WASHINGTON — Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, on Thursday posted a photo from the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner some 95 years ago: All men in tuxes, lined up at long tables, and no celebrities of their day among them.
This year’s event won’t be quite so staid, but it isn’t what it was just a few years ago, as the whole weekend became a surreal mixture, showbiz A-listers mingling with a member of the Supreme Court. In 2010, as he tried to get through a throng jammed into a Washington Hilton corridor, Dennis Quaid was asked what he thought of D.C. “So far, it’s just like Hollywood,” he said.
Organizers of the dinner and related events are focusing much more on journalism and the First Amendment. The Saturday night event will feature not a comedian, as has been tradition for decades, but another historian, Ron Chernow, author of “Hamilton” and more recently “Grant.”
Olivier Knox, the president of the White House Correspondents Association and SiriusXM’s chief Washington correspondent, said that the time was right for a “reset,” and other members likely agree, given that many thought that last year’s comedian, Michelle Wolf, was a bit too biting in her barbs, particularly since members of the Trump administration were in the room.
As he has since he took office, President Trump is skipping the dinner, and instead will be holding a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But he’ll likely to a target of criticism, even without a comedian on stage. Knox hinted that he will talk about the president’s attacks on the media, and Chernow was highly critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign. “I’m more deeply disturbed than by any other presidential campaign in our history,” Chernow said in a video that year.
Knox also is planning to call attention to Austin Tice, the freelancer who was abducted while reporting in Syria in 2012. The WHCA will be handing out pins and will feature a banner referencing Tice’s situation, while the Los Angeles Times will hold a post-dinner fundraiser for him at the National Press Club.
The White House reportedly has ordered members of the administration to boycott the dinner, but that apparently does not extend to other events over the weekend. And comedians Jay Leno and Samantha Bee will be headlining other fetes.
Jay Sures, co-president of United Talent Agency, said that he believes that a number of administration figures will attend their Friday night party, a celebration of journalists and the agency’s news media clients. Last year, for instance, Kellyanne Conway attended, and chatted with Michael Avenatti, one of a number of ideological mixes of the evening. The event will be held at the waterfront restaurant Fiola Mare.
“We want this party to be a diverse get together of people who have different points of view and perspectives,” Sures said.
He added, “The main reason we do it is that it is a celebration of our journalist clients who are reporting the news day in and day out, and supporting them in this tricky time right now.”
But he said that the weekend itself may be a contrast to past years.
“I think it is just a different weekend. Without a comedian [at the dinner], it is just going to be a different tone. There will be more of a focus on the First Amendment.”
Leno will be a special guest at the annual Garden Brunch, taking place on Saturday afternoon at the Beall-Washington House. This year it will honor military veterans, and Leno will present the Champions of Freedom Award, and Jean Case and other hosts will present the Be Fearless Award. Tammy Haddad, Hilary Rosen, Mark and Sally Ein, Jennifer Dunn, Zac Moffatt, Greta Van Susteren and John Coale, Fritz Brogan and Franco Nuschese also are hosts.
Bee will tape her TBS show, “Not the White House Correspondents Dinner,” on Friday night at DAR Constitution Hall, with the show airing the following night, counter programming to the dinner.
Thursday: Allen Gannett, Eric Kuhn, John McCarthy and Jennifer DeCasper host the annual Bytes and Bylines party at the residence of the Ambassador to Ireland, Daniel Mulhall. The event is aimed at leaders in tech, media and politics.
Friday: The Hill is hosting an event at the National Portrait Gallery, “Politics Without Prejudice: A Toast to Freedom of the Press,” that will feature a performance by Questlove. RealClearPolitics is holding an event at the National Restaurant Association.
Saturday: Capitol File magazine is hosting a post-dinner event at The Dupont Circle Hotel, with Michael Kelly of “House of Cards” as one of the co-hosts. NBC News and MSNBC are once again hosting an after party at the Italian Embassy.
Sunday: Thomson-Reuters hosts a brunch at the top of the Hay-Adams Hotel, while CNN is throwing its annual “Political Hangover” brunch at a private events venue on North Capitol Street.
Photo: Anthony Scaramucci, Jay Sures and Michael Avenatti at last year’s UTA party on White House Correspondents weekend in Washington.