Monday, May 9, 2016
MEDIA MONDAY / OBAMA’S FINAL PRESS CORPS DINNER SPEECH
Every year the White House Correspondents Assn., a group made up of journalists, who cover the president hold an annual dinner to raise money for scholarships. By tradition the sitting President gives the keynote address.
This year, Mr. Obama delivered his 8th and final WHCA dinner address as sitting President. Wondering aloud at the microphone he admitted he had no clue as next year’s Presidential speaker. “I have no idea who she might be?”
[Music playing as Obama walks up. Audience can hear “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone…"]
You can’t say it, but you know it is true.
Good evening everybody. It is an honor to be here at my last, and perhaps the last White House correspondents’ dinner. You all look great. The end of the Republic has never looked better.
I do apologize. I know I was a little late tonight. I was running on CPT, which stands for jokes that white people should not make. That’s a tip for you, Jeff.
Anyway, here we are, my eighth and final appearance at this unique event. And I am excited. If this material works well, I’m going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans. That’s right. That’s right.
My brilliant and beautiful wife Michelle is here tonight. She looks so happy to be here. It’s called practice. It’s like learning to do three-minute planks. She makes it look easy now. But…
Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot and it’s anyone guess who she will be. But standing here I can’t help but be reflective and a little sentimental.
Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific. Eight years ago, I was a young man full of idealism and vigor. And look at me now, I am gray, grizzled and just counting down the days to my death panel.
Hillary once questioned whether I would be up ready for a 3 a.m .phone call. Now, I’m awake anyway because I have to go to the bathroom. I’m up.
In fact somebody recently said to me, ‘Mr. President, you are so yesterday. Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you. He is so handsome and he’s so charming. He’s the future.’ And I said ‘Justin, just give it a rest.’ I resented that.
Meanwhile, Michelle has not aged a day. The only way you can date her in photos is by looking at me. Take a look. [Show photos over the years] Here we are in 2008. Here we are a few years later. And this one is from two weeks ago. So time passes.
In just six short months, I will be officially a lame duck, which means Congress now will flat out reject my authority, and Republican leaders won’t take my phone calls. And this is going to take some getting use to. It’s really gonna… It’s a curve ball. I don’t know what to do with it. Of course, in fact, for four months now congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.
But on everything else, it’s another story. And you know who you are, Republicans. In fact, I think we’ve got Republican senators Tim Scott and Cory Gardner. They are in the house, which reminds me … security bar the doors. Judge Merrick Garland come on out. We are going to do this right here. Right now.
It’s like the red wedding.
But it’s not just Congress. Even some foreign leaders, they’ve been looking ahead, anticipating my departure. Last week, Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face. A clear breach of protocol.
Although, while in England I did have lunch with her Majesty the Queen, took in a performance of Shakespeare, hit the links with David Cameron. Just in case anyone was debating whether I am black enough, I think that settles the debate.
I won’t lie, look, this is a tough transition. It’s hard. Key staff are now starting to leave the White House. Even reporters have left me. Savannah Guthrie, she has left the White House press corps to host the “Today” show. Norah O’Donnell left the briefing room to host ‘CBS This Morning.’ Jake Tapper left journalism to join CNN.
But the prospect of leaving the White House is a mixed bag. You might have heard that someone jumped the White House fence last week, but I have to give the Secret Service credit. They found Michelle and brought her back. She’s safe back at home now. It’s only nine more months, baby. Settle down.
And yet somehow, despite all this, despite the churn, in my final year my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high I was trying to decide on my major.
And here’s the thing, I haven’t really done anything differently. So it’s odd. Even my age can’t explain the rising poll numbers. What has changed nobody can figure it out. Puzzling.
Anyway. In this last year, I do have more appreciation for those who have been with me on this amazing ride. Like one of our finest public servants, Joe Biden. God bless him. I love that guy. I love Joe Biden. I really do. And I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel, for always giving it to me straight, for not shooting anybody in the face. Thank you, Joe.
Also, I would be remiss. Let’s give it up for our host, Larry Wilmore. Also known as one of the two black guys who’s not Jon Stewart. You’re the South African guy, right? I love Larry. And his parents are here, who are from Evanston, which is great town. I also would like to acknowledge some of the award winning reporters that we have with us here tonight. Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber. Thank you all for everything you have done. I’m just joking. As you know, “Spotlight” is a film, a movie about investigative journalists with the resources and the autonomy to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since “Star Wars.”
Look. That was maybe a cheap shot. I understand the news business is tough these days. It keeps changing all the time. Every year at this dinner somebody makes a joke about Buzzfeed, for example, changing the media landscape. And every year The Washington Post laughs a little bit less hard. Kind of a silence there. Especially at the Washington Post table.
GOP chairman Reince Priebus is here as well. Glad to see that you feel you have earned a night off. Congratulations on all your success, the republican party, the nomination process. It’s all going great. Keep it up.
Kendall Jenner is also here. And we had a chance to meet her backstage. She seems like a very nice, young woman. I’m not exactly sure what she does, but I’m told that my twitter mentions are about to go through the roof.
Helen Mirren is here tonight. I don’t even have a joke here, I just think Helen Mirren is awesome. She’s awesome.
Sitting at the same table I see Mike Bloomberg. Mike, a combative, controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary and it is not you. That has to sting a little bit. Although it’s not an entirely fair comparison between you and the Donald. After all Mike was a big city mayor. He knows policy in depth. And he’s actually worth the amount of money that he says he is.
What an election season. For example, we’ve got the bright new face of the Democratic party here tonight, Mr. Bernie Sanders. Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or, to put in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each.
A lot of folks have been surprised by the Bernie phenomenon, especially his appeal to young people. But not me. I get it. Just recently a young person came up to me and said she was sick of politicians standing in the way of her dreams. As if we were actually going to let Malia go to Burning Man this year. Was not going to happen. Bernie might have let her go. Not us.
I am hurt though, Bernie, that you have been distancing yourself little from me. I mean that’s just not something that you do to your comrade.
Bernie’s slogan has helped his campaign catch fire among young people. ‘Feel the Bern.’ ‘Feel the Bern.’ That’s a good slogan. Hillary’s slogan has not had the same effect.
Look, I’ve said how much I admire Hillary’s toughness, her smarts, her policy chops, her experience. You’ve got admit it though, Hillary trying appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative who just signed up for Facebook. ‘Dear America, did you get my poke? Is it appearing on your wall? I’m not sure I’m using this right. Love, Aunt Hillary.’ It’s not entirely persuasive.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, things are a little more, how shall we say this, a little more loose. Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight’s dinner. Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish. But instead, a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan. That’s not an option people. Steak or fish. You may not like steak or fish, but that’s your choice.
Meanwhile, some candidates aren’t polling high enough to qualify for their own joke tonight. [image of Kasich eating]. The rules were well established ahead of time.
And then there’s Ted Cruz. Ted had a tough week. He went to Indiana. Hoosier country. Stood on a basketball court and called the hoop a basketball ring. What else is in his lexicon. Baseball sticks. Football hats. But sure, I’m the foreign one.
Well let me conclude tonight on a more serious note. I want thank the Washington press corps. I want to thank Carol for all that you do. The free press is central to our democracy and, nah, I’m just kidding! You know I’m going to talk about Trump. Come on. We weren’t just going to stop there. Come on.
Although I am a little hurt that he’s not here tonight. We had so much fun that last time, And it is surprising. You’ve got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras. And he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for the Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home eating a Trump steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel? What’s he doin’?
The republican establishment is incredulous that he is their most likely nominee. Incredulous. Shocking. They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be president. But in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.
And there is one area where Donald’s experience could be invaluable and that’s closing Guantanamo because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground. Alright, that is probably enough. I mean I’ve got more material. No, no, no.
I don’t want to spend too much time on The Donald. Following your lead, I want to show some restraint. Because I think we can all agree that from the start he’s gotten the appropriate amount of coverage befitting the seriousness of his candidacy. Ha. I hope you all are proud of yourselves. The guy wanted to give his hotel business a boost and now we are praying that Cleveland makes it through July. Mmm mmm mmn. Hmmm.
As for me and Michelle, we’ve decided to stay in D.C. for a couple more years. Thank you. This way our youngest daughter can finish up high school. Michelle can stay closer to her plot of carrots. She’s already making plans to see them every day.
But our decision has actually presented a bit of a dilemma because traditionally presidents don’t stick around after they’re done. And it’s something that I’ve been brooding about a little bit. Take a look…
One of the spoof videos during President Obama's White House correspondents' dinner speech had a surprising cameo: the former Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He had some advice for how Obama can fill his time after the presidency.
There you go. I am still waiting for all of you to respond to my invitation to connect to LinkedIn. But I know you have jobs to do which is what really brings us here tonight.
I know that there are times that we’ve had differences and that’s inherent in our institutional roles. That is true of every president and his press corps. But we’ve always shared the same goal to root our public discourse in the truth. To open the doors of this democracy. To do whatever we can to make our country and our world more free and more just.
And I’ve always appreciated the role that you have all played as equal partners in reaching these goals. Our free press is why we once again recognize the real journalists who uncover the horrifying scandal and brought some measure of justice for thousands of victims around the world. They are here with us tonight: Sacha Pfeiffer, Mike Rezendes, Walter Robinson, Matt Caroll and Ben Bradlee Jr. Please give them a big round of applause.
A free press is why, once again, we honor Jason Rezaian, as Carol noted. Last time this year we spoke of Jason’s courage as he endured the isolation of an Iranian prison. This year we see that courage in the flesh, and it’s a living testament to the very idea of a free press and a reminder of the rising level of danger and political intimidation and the physical threats faced by reporters overseas.
And I can make this commitment that as long as I hold this office my administration will continue to fight for the release of American journalists held against their will. And we will not stop until they see the same freedom as Jason had.
At home and abroad journalists like all of you engage in the dogged pursuit of informing citizens and holding leaders accountable, and making our government of the people possible. And it’s an enormous responsibility. And I realize it’s an enormous challenge at a time when the economics of the business sometimes incentivizes speed over depth, and when controversy and conflict are what most immediately attract readers and viewers. The good news is there are so many of you that are pushing against those trends and as a citizen of this great democracy, I am grateful for that.
For this is also a time around the world when some of the fundamental ideals of liberal democracies are under attack and when notions of objectively and of a free press and of facts and of evidence are trying to be undermined or in some cases ignored entirely. And in such a climate it’s not enough just to give people a megaphone. And that’s why your power and your responsibility to dig and to question and to counter distortions and untruths is more important than even ever.
Taking a stand on behalf of what is true does not require you shedding your objectivity. In fact, it is the essence of good journalism. It affirms the idea that the only way we can build consensus, the only way that we can move forward as a country, the only way we can help the world mend itself is by agreeing on a baseline of facts when it comes to the challenges that confront us all. So this night is a testament to all of you who have devoted your lives to that idea, who push to shine a light on the truth every single day. So, I want to close my final White House correspondents’ dinner by just saying thank you. I’m very proud of what you’ve done. It has been an honor and a privilege to work side by side with you to strengthen our democracy. With that I just have two more words to say: Obama out. [Drops mic. End of text].
HISTORY OF THE ANNUAL WHCA DINNER
The WHCA's annual dinner, begun in 1920, has become a Washington, D.C. tradition and is usually attended by the President and Vice President. Fifteen presidents have attended at least one WHCA dinner, beginning with Calvin Coolidge in 1924. The dinner is traditionally held on the evening of the last Saturday in April at the Washington Hilton.
Until 1962, the dinner was open only to men, even though WHCA's membership included women. At the urging of Helen Thomas, President John F. Kennedy refused to attend the dinner unless the ban on women was dropped.
Prior to World War II, the annual dinner featured singing between courses, a homemade movie and an hour-long, post-dinner show with big-name performers. Since 1983, however, the featured speaker has usually been a comedian, with the dinner taking on the form of a roast of the President and his administration.
The Dinner is a scholarship benefit for gifted students in college journalism programs.
Many annual dinners were cancelled or downsized due to deaths or political crises. The dinner was cancelled in 1930 due to the death of former president William Howard Taft; in 1942, following the United States' entry into World War II; and in 1951, over what President Harry S. Truman called the "uncertainty of the world situation."
The WHCD has been increasingly criticized as an example of the coziness between the White House press corps and the Administration. The dinner typically includes a skit, either live or videotaped, by the sitting President in which he mocks himself, for the amusement of the press corps. The press corps, in turn, hobnobs with Administration officials, even those who are unpopular and are not regularly cooperative with the press. Increasing scrutiny by bloggers has contributed to added public focus on this friendliness.
After the 2007 dinner, New York Times columnist Frank Rich implied that the Times will no longer participate in the dinners. Rich said that the event is "a crystallization of the press's failures in the post-9/11 era" because it "illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows." As of 2016, the NYT has not attended the WHCA dinner and at last report no one misses them.
In recent years, the dinners have drawn increasing public attention, and the guest list grows "more Hollywood". The attention given to the guest list and entertainers often overshadows the intended purpose of the dinner, which is to "acknowledge award-winners, present scholarships, and give the press and the president an evening of friendly appreciation." This has led to an atmosphere of coming to the event only to "see and be seen." This usually takes place at pre-dinner receptions and post-dinner parties hosted by various media organizations, which are often a bigger draw and can be more exclusive than the dinners themselves.
The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) is an organization of journalists who cover the White House and the President of the United States. The WHCA was founded on February 25, 1914, by journalists in response to an unfounded rumor that a Congressional committee would select which journalists could attend press conferences of President Woodrow Wilson.
The WHCA operates independently of the White House. Among the more notable issues handled by the WHCA are the credentialing process, access to the President and physical conditions in the White House press briefing rooms.
Video of dinner: