Don’t let this year’s WHCA dinner turn into another political disaster

In tapping presidential biographer Ron Chernow as its featured speaker, the White House Correspondents’ Association clearly got the message after last year's debacle, when it hired yet another overwhelmingly biased comedian who hijacked its annual dinner. 

Of course, Chernow, best known as the biographer behind books on Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant, will not bring the kind of buzz and media attention that WHCA dinners of the recent past have delivered. But that's actually a good thing, if rewarding great journalism while supporting young aspiring journalists is the primary point of the evening.

More and more, particularly in this decade, the WHCA had become lazy in its speaker selections, seemingly picking any name out of a hat of comedians who appeared on Comedy Central: Cecily Strong, Larry Wilmore, Hasan Minhaj, Michelle Wolf.

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Wolf was particularly repugnant in the eyes of many in the media, after she made jokes apparently about Sarah Sanders's appearance as the White House press secretary was sitting just a few feet away last April.   

Just how horrific was Wolf's act? For the first time in channel history for the event, C-SPAN radio stopped broadcasting her performance halfway through and opted instead for a repeat of "Washington Journal", citing concerns over "compatibility with the FCC's indecency guidelines."

Political media — left, right and anywhere in-between  — slammed Wolf while urging the WHCA to refocus and retool the event, if not cancel it permanently. 

Wolf, perhaps sensing that she broke the association's back in its decision to veer away from comedians next year, called the WHCA "cowards" while declaring she was proud of her performance. 

“The @whca are cowards," she wrote to her 563,000 followers. "The media is complicit. And I couldn't be prouder."

Wolf's Netflix program, "The Break," was launched not long after the Correspondents' dinner. It was abruptly cancelled after 10 episodes. 

Now, this isn't to say that Chernow is exactly a pleasing choice to everyone, either. Some on social media are pointing to Chernow's videotaped statement before the 2016 election urging voters not to elect the Republican nominee. 

“I’m disturbed by the words missing from the Trump campaign: Liberty, justice, freedom and tolerance,” Chernow said at the time. “The only historical movement that Trump alludes to is a shameful one: America First.” 

Olivier Knox of SiriusXM, who serves as WHCA president this year, said the night will be a celebration of the First Amendment with Chernow at the podium.   

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"I'm delighted that Ron will share his lively, deeply researched perspectives on American politics and history at the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Dinner," said Knox in a statement on Monday. "As we celebrate the importance of a free and independent news media to the health of the republic, I look forward to hearing Ron place this unusual moment in the context of American history."   

Here's hoping the April 27, 2019, dinner is one that lives up to Knox's billing: a celebration of a free, fair press, and an underscoring of the importance of the First Amendment. 

Removing Comedy Central activists posing as comedians completes half the equation for a dignified dinner. The other half — hiring the right speaker who can leave partisanship at home — is another challenge altogether. The last thing the dinner needs is a partisan who uses the platform to turn the evening into another resistance protest marinated in pious condescension to half the country.

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill and host of "What America's Thinking."