Will changes be coming to White House correspondents' dinner

The Hill announced it would no longer participate in the annual "nerd prom."

May 01, 2018, 7:39 PM

Olivier Knox, who will assume the role of White House Correspondents' Association president this summer, said Tuesday he's been "deluged" with ideas on how to change or not change the annual dinner in the wake of this year’s controversy over comedian Michelle Wolf's monologue.

"Among the many, many ideas landing in my inbox, my voicemail, and my Twitter DMs, are to change nothing, scrap the entertainer, go with an entertainer but not a comic, do a bunch of dad jokes, scrap the dinner — which is a nonstarter for me — or go with a Gridiron model of a Democratic speaker and a Republican speaker," Knox told ABC News.

"I have my ideas, but ultimately I'm answerable to WHCA members," he added.

Knox, chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM, previously worked at Yahoo and Agence France-Presse.

PHOTO: Chief Washington Correspondent at Yahoo! News Olivier Knox attends a party on May 3, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
Chief Washington Correspondent at Yahoo! News Olivier Knox attends a party on May 3, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images FILE

"As somebody who has said for a very long time that the dinner should be ‘boring,’ that is to say focused on journalists and the work of good reporters, I am very open to suggestions about how to change it," Knox told CNN in an interview Monday. "My goal is for the center of gravity of the dinner to be reporters – not the president, not the comic."

Knox told ABC his comment about "being open to changing some things about the dinner," has "drawn some reactions from members, but maybe because I've been talking about this for roughly two decades, most colleagues don't seem all that surprised."

After Knox's initial comments to CNN, The Hill, the self-described "news source of record for policy influencers inside and outside Washington," announced Tuesday it would no longer partake in any future White House Correspondents' Association dinners — making it the first media outlet to do so after this year's dinner.

In a statement, chairman of The Hill, James Finkelstein wrote, "The Hill, which has participated in the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner for many years, does not plan at this time to participate in the event moving forward."

"In short, there’s no reason for us to participate in something that casts our profession in a poor light," he added.

Finkelstein acknowledged the association's ethical values - directly quoting their website in the statement: "We work to ensure a strong, free press and robust coverage of the presidency. We share the belief, held by our country’s Founders and enshrined in the First Amendment, that an independent news media is vital to the health of the republic."

However, he argues that this year's headliner — who is facing severe backlash over several jokes targeted at the Trump administration for their vulgar and personal nature — did not align with the association’s values, and called for "major changes" to be implemented to the annual gala.

"The dinner must be non-partisan and done without hostility and personal animus toward the party that occupies the White House — regardless of who is in power,” Finkelstein said.

Wolf's routine at the so-called "nerd prom" roasted President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, White House staff, the White House press corps, and Democrats and Republicans. But the comedian and former Daily Show correspondent drew the sharpest criticism for jokes that took aim at press secretary Sarah Sanders on both her job performance and physical appearance.

Finkelstein compared this year's dinner to those of the past, which he said, "were tremendous spectacles of dignity that were enjoyed by all."

"Comedians headlining those dinners were sharp and made fun of both the media and the Commander-in-Chief in a way that could induce laughs while not being so offensive and vulgar that C-SPAN actually cut off its radio broadcast, as was the case this year for the first time ever,” he said.

PHOTO: Host Michelle Wolf attends the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner at Washington Hilton, April 28, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Host Michelle Wolf attends the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner at Washington Hilton, April 28, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

"The kind of jokes told by this year’s headliner, Michelle Wolf, were out of line for an event that’s supposed to be fun — and fair," he continued.

The Hill is urging the association to reform the dinner to bring the focus back on the "importance of the Fourth Estate."

"We hope the dinner can get back to talking about the importance of the Fourth Estate without the kind of ugly slideshow that completely overshadowed the event this year," the statement read.

"Without major reforms, The Hill no longer wishes to participate in future dinners," Finkelstein warned.

Although The Hill is opting out of future dinners, the outlet will continue to donate to the association's scholarship program to help produce "future journalists to fight for freedom of the press while remaining non-partisan."

President Trump weighed in on the controversy on Twitter Monday to say "The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is DEAD as we know it."

The Hill is the only outlet so far this year to publicly end its participation in the annual gala but The New York Times reported that executives at CBS News were "dismayed" following the dinner and the network also considered dropping out of the dinner.

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