This year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner was a subdued affair. No funny comedian, no A-list celebs, no president.
The keynote was given by historian Ron Chernow who quietly and intelligently put President Trump’s attacks on the press into historical context.
History shows us that, “campaigns against the press don’t get your face carved into the rocks at Mount Rushmore but when you chip away at the press, you chip away at our democracy. The tribunal of history does not deal leniently with presidents who punish the free press.”
Chernow lamented that, “we now have to fight hard for basic truths we once took for granted.”
“That paper barrier”, he said, referring to the first amendment, “stands between a free press and executive tyranny.”
He warned of the “rising tide of misinformation masquerading as news” and exhorted: “This is as good a time as any to take stock and rededicate yourself to the highest standard of journalistic integrity and accuracy.”
“Be humble, be sceptical and beware of being infected by the very thing you’re fighting against. The press is a powerful weapon that must always be fired with reluctance and aimed with precision.”
Facts matter: “As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things and our wishes can not alter them. Facts are the foot soldiers of our respective professions. They do the hard marching and should wear no ideological colouring. Without the facts, we can not have agreement in our badly divided nation. More importantly, without the facts, we can not have an honest disagreement.”
He lamented Trump’s “relentless campaign against the very credibility of the news media … You folks can only preserve that hard-won credibility with solid, fair minded, accurate and energetic reporting.”
It was a superb speech which reminded us why a free press is so essential, even in the ‘land of the free’.