The San Juan Daily Star
Biden gets a chance to mock Fox News, and gleefully takes it
By Peter Baker and Katie Robertson
Whatever news gods decided that cable television stars Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon should be fired the same week that President Joe Biden was scheduled to give a funny speech ribbing the news media certainly were generous in providing fresh material. And Biden took advantage on Saturday night as he gleefully mocked some of his favorite foils.
In his annual appearance at the black-tie White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the one night a year that a president is expected to play a stand-up comic, Biden made the most of the opportunity with some timely skewering of those who usually skewer him — most notably Fox News, which fired Carlson on Monday just days after settling a defamation lawsuit for $787.5 million.
“Last year, your favorite Fox News reporters were able to attend” the dinner “because they were fully vaccinated and boosted,” Biden said, in a nod to his coronavirus response strategy. “This year, with that $787 million settlement, they’re here because they couldn’t say no to a free meal.”
“And hell, I’d call Fox honest, fair and truthful,” he told the crowd gathered in a cavernous ballroom in Washington as well as a national television audience watching at home. “But then I could be sued for defamation.” When some groaned, he quipped, “It ain’t nothing compared to what they do to me.”
Biden also went after CNN. Just five days after the financially struggling network fired Lemon following comments that a woman in her 50s is past her prime, the president ribbed, “CNN was like, ‘Wow! They actually have $787 million? Whoa!’”
At another point, Biden managed to jab both Fox and CNN while deflecting questions about his age as he seeks reelection. “You might think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch,” the 80-year-old president said of the 92-year-old Fox impresario. “That’s simply not true. How can I dislike a guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?
“You call me old?” Biden went on. “I call it being seasoned. You say I’m ancient? I say I’m wise. You say I’m over the hill? Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime.”
He said age was a legitimate issue. “It’s on everybody’s mind,” he said. “And by everyone, I mean The New York Times. Headline: ‘Biden’s Advanced Age a Big Issue; Trump’s, However, Is Not.’”
The dinner came at the end of a chaotic week for the media as the chattering classes descended on Washington for their annual ritual of schmoozing, drinking and gossiping. The industry is reeling from a steady drumbeat of layoffs and closures, but it was the firings of the two high-profile, millionaire cable personalities that had everybody talking.
In its second year since the pandemic, the dinner has mushroomed into an even more splashy spectacle. Like the wedding of a wealthy family, it has now replicated into multiple events spread over five days, with the first pre-dinner parties and receptions starting Wednesday night and the last post-dinner brunches scheduled for Sunday.
The Wall Street Journal’s new editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker, mingled at a pre-dinner reception Saturday hosted by the paper’s publisher, Almar Latour. Attendees wore #freeEvan stickers, referring to Evan Gershkovich, its reporter imprisoned in Russia and accused of espionage, which the Journal and the U.S. government have denied.
Biden opened his act with comments about Gershkovich and other Americans held overseas. “Everyone in this hall stands with you,” the president said, addressing Gershkovich’s family, who was in attendance. “We’re working every day to secure his release, looking at opportunities and tools to bring him home. We keep the faith.”
He also mentioned Austin Tice, a journalist held in Syria for nearly 11 years, and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia on what the United States says are fabricated charges of espionage. Biden pointed in the audience to Brittney Griner, the WNBA star freed in a prisoner swap in December after being detained for nearly 10 months in Russia. “Boy, I can hardly wait to see you back on the court, kid,” he said.
Biden’s supportive comments about a free press contrasted sharply with those by former President Donald Trump, who constantly called reporters “enemies of the people” and their reports “fake news.” But Biden gingerly acknowledged his own reluctance to engage with the reporters who cover him other than in passing. He has given fewer news conferences per year than all but two presidents since Calvin Coolidge and fewer interviews than any modern president. Alluding to this, Biden said his dinner speech would be like his press interactions: “I’ll talk for 10 minutes, take no questions and cheerfully walk away.”
He made a few passes at Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, his would-be Republican challengers. Biden joked that he had created 12 million jobs “and that’s just the lawyers” defending Trump. As for DeSantis, the president said, “After his reelection as governor, he was asked if he had a mandate. He said, ‘Hell no, I’m straight.’”
Biden went after congressional Republicans as well. Telling dinner attendees to be safe, he said, “If you find yourself disoriented or confused, it’s either you’re drunk or Marjorie Taylor Greene.” Noting that his approval rating stands at 42%, he said, “Kevin McCarthy called me and asked me, ‘Joe, what the hell’s your secret?’”
Biden ended on a serious note, discussing the case of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy whose brutal murder in Mississippi in 1955 galvanized the civil rights movement. Biden, who hosted a showing of “Till,” a feature film about the case, at the White House, finished with a plea to fight for democracy.
“We know in our bones and you know it, too, our democracy remains at risk,” he said. “But I’ve also made it clear, as I’ve seen throughout my life, it is within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy. We can, we must, we will.”