CLOSINGS: View Closings

White House correspondents think about changing dinner for Trump era

The White House Correspondents Association is belatedly accepting the fact that its annual dinner changes dramaticall...

Posted: Apr 30, 2018 11:44 PM
Updated: Apr 30, 2018 11:45 PM

The White House Correspondents Association is belatedly accepting the fact that its annual dinner changes dramatically when the president isn't there.

Now there is a lively conversation among the association's members about possibly changing the format and the tone of future dinners.

The proximate reason for the debate: President Trump's snubbing of the association for a second straight year and Michelle Wolf's performance at Saturday night's dinner.

But this debate predates Saturday night. Aspects of the dinner have been controversial for decades.

"As somebody who has said for a very long time that the dinner should be 'boring,' that is to say focused on jornalists and the work of good reporters, I am very open to suggestions about how to change it," the association's incoming president, Olivier Knox, said in an interview on Monday.

The dinner is a key date on Washington's social calendar. But its organizers admit that it needs to be rethought in an age of increasing political polarization and constant attacks on the media.

Related: Stelter: Why Trump's snubbing of White House correspondents' dinner matters

In interviews with CNNMoney, Knox and other White House correspondents said informal conversations are already underway.

"Some people have tossed around the idea of doing a members' feedback sort of thing, such as a WHCA town hall, to get broader input," one association member said.

(Several members requested anonymity both to speak freely about the association and to avoid irritating their employers.)

"When the president doesn't come, there's a void. There's a huge void," another member said. "Something has to change."

Historically, Knox said, "when the president comes, the program's center of gravity naturally tilts toward the president." After he speaks and ribs the press corps, the featured comedian serves as the counter-balance.

With the president absent -- and holding a counter-programming rally -- the dinner has a different feel.

Wolf's performance has become an object for partisan warfare, with conservatives claiming it proves the press corps' hatred of Trump. The president himself tweeted on Monday that the dinner was "embarrassing" and the event is "dead" -- indicating he won't be attending next year either.

So should there be a change?

Lots of ideas are bouncing around, both among correspondents and outsiders:

-- Invite pair of comedians, one with a liberal bent and one with a conservative bent.

-- Book a singer as the featured entertainer instead of a comedian. (Aretha Franklin performed in 1999 after Clinton-era dinner controversy.)

-- Put the dinner on pause, or end it altogether.

-- Change the dinner to make its focus the promotion of journalism and freedom of the press.

Yes, the black-tie affair has many critics. They say it makes journalists seem way too cozy with their sources. They say it makes the press corps seem out of touch with America.

But "the dinner is what makes it possible for us to be financially independent," Knox said

Scores of news outlets pay for tables at the annual fund-raising dinner. The association advocates for White House correspondents all year long.

"Any conversation about the future of the dinner has to reflect the fact that revenue it generates keeps our association running," he said.

That said, "there's a fairly vigorous constituency inside the WHCA for not having an entertainer," Knox added.

There is a widespread impression -- fair or not -- that the press corps is endorsing the message of the comedian on stage.

Margaret Talev, the current president of the association, said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" that she didn't vet or even see Wolf's monologue ahead of time.

But Talev did select her -- and on Sunday she expressed regret that the controversy over the jokes overshadowed the dinner's First Amendment message.

In a statement Sunday evening, she said Wolf's stand-up act did not reflect the "spirit" of the association's mission.

Association presidents serve for one term. Talev, a Bloomberg News correspondent and CNN analyst, will hand the reigns to Knox, a SiriusXM correspondent, in a couple of months.

On Monday Knox said there hasn't been a formal canvassing of the association's membership yet, "but obviously we're getting a lot of feedback from a lot of different sources."

As for next year, he said, "My goal is for the center of gravity of the dinner to be reporters -- not the president, not the comic."

The suggestions about a format change have already spurred criticism -- as has all the public debate over the dinner since Saturday night.

Jimmy Kimmel mocked the matter in a tweet: "Dear 'the media' -- @michelleisawolf was FUNNY. Hire a juggler next year."

And Erik Wemple of The Washington Post wrote on Monday, "The president of the United States is committed to undoing journalism, and the country's top journalists are debating a dinner format."

Click to Submit Photo

 

 

Huntsville
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 62°
Florence
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 62°
Fayetteville
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
Decatur
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 62°
Scottsboro
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 66°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23129377
Mobile16849315
Tuscaloosa10296140
Montgomery10197197
Madison928096
Shelby733863
Baldwin663769
Lee653465
Calhoun456761
Marshall438150
Etowah426551
Houston414834
Morgan412035
DeKalb338829
Elmore320053
St. Clair292542
Limestone284230
Walker277292
Talladega265335
Cullman244024
Lauderdale226242
Jackson214915
Franklin205231
Autauga204831
Colbert200532
Russell19443
Blount192525
Chilton186932
Dallas186527
Coffee176311
Dale175151
Covington174029
Escambia172530
Chambers135044
Clarke134317
Pike133513
Tallapoosa131787
Marion107629
Barbour10319
Marengo100822
Butler100740
Winston92213
Geneva9007
Lawrence85032
Pickens84718
Bibb82814
Randolph82316
Hale76730
Washington74412
Clay74112
Cherokee73314
Lowndes70928
Henry7086
Bullock64817
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60630
Perry5896
Fayette57413
Wilcox56712
Conecuh56113
Cleburne5568
Macon53420
Lamar4905
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 244087

Reported Deaths: 3100
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby35753562
Davidson31206336
Knox1256189
Hamilton11618108
Rutherford11611112
Williamson697156
Sumner5948109
Wilson462956
Putnam440356
Montgomery411555
Out of TN389635
Madison374079
Sullivan365346
Bradley355823
Washington338850
Sevier332821
Blount330936
Maury321837
Unassigned29539
Robertson258941
Hamblen244548
Tipton232222
Dyer218930
Gibson213043
Hardeman186433
Coffee185323
Trousdale17687
Obion174121
Greene168451
Bedford168120
Fayette166723
Anderson166614
Dickson164819
McMinn161535
Loudon161211
Cumberland159525
Wayne15917
Lawrence158719
Jefferson153720
Carter152932
Weakley152325
Monroe144328
Warren142510
Lauderdale142317
Henderson140226
Hardin137919
Macon132425
Roane12857
Franklin127819
Haywood127227
Overton121316
Hawkins118825
White117514
Johnson11327
Carroll113025
Marshall11269
McNairy111227
Rhea109317
Cheatham104111
Cocke103514
Bledsoe10114
Campbell100011
Smith98413
Lake9833
Giles95135
Fentress90811
Lincoln8803
Crockett83320
Henry78110
Hickman77915
Marion7479
Chester72514
DeKalb72517
Decatur65511
Grainger6034
Grundy55311
Union5383
Claiborne5186
Polk50313
Jackson4525
Humphreys4404
Morgan4357
Benton4139
Houston40917
Cannon4082
Unicoi4043
Clay40113
Lewis3852
Scott3745
Sequatchie3422
Stewart32010
Meigs3076
Perry2912
Pickett2727
Moore2652
Van Buren2051
Hancock1173

Community Events