dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, chose not to attend dinner because of the obvious danger. Organizers demanded that all guests be vaccinated, boosted and tested negative before attending, although few wore masks in addition to the wait staff. To mitigate the potential danger, Mr Biden, who is in a high-risk age group at age 79, skipped dinner and came only for the speaking portion of the evening.
But his presence was meant to represent a return to normalcy after Trump’s war on the news media. While Mr. Biden, like other presidents, has complained about his reporting, sometimes snapping at reporters asking questions he doesn’t care about, aides said he planned to attend as a reaffirmation of his support for a free press.
“The free press is not the enemy of the people,” Biden said. “Far from. At your best you are the guardians of the truth.” He specifically cited those who gave their lives to report from Ukraine’s battlefields as a reminder, he said, of the importance of journalism.
Still, the president gently chided journalists and urged them to avoid sensationalism and trivialization. “The First Amendment grants a free press extraordinary protections,” he said, “but, as many of you know, it entails a very heavy obligation to seek the truth as best you can, not to inflate or entertain. , but to enlighten and teach.”
“There is an incredible pressure on all of you to provide heat rather than shed light,” he said, adding, “American democracy is not a reality show.”
The Correspondents’ Association made it a point to add some serious note to the evening’s festivities by honoring two black female pioneers of the White House press corps, Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne, who are two of the only were three African-American journalists who regularly reported on the White House in the 1950s. It also paid tribute to journalists killed in Ukraine and named the family of Austin Tice, a reporter kidnapped in Syria in 2012.
But the event went on to resume its status as Washington’s premier exercise, interspersed with days of lavish, expensive, alcohol-filled parties that were held late into the night throughout the city, bringing members of the political class together with the journalists who them and the occasional luminaries of Hollywood, Wall Street and other American institutions.