The White House Correspondents’ Association 2019 dinner will not feature a comedian for the first time in 16 years after the group was engulfed in controversy over comedian Michelle Wolf’s 2018 performance.
Ron Chernow, the famed biographer of Alexander Hamilton, will be the featured speaker at the 2019 dinner on April 27, the association said Monday. Chernow wrote the 2004 biography of Hamilton that spawned the eponymous Broadway musical.
“The White House Correspondents’ Association has asked me to make the case for the First Amendment and I am happy to oblige,” Chernow said in a statement issued 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. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory.”
The group’s annual dinner, a glittery and chummy tradition joining the worlds of politics and journalism, has spotlighted a comedian for the past 15 years, according to its list of previous speakers.
The 2018 dinner incited condemnation over Wolf’s criticism of Trump administration officials, particularly White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Then-association president Margaret Talev said at the time that Wolf’s performance was not “unifying” and was “not in the spirit” of the group’s mission.
Many in the media argued that Wolf was being lambasted even though she was doing what she was hired to do, raising questions about the whole point of the White House Correspondents’ dinner.
Wolf responded to the Association’s choice of speaker this year, calling the organization “cowards” in a tweet and adding, “The media is complicit.”
The last time the association eschewed a comedian was in 2003, when then-President George W. Bush decided to forgo comedy given the recent invasion of Iraq. That year, the dinner featured Ray Charles.
Prior to Wolf, comedians like Jay Leno, Cedric the Entertainer, Rich Little, Craig Ferguson, Wanda Sykes, Larry Wilmore, Cecily Strong, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert made appearances.
Chernow promised his history lesson at the 2019 dinner “won’t be dry.”
“I’m delighted that Ron will share his lively, deeply researched perspectives on American politics and history at the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” Olivier Knox, president of the WHCA and SiriusXM’s chief Washington correspondent, said in the association’s statement.
For the last several months, Knox had been “leaning against inviting a comic, and he had been conferring with other members about the change,” according to CNN.
Trump skipped the dinner in 2017 and 2018. Perhaps 2019 will be different for him, too.
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