Historian Ron Chernow offered a robust defense of the news media and the First Amendment at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on Saturday evening, and called out what he said was a “relentless campaign” against the press.
“The thing that worries me most is the sustained assault on truth,” the “Hamilton” author said towards the end of a lengthy monologue at the black-tie event at the Washington Hilton. “What is happening today is even more insidious, a relentless campaign against the very credibility of the news media.”
“You combat the mistrust of a significant portion of the American electorate,” he said at another point. “A rising ride of misinformation masquerading as news threatens to make a mockery of the First Amendment. There are so many journalistic fakes and forgeries out there.”
The monologue was mostly tame and well-received as it rambled through historic press relations between presidents and journalists of different eras. He mentioned Theodore Roosevelt’s fondness for taking questions while having a shave and Eleanor Roosevelt’s decision to hold her own press briefings just for female reporters.
Chernow also warned that attacks on the press can often have dire consequences, citing John Adams’ attempt to quell media critics with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.
“Because of his anti-press record, John Adams not only lost his race in 1800, but his Jeffersonian opponents reigned for the next quarter century,” Chernow said.
Though he declined to take any open broadsides at President Trump — who boycotted the dinner for the third year in a row and frequently refers to journalists as “enemies of the people” — Chernow did offer many cutting if oblique observations on the current climate.
He called Alexander Hamilton, his most recent subject, “an immigrant who arrived — thank God — before the country was full.”
“I don’t know why they let the guy in. Clearly someone slipped up at the southern border,” he added, to audience laughter.
Chernow was selected to host the White House dinner after an eruption of outcry over the performance of comedian Michelle Wolf at the 2018 gathering. Some critics said her monologue was unfunny and mean-spirited.
“I really thought the pain of the people on stage when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was being made fun of. Everybody felt pain for her. She felt pain and it really bothered me,” “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski said after the 2018 event. “She looked pained. She was being humiliated for a prolonged amount of time on stage. Do we really want to be laughing at that? It’s not funny.”
Though he was a safer choice than Wolf, Chernow is also no fan of Trump and made his own views clear in a July 2016 video begging Americans to vote against the billionaire.
“I have been deeply disturbed by the Trump campaign — more deeply disturbed than by any other presidential campaign in our history. We’ve all been horrified by the many shocking statements this man has made, but no less frightening have been the omissions,” he said.