointed to Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was released on a prisoner swap in December after being imprisoned in Russia for nearly 10 months. “Boy, I can’t wait to see you back on the court, boy,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s supportive comments about a free press contrasted sharply with those of President Donald J. Trump, who consistently labeled reporters “enemies of the people” and their reports “fake news.” But Mr. Biden cautiously acknowledged his own reluctance to engage with the reporters who treat him differently than in passing. Since Calvin Coolidge, he has given fewer press conferences a year than all but two presidents, and fewer interviews than any modern president. Alluding to this, Mr. Biden said his dinner speech would be like his interactions with the press: “I’ll speak for 10 minutes, ask no questions and walk away cheerful.”
He made a few attempts at Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, his would-be Republican challengers. Mr Biden joked he had created 12 million jobs “and that’s just the lawyers” defending Mr Trump. Speaking to Mr. DeSantis, the President said: “After his re-election as governor, he was asked if he had a mandate. He said, ‘Hell no, I’m straight.’”
Mr. Biden also took action against Republicans in Congress. He told dinner attendees to play it safe: “If you’re disoriented or confused, you’re either drunk or you’re Marjorie Taylor Greene.” Noting his agreement rating is 42 percent, he said, “Kevin McCarthy called me and said, ‘Joe, what the hell is your secret?'”
The evening’s lead, Roy Wood Jr., a correspondent for The Comedy Channel’s “The Daily Show,” poked fun at Mr. Biden. Following the President to the podium, Mr. Wood held up papers and said to Mr. Biden, who is facing a Special Counsel investigation into misappropriation of classified papers, “I think you left some of your classified documents up here.”
Noting that protesters in France were rioting over raising the retirement age to 64, Mr Wood took this to Mr Biden. “We have an 80-year-old man who is asking us for another four years of work,” he said. Noting the President’s ‘let me finish the job’ mantra, Mr Wood added: ‘This is not a campaign slogan. This is a request.”
Mr. Biden ended on a serious note, discussing the case of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy whose brutal murder in 1955 rocked the Mississippi civil rights movement. Mr. Biden, who was hosting a screening of “Till,” a feature film about the case, at the White House, ended with a plea to fight for democracy.
“We know in our bones, and you know too, that our democracy remains in jeopardy,” he said. “But I have also made it clear, as I have seen my whole life, that it is within our power, each of us, to preserve our democracy. We can, we must, we will.”