Whatever news gods decided that the cable television stars Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon should be fired the same week that President Biden was scheduled to give a funny speech ribbing the news media certainly were generous in providing fresh material. And Mr. 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, Mr. Biden made the most of the opportunity with some timely skewering of those who usually skewer him — most notably Fox News, which fired Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”
Mr. Biden also went after CNN. Just five days after the financially struggling network fired Mr. Lemon following comments that a woman in her fifties is past her prime, the president ribbed, “CNN was like, ‘Wow! They actually have $787 million? Whoa!’”
At another point, Mr. Biden managed to jab both Fox and CNN while deflecting questions about his age as he seeks re-election. “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?
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“You call me old?” Mr. 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.
President Joe Biden acknowledged the several American journalists under siege in authoritarian countries around the world.
“We are here to send a message to the country and, quite frankly, to the world: The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar, of a free society, not the enemy,” Biden said in his speech.
The president and first lady Jill Biden, upon arriving at the Washington Hilton on Saturday, 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 US government. Some guests wore buttons with “Free Evan” printed on them.
“Journalism is not a crime. Evan and Austin should be released immediately along with every other American detained abroad,” Biden said. “I promise you, I am working like hell to get them home.” 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 attended with her wife, Cherelle, as guests of CBS News.
“This time last year we were praying for you, Brittney," Biden said to the basketball star.
While speaking at the event, Biden referred to “truth buried by lies,” in an apparent reference to false conspiracy theories that his 2020 election win was the result of a massive voter fraud.
“Lies told for profit and power. Lies of conspiracy and malice repeated over and over again designed to generate a cycle of anger and hate and even violence,”Biden said.
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