May 27, 2019

No More Laughs as White House Correspondents’ Dinner Turns to a Historian

Some critics have long viewed the night as problematic. Kyle Pope, the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote in April that the dinner was “destined to be either sycophantic, on one extreme, or meanspirited, on the other. Neither is a good look at a time when trust in media is tenuous.”

The last dinner to feature a non-comedian took place in 2003, when Ray Charles performed; President George W. Bush also skipped the usual roast in part because the country had recently invaded Iraq. Jay Leno appeared the following year, and Mr. Little’s snoozy set was followed in 2008 by the talk-show host Craig Ferguson.

In the past, some correspondents have called for eliminating the comedian entirely and refocusing the dinner on the First Amendment. The plan met resistance from those who enjoy the celebrity quotient of the evening, which has acquired the once-ironic, now-earnest Washington nickname of “#nerdprom.”

For now, it seems like the more sober side of the debate has prevailed.

Mr. Chernow, 69, is known for Pulitzer Prize-winning histories of presidents and statesmen, including the Hamilton biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical. For those curious about his speaking style, he offered a preview on Monday in a statement distributed by the Correspondents’ Association.

“Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics,” Mr. Chernow wrote. He added, “While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won’t be dry.”

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