WASHINGTON– The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner – known for its amusing if fierce jabs at Washington – took on a more solemn tone this year as President Joe Biden acknowledged the many beleaguered American journalists 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,” Biden said in his speech.
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President and First Lady Jill Biden, upon arriving at the Washington Hilton on Saturday, met privately with the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been jailed 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 held overseas,” Biden said. “I promise you, I’m working like crazy to get them home.”
The Bidens also stalked Brittney Griner, the WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist who was held in Russia for nearly 10 months last year before her release in a prisoner swap. Griner attended with his wife, Cherelle, as CBS News guests.
“At this time last year, we were praying for you, Brittney,” 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”. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris sat onstage with comedian Roy Wood Jr., correspondent for “The Daily Show,” who was the featured performer.
While Biden devoted the majority of his speech to the issue of press freedom, he took time to slam some of his most outspoken political critics. The occasion is familiar and comfortable for Biden, who has attended several of Barack Obama’s dinner parties as vice president. The Washington event returned last year after being sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Biden was the first president in six years to accept the invite after 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 began his punchlines with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy taking direct aim at a recent Republican-passed bill that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for a series of budget cuts, including some of the key legislative achievements. of Biden.
“The last time Republicans voted for something this unfortunate, it took 15 tries,” Biden said, referring to the horrific fight McCarthy endured to become president in January.
And he didn’t stop there, going after Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, around his own age. “And you call me old?” he said to the crowd.
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 Biden, also focused on the president’s age.
“We should take inspiration from events in France. They revolted when the retirement age was raised from two to 64,” Wood said. “Meanwhile, in America, we have an 80-year-old man begging us for four more years.”