Hamilton biographer gives WHCD speech on history of contentious relationship between press and presidents
© Screenshot/NBC

Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow gave a speech about the historical relationship between presidents and the press, which he characterized as “almost always adversarial” but not “steeped in venom” at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) Saturday night.

Chernow spoke in place of a comedian that typically headlines the event following a provocative performance last year by Michelle Wolf. The historian sprinkled in a few jokes and finished with some Mark Twain quotes, but stuck largely to a discussion of history and press freedom.

He opened his speech by acknowledging his difference from past speakers.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I confess that I was surprised when I received the invitation to speak here tonight, I mean I knew they weren’t approaching me as an international sex symbol, right?”

“Then [White House Correspondents’ Association President] Olivier [Knox] told me that they wanted to try boring at this year’s dinner and I said ‘oh I can deliver on that big time,’” he said.

In the speech where he discussed moments of varying fondness between reporters and presidents including George Washington, Richard Nixon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Chernow noted that the Trump administration was a unique time to cover the White House.

“I think you’re doing noble work to preserve democracy at a time when a rising tide of misinformation masquerading as news threatens to make a mockery of the First Amendment,” he said.

“Donald J. Trump is not the first and won’t be the last American president to create jitters about the First Amendment, so be humble, be skeptical and beware of being infected by the very things you’re fighting against,” he added. “The press is a powerful weapon that must always be fired with reluctance and aimed with precision.”

Chernow is a historian who has written multiple biographies, and is perhaps best known for his 2004 biography of America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, which was the basis Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

Chernow jabbed President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE’s hardline immigrant stances by noting Hamilton’s own immigrant background, calling Hamilton “an immigrant who arrived, thank God, before the country was full. “

“I don’t know why they let the guy in, clearly somebody had slipped up at the Southern border,” he quipped.

Chernow delivered his speech to guests at the Washington Hilton, that included lawmakers, journalists and celebrities.

Trump did not attend for the third consecutive year and encouraged  other administration officials to do the same.

-Judy Kurtz contributed to this report