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In Trump’s absence, White House Correspondents dinner focuses on First Amendment

Washington’s once-glitzy ‘‘nerd prom,’’ hosted by Hasan Minhaj, was partly overshadowed this year by the first ‘‘Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,’’ hosted by late-night TV star Samantha Bee.Evan Agostini (left) and Charles Sykes/Invision/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Prominent Washington journalists, if not Hollywood stars, celebrated the First Amendment during the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event that lacked the glitter of past years because of the absence of the president of the United States.

With President Trump sending his regrets, the attention was no longer focused on an in-person roasting of the commander in chief and his humorous remarks about politics and the press. The red carpet that once featured Oscar winners, TV stars, and a few major-league athletes barely turned heads.

Instead, speakers at the dinner promoted press freedom and responsibility and challenged Trump’s accusations of dishonest reporting.


The stars of the night were Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who recounted what they learned about journalism from their reporting for The Washington Post that helped lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation more than 40 years ago.

‘‘Like politicians and presidents, sometimes, perhaps too frequently, we make mistakes and go too far,’’ Woodward said. ‘‘When that happens, we should own up to it. But the effort today to get this best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith. Mr. President, the media is not ‘fake news.’ ’’

The evening was not without humor aimed at the press and Trump.

‘‘We’ve got to address the elephant that’s not in the room,’’ cracked the entertainment headliner, Hasan Minhaj of ‘‘The Daily Show’’ on TV’s Comedy Central. ‘‘The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. It’s a very long flight. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.’’

Washington’s once-glitzy ‘‘nerd prom’’ was partly overshadowed this year by the first ‘‘Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,’’ hosted by late-night TV star Samantha Bee.

The event was billed as a tribute to journalism, but it was also an opportunity for Bee and her guests to mock Trump.


“You continue to fact-check the president as if he might someday get embarrassed,” Bee, who hosts the weekly talk show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” on TBS, told the crowd of 2,600 at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington Saturday afternoon. “Tonight is for you.”

Will Ferrell showed up as a surprise special guest at Bee’s celebrity-studded event to reprise his famed George W. Bush impersonation.

Material from the New York Times was used in this report.