“We had a horrible plague – and two years of COVID,” Biden quipped.
In addition to speeches from Biden and comedian Trevor Noah, the hourslong event had taped comedic skits that included late-night TV hosts, comedians and even Biden himself.
“Thank you for having me here,” Noah said to Biden. “And I was a little confused on why me, but then I was told that you get your highest approval ratings when a biracial African guy is standing next to you.”
While the majority of the speech was filled with cutting jabs, Biden did make note of the important role journalism plays in American democracy, especially in the last decade.
“I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that you, the free press, matter more than you ever did in the last century,” he said. “You are the guardians of the truth.”
The dinner had other serious moments, with tributes to pioneer journalists of color, aspiring student reporters as well as a dedication to the journalists detained, injured or killed during the coverage of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The premier event for news media in Washington, the correspondents’ dinner mixed Washington journalists like CNN’s Jake Tapper and MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid with celebrities Kim Kardashian, Pete Davidson, Brooke Shields, Caitlyn Jenner, Drew Barrymore and Martha Stewart. Among the large swath of government officials and other prominent figures was Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Accompanied by the first lady, the president came to the event while trying to strike a careful balance with the nation fatigued by the pandemic yet facing an uptick in infections. The ongoing national threat has struck closer to home for the president: Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive this past week and Dr Anthony Fauci skipped the dinner for health precautions.
The US was experiencing a COVID-19 case spike from a highly contagious subvariant of Omicron, with confirmed infections rising to about 44,000 per day, up from 26,000 a month ago. Still, virus deaths and hospitalisations were near, or at, pandemic lows, with the BA.2 variant proving less severe than earlier virus strains.
In the wake of the recent Gridiron Club press dinner in Washington, dozens of attendees, including members of Congress and of Biden’s Cabinet and journalists, tested positive for COVID-19. The White House Correspondents’ Association said it was requiring same-day antigen testing for its dinner attendees even before the Gridiron outbreak, then added a vaccination requirement.
Biden, 79, decided to pass up the meal but turn up later for the program. While he planned to be masked when not speaking, a maskless president greeted award winners on the dais and could be seen smiling broadly during the dinner program.
The correspondents’ dinner debuted in 1921. Three years later, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend and all have since, except Trump. Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon opted not to attend every year of their presidencies, however, and Reagan, then recovering from an assassination attempt, missed the 1981 instalment – but called in from Camp David.
“The thing I think this shows is the restoration to the health of the relationship,” Harold Holzer, author of the book The Presidents vs the Press” and the director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York, said ahead of the dinner. “It’s still barbed, there are still tense moments. But that’s OK.”
In his closing remarks before handing over to Noah, Biden could not resist a jab at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Trevor, the really good news is, now you get to roast the president of the United States,” he said to Noah. “And unlike in Moscow, you won’t go to jail.”
AP, with wires
Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.