Comedian and “Daily Show” senior correspondent Hasan Minhaj will headline the 2017 White House Correspondents Association dinner, an annual Washington gala being held this year amid President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on the press.
Trump has said he will not attend the April 29 event, which would make him the first sitting president in over three decades to skip the dinner. No members of Trump’s White House staff are expected to attend either, the first time that’s occurred since the annual dinner began nearly a century ago.
Still, the show must go on. Speaking Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” WHCA president Jeff Mason announced Minhaj as the headliner, saying that he “brings comedy chops, but he also brings heart ― and I think that we’re going to see that at this dinner.”
“He’s going to make some jokes, no doubt, about the press and probably about the president,” said Mason, who is also a Reuters correspondent. “But he’s also going to bring the message that we hope to get across that night. And that is: The First Amendment is critical and the work of the press corps and the journalists around the world is very important.”
Mason has stressed that this year’s dinner will focus especially on the journalists who cover the White House each day, some of whom might not have gotten into previous star-studded dinners where news organizations stacked tables with celebrities.
This year’s dinner is striking a more earnest tone, which reflects the renewed sense of mission among journalists in the Trump era. CNN, for example, is inviting journalism students rather than Hollywood stars, and some of the weekend’s traditional glitzy parties, thrown by the likes of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, have been canceled. Legendary Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will take the stage to hand out journalism awards.
Though Mason said Minhaj’s role will not be to “roast the president in absentia,” the so-called “Muslim correspondent” has not been shy about taking on Trump, especially when it comes to his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Following Trump’s victory in November, Minhaj said he’d viewed the candidate’s December 2015 call to temporarily block Muslims from entering the United States as “instantly disqualifying,” and argued that “open racism should just be a deal-breaker.”
In January, Minhaj ripped Trump’s travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries, along with the Republicans and commentators who said during the campaign that a ban on Muslims wouldn’t actually happen if Trump were elected.
“What the fuck?” he said. “So we ARE getting banned?”
In a statement Tuesday, Minhaj said “it is a tremendous honor to be a part of such a historic event even though the president has chosen not to attend this year. SAD!”
“Now more than ever,” he continued, “it is vital that we honor the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”