WASHINGTON (Net) — The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — known for its fun albeit ferocious jabs at Washington — took a more solemn tone this year as what many see as the brazen attack on press freedom across the globe was on painful display.
Upon arriving at the Washington Hilton on Saturday, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden met privately with the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned in Russia since March. He was charged with spying, despite strong denials from his employer and the U.S. government. Some guests wore buttons with “Free Evan” printed on them.
Also among the 2,600 people attending the gala is Debra Tice, the mother of Austin Tice, who has not been heard from since disappearing at a checkpoint in Syria in 2012. U.S. officials say they operate un-der the assumption that he is alive and are working to try to bring him home.
“They are among hundreds of journalists around the world who are wrongfully detained for the simple act of doing journalism — which is not a crime,” said Tamara Keith, a White House correspondent for NPR and the association’s president.
The Bidens also made a beeline for Brittney Griner, the WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist who was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months last year before her release in a prisoner swap. Griner is attend-ing with her wife, Cherelle, as guests of CBS News.
The black-tie dinner draws a wide array of celebrities and media moguls to Washington, with parties being held across the capital. Among those in attendance are actor Liev Schreiber, singer John Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen, the model and television personality.
Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the dinner with a pre-taped video about the importance of a free and independent press. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are seated on the stage along with comedian Roy Wood Jr., a correspondent for “The Daily Show,” as the featured entertainer.
Wood gave a preview of where his jokes were headed, predicting that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn’t likely to end his culture clashes or stop his feud with Disney just because of a few jibes. The comedian told CNN not to expect DeSantis to say, “‘You know what, man, you’re right. Go ahead and put Black history back in them books.’ … He’s fighting Mickey Mouse. You can’t change that person’s mind with a joke.”
The venue is a familiar one for Biden, who attended several as vice president to Barack Obama. The Washington event returned last year after being sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Biden was the first president in six years to accept the invitation after Donald Trump shunned the event while in office.
Biden took the opportunity last year to take aim at his many critics, including Republicans and the leader of their party: Trump. This year, he is coming not only as the commander in chief but as a presidential contender.