Samantha Bee to Roast Trump at "Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner"

WIE Power 100 -  Samantha Bee - Publicity- H 2016
Courtesy of Myles Aronowitz/Turner Entertainment

The 'Full Frontal' host will emcee an event the same evening that the annual political party is scheduled to take place. But given the Trump administration's hostility toward the media, TV news execs are weighing the optics of attending the official White House Correspondents' Dinner

Samantha Bee will roast President Donald Trump on the same night that the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is scheduled to take place. 

The star of TBS' Full Frontal With Samantha Bee on Monday announced that she would emcee an event called "Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner" on Saturday, April 29, at the Willard Hotel in Washington, a couple miles from the Washington Hilton, where the White House Correspondents' Dinner has traditionally been held.

Bee will host the event; other performers will be announced in the coming weeks. TBS has yet to settle on an airdate for the show.

“Executives at TBS offered their full support of the gala by nodding politely and then muttering under their breath as we turned around," Bee said in a press release announcing the event. "The evening is sure to bring plenty of surprises, music, food and laughter — and if you're not careful you just might learn something. Specifically, you’ll learn how screwed we'd be without a free press."

Proceeds will benefit the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Bee said she and her producer Jo Miller began thinking about an alternative to the annual dinner — known in Beltway circles as the "nerd prom" — the day after Trump's stunning Election Day upset. 

Given the Trump administration’s open hostility toward the media — Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who joined the campaign after running the right-wing website, has characterized the media as the "opposition party" — Bee’s dinner may be the only event in town that night.

Many TV news sources queried by The Hollywood Reporter said at this point they have made no plans to attend the official dinner, nor have they received much guidance from the WHCA leadership. Some suggested that they are exploring donating to charity the money they would have spent to purchase tables at the event.

“The optics of it are terrible,” said one TV news source. “There are much more important things to focus on.”

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Bee acknowledged the skepticism: "As to the whether the real one is going to happen? It will either get called off or it will be the most sinister, awkward thing you’ve ever seen."

But WHCA president Jeff Mason said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that the show will go on: "The WHCA looks forward to hosting our annual dinner this year as we do every year to celebrate the First Amendment, reward some of the finest reporting of the past year and recognize promising young student journalists."

Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarity on the administration’s intentions.

Originally conceived as a working event where the Washington press corps could cultivate administration relationships and talk to sources, the dinner has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. As celebrities have flocked to the event — which is also a fundraiser for the association’s scholarship program — it has received increased criticism for exposing the too-cozy relationship between the press and the elected officials they are charged with holding to account. The New York Times stopped sending its reporters in 2008. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw has been an outspoken critic of the dinner.

"When you play it out on cable television, it looks like all the White House press is interested in is getting an appropriate celebrity at their table and yucking it up with the people that they’re supposed to be covering," Brokaw told THR. "And I think in the last election, we have seen how the country doesn’t have the highest regard for Washington correspondents; that they feel that they don’t have an appreciation for what’s going on in their lives. And I’ve always felt that that dinner was the symbol of that." 

Jan. 30, 8:55 a.m.: Updated with statement from WHCA president Jeff Mason.