In the hour before the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner began at what used to be called the “Hinckley Hilton” in Washington, I asked attendees — journalists, politicians, opinion-makers, advertising & PR types — what they expected of an evening without the president.
“Happier than I’ve been in 20 years,” said one veteran, who happens to be a faithful Democrat.
“Because Hollywood isn’t here. Much nicer without Hollywood.”
Indeed, unlike many other years, it was possible to walk around freely without encountering scrums of people and camera crews, cheek-by-jowl, jamming hallways as they struggled to get a look at, say, Jenna Dewan or Kendall Jenner.
A businessman — an outside-the-Beltway ad man who serviced Washington-based publications — was unhappy for the same reason the veteran was happy. He wanted to see celebrities. “But I did see Woodward and Bernstein,” he told me, brightening a bit.
A few minutes later, a filmmaker fretted about Hasan Minhaj, the Comedy Central performer who was to be the night’s entertainment. Minhaj, referred to widely as a “Muslim comedian,” was expected to slam Trump on not just Muslim issues but everything else. “I’m worried he’s going to be mean-spirited, just go after everyone,” the filmmaker said.
A prominent writer who walked up had a different take. “This is going to be the most pious ever,” he said. Among the White House Correspondents’ Association officials who ran the event, he explained, there would be piety for freedom of the press, for the First Amendment, and for the commitment and dedication they themselves display every day. Among the the entertainment — Minhaj — there would pious lesson-teaching about the evils of seeing Muslims and immigrants as “others.” Piety all around.
As it turned out, the writer-filmmaker team won the night’s prediction game. Just as the writer predicted, the media self-regard on display at the Hinckley Hilton Saturday was of a degree seldom, if ever, equaled at traditional Washington events — and that is saying something. And Minhaj did indeed take his opportunity to teach those assembled about the dangers of discrimination. On the other hand, the filmmaker correctly foresaw the sheer, unfiltered, nastiness — directed not just at Trump but also at top members of his administration — that Minhaj delivered along with his lessons.