The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, known for its comedic roasting of presidents and media, will be a lot different in 2019.
Instead of jokes, the event will be a history lesson led by author Ron Chernow, a well-known biographer of American presidents and statesmen, the White House Correspondents’ Association announced on Monday. Chernow will focus on the First Amendment, something that many believe President Donald Trump is undermining by calling the media the enemy of the people and confiscating the White House pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta.
“Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics,” Chernow said. “My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory.” On the bright side, Chernow added that his “history lesson won’t be dry,” even though he’s no comedian.
Chernow has written biographies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, with the former receiving the George Washington Book Prize. His most recent book about President Ulysses S. Grant was named by the New York Times as one of the best books of the year.
The association’s president Olivier Knox told CNN earlier this year, “when the president comes, the program’s center of gravity naturally tilts toward the president.” President Trump’s absence from the event in 2017 and 2018 was a factor in the decision to forego a comedian, because jokes against the president while he is not there could be seen as “combative,” according to CNN.
Comedian Michelle Wolf headlined last year’s dinner, and was criticized for jokes she made about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s “perfect smokey eye,” which Wolf said she creates from the ashes of burnt facts. Wolf’s act led the former WHCA president to issue a statement denouncing her act as “not in the spirit” of the dinner’s mission.
The 2019 dinner is scheduled for April 27.