By Simone Hawthorne
It is no wonder that the Trump administration decided to forego the annual tradition that is the White House Correspondents Dinner. The 96 year old tradition, celebrating free speech and freedom of information has traditionally been attended by the sitting President. The highlight of the night, the annual roasting of the Commander in Chief, is best reserved for those with thick skin and good humor. And if we’ve learned nothing about #45 and his late night twitter rants, “thick skinned” is a description that doesn’t quite fit the bill. However, as was made clear yesterday in a sit down between ABC News and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the Trump administration has looked into changing libel laws that would directly affect freedom of the press.
Although Priebus admitted that despite the administration having looked into it, “How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story.”, it’s still a very troubling thing to hear. The First Amendment is allegedly the cornerstone upon which this country was built. Without freedom of the press, and with fear of prosecution for printing things that are unfavorable to Trump and his administration, the public’s right to know the details about what is happening in this country are under attack. And while this may not be something he can actually do, the fact that he truly wants to, and does not understand the essential nature of not doing so is extremely problematic, considering it is literally his job to uphold the Constitution.
The most interesting thing about all of this, is that this comes from the man who prints libelous things about people ALL THE TIME. He lies and defames people in his own writing (albeit 140 characters) constantly. And ironically he wants to ban his own right to do so. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe he was in a race against time to stop something from happening. Maybe the idea that a Muslim, first generation, American was going to be given the right to stand in front of a group of people, who can legally write unfavorable things about him, and say hilarious unfavorable things about him was a little too much.Because that’s exactly what we got with Hasan Minhaj, hosting the Correspondents Dinner.
Known as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Minhaj may not have been as strong a performer as other late night performers of the past, but his presence was notable. With Trump’s absence, his shots taken at the administration, although pointed, were limited. However, he did get a few jabs in:
“The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. It is a very long flight. It’d be hard for Vlad to make it.”
“Sean Spicer has been doing PR since 1999. He has been doing this job for 18 years, and somehow after 18 years his go-to move when you ask him a tough question is denying the Holocaust. That is insane. How many people do you know that can turn a press briefing into a full-on Mel Gibson traffic stop?”
“It was all fun and games with Obama, right? You were covering an adult who could speak English. And now you’re covering President Trump, so you gotta take your game to a whole new level. It’s like if a bunch of stripper cops had to solve a real-life murder.”
Minhaj also didn’t stray away from getting real with the press themselves:
“You guys have to be more perfect now more than ever. Because you are how the president gets his news. Not from advisers, not from experts, not from intelligence agencies. You guys. So that’s why you gotta be on your A game. You gotta be twice as good. You can’t make any mistakes. Because when one of you messes up, he blames your entire group. And now you know what it feels like to be a minority.”
As Minhaj wrapped up his speech he made note of how truly amazing the reality of what he was doing was. For a Muslim man to be able to stand in front of the press and openly mock the President without the fear of punishment and persecution was and truly is an amazing things.
And as shown by Priebus in his interview with ABC News, Trump truly looked into ways to stop such a thing from happening. And yes, libel does pertain directly to print, however, with the destruction of that right, our rights to even speak openly without a forum are right behind it. And so it seems, in consideration of those facts, it seems best to end this article the same way Minhaj ended his speech:
“It’s 11 p.m. In four hours, Donald Trump will be tweeting about how badly Nicki Minaj did at this dinner. And he’ll be doing it completely sober. And that’s his right. And I’m proud that all of us are here to defend that right, even if the man in the White House never would.”