For the second year in a row, President Donald Trump didn’t attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, but it didn’t take long for his name to come up.
In an introductory speech, White House Correspondents’ Association president Olivier Knox addressed Trump’s attacks against journalists, making sure to preface with a promise to not “dwell on the president,” because “this is not his dinner, it is ours.”
“I do want to say this: In nearly 23 years as a reporter, I’ve been physically assaulted by Republicans and Democrats; spat on; shoved; had crap thrown at me,” Knox said. “I’ve been told by senior administration officials of both major parties that I will never work in Washington again. And there was a brief moment in Afghanistan where I thought a soldier not quite old enough to shave would shoot me dead for the crime of taking a picture inside the presidential palace. And yet, I still separate my career into before the period of February 2017 and what came afterwards.”
Knox was referring to the time Trump called the news media “enemies of the people.” Soon after, he said his son burst into tears and asked him, “Is Donald Trump going to put you in prison?”
“I’ve had to tell family not to touch packages on our stoop. My name is on a statement criticizing the president for celebrating a congressman’s criminal assault on a reporter,” Knox continued. “I’ve had death threats, including one this week. Too many of us have. It shouldn’t need to be said in a room full of people who understand the power of words, that ‘fake news’ and ‘enemies of the people’ are not pet names, punchlines, or presidential.”
Knox also urged those in the room to “reject politically expedient assaults on the men and women whose hard work helps make it possible to hold the powerful to account.”
The dinner took place at the Washington Hilton, with presidential biographer Ron Chernow as a featured speaker. The annual event, which sees journalists intermingling with politicians and Hollywood stars, eschewed its traditional comedian host this year after Michelle Wolf’s opening speech drew controversy last year. Some journalists criticized her jokes, while late-night hosts rose to her defense.
The WHCA said in a statement that the speech was “not in the spirit” of the mission for the event, which is to “offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and scholarship winners, not to divide people.”
Trump counterprogrammed the event with a campaign rally in Wisconsin and urged his officials not to attend the dinner, according to several reports.