5 takeaways from the White House Correspondents Dinner

From Biden’s jokes about his own approval rating to pandemic anxieties, here were the top moments

Eric Garcia
Sunday 01 May 2022 13:31 BST
Biden points out that Fox News reporters at White House Correspondents Dinner are fully vaccinated

After being put on hold for two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner returned on Saturday night in Washington as if nothing had ever changed.

Well, almost everything.

In order to attend, guests had to upload a negative test and their vaccine passports onto a cumbersome app called My Bindle. But after that minor inconvenience, many filed into the various parties before the dinner, and will likely party the night away at many of the post-dinner events hosted throughout Washington.

Furthermore, President Joe Biden’s speech marked the first time that a president attended the dinner in six years, given former president Donald Trump’s refusal to attend. Similarly, the dinner returned to its normally scheduled programming of comedic performances after the dinner moved away from comedy in 2019 with The Daily Show host Trevor Noah providing the night’s entertainment.

The Independent was on the ground for some of the pre-party events and watched both Mr Biden and Mr Noah’s speeches. Here are five takeaways from Washington’s glitziest night.

Biden poked fun at himself — and others

Whether it was mocking his own approval ratings or taking aim at his predecessor, Mr Biden’s attendance at the event represented not just a return to form for official Washington, but the return of presidential humour after the presidency of Mr Trump, who was believed to be so incensed by jokes at his expense at the 2011 edition of the dinner that he ran for president as a form of revenge.

While Mr Biden initially took aim at Mr Trump, he also poked fun at his advanced age and low approval ratings, noting in jest that the American press is the only group with poll numbers lower than his.

The president also roasted Republicans, suggesting that the GOP would soon be “storming Cinderella’s castle” — a reference to both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ targeting of Disney after it opposed his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law and the 6 January insurrection committed by a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters.

Trevor Noah (REUTERS)

Pandemic? What pandemic?

Mr Biden and Mr Noah both acknowledged anxieties about a mass gathering in Washington and whether it was ethical, given the last time Washington hosted a large-scale indoor event, multiple members of the Biden administration and members of Congress tested positive. Just this week, Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for Covid-19, which kept her away from the dinner.

“For real, what are we doing here? Did none of you learn anything from the Gridiron dinner? Nothing?” Mr Noah asked attendees. “You guys spent the last two years telling everyone the importance of wearing masks and avoiding large in-door gatherings, then the second someone offers you a free dinner, you all turn into Joe Rogan.”

“I know there are questions about whether we should gather,” Mr Biden said in his own remarks. But he added that every attendee had to show they were fully vaccinated and boosted.

“So if you’re at home watching this, and you’re wondering how to do that, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter,” he said. “Vaccinated and boosted, all of them.”

Similarly, Mr Biden compared his predecessor Mr Trump to the pandemic.

“It’s the first time a president attended this dinner in six years. It’s understandable. We had a horrible plague followed by two years of Covid,” he said.

Trevor Noah roasts the Washington press corps

Mr Biden opened his speech noting that Americans don’t feel particularly fond about journalists. And Mr Noah dialed up the disses. The comedian kicked CNN when it’s down, following the sudden demise of the network’s short-lived streaming platform, CNN+.

“Whenever there’s a disaster anywhere in the world, Chef Jose is there,” Mr Noah said of Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen, which has recently done work in Ukraine. “I guess that’s why he’s sitting at the CNN table tonight.”


Mr Noah went after NBC News’ Chuck Todd, ribbing the Meet the Press moderator for his lack of follow-up questions. Similarly, Mr Noah poked fun at Fox News and their propensity to ask about Mr Biden’s son Hunter.

“I think people need to be held accountable if they’re using their dad’s name to get ahead in life and I can’t think of anyone better to ask about that than Peter Doocy,” he said. Mr Doocy is the son of Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy.

#ThisTown is back

Mr Trump’s presidency made the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a semi-uncomfortable event. The former president didn’t attend, and many in the Washington press corps were nervous after comedian Michelle Wolf gave an incendiary speech with sharp criticism at then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. In response, in 2019, the dinner featured not a comedian, but rather historian Ron Chernow, who wrote the biography Hamilton that inspired the hit Broadway musical. Plenty of celebrities avoided the dinner, and many felt on edge given the adversarial relationship the Trump administration had.

But none of those anxieties seemed to be on display as people filed into the Washington Hilton for pre-parties. Plenty of members of Congress, members of the Biden administration and former officials mingled with the press. At CBS News and Politico’s pre-party at the Washington Hilton, Democratic Representative Elaine Luria as well as Biden administration staff secretary Neera Tanden and Director of Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice were on hand, mingling with various journalists from CBS, Politico and The Washington Post, among others. While not nearly as star-studded as during the Obama presidency, there was definitely a more relaxed vibe this go-around compared to the nerves that surrounded the Trump years.

Journalism gets a round of applause

The White House Correspondents Dinner is ostensibly a celebration of journalism and the First Amendment. Beyond the glitz and formal attire, a group of students do receive college scholarships through the association. Mr Biden acknowledged the importance of a free press, after Mr Trump repeatedly attacked journalists and dismissed critical coverage as “fake news”.

“You, the free press, matter more than you ever have in the past century,” Mr Biden said. And Mr Noah, for his part, celebrated the fact that he can mock the president of the United States to his face and not face persecution.

“If you ever begin to doubt how meaningful it is, look no further than what’s happening in Ukraine. Look at what’s happening there,” Mr Noah said.

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