White House Correspondents’ Dinner Again Ignores Attacks on Conservative First Amendment Rights
Jeffrey Lord
by

So here’s the deal.

After the left-wing efforts — the latest left-wing efforts — to remove Fox commentators Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham from their respective shows? And after the liberal Atlanticfired the newly hired conservative Kevin Williamson after two days because he was not “in the family”? (Full disclosure: I write columns over at hannity.com)

After all of that we reach the occasion of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner — covered by CNN — that purports to be quote… and it is a direct quote — “celebrating the First Amendment.”

The President of the United States chose to spend his evening not with these folks but with the good souls of Washington, Michigan. The CNN chyron? This:

Trump Snubs Journalists Celebrating First Amendment

And during the dinner itself? With the First Amendment rights of opinion journalists Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Kevin Williamson under serious attack? The first two the subjects of left-wing campaigns to strip them of their shows and the third told — after being hired! — that he was fired because he was not, unlike the similarly controversial late Christopher Hitchens, “in the family”! Not… a… word. That’s right. There was no support, no “let’s rally for the greater good of the First Amendment.” Just… silence. The idea that the private life of Hannity — investments etc. — was suddenly now investigative game? No big deal from people who would squeal like stuck pigs if they were treated in the same fashion. As NBC’s Chuck Todd did when I called attention to his wife’s career as a Democratic consultant, unmentioned in a Todd-hosted Meet the Press that featured his wife’s former client — Virginia ex-Senator Jim Webb — and a client of her firm — Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders.

Curious as to what might be the position of the White House Correspondents’ Association on the assault on the free press and free speech rights of Hannity, Ingraham, and Williamson, days before the event I sent an email to the WHCA president Margaret Talev of Bloomberg. Asking as follows:

This year there have been boycotts to force Laura Ingraham off of her Fox show and another attempting the same with Sean Hannity. Kevin Williamson, as you know, left National Review to accept an invitation from The Atlantic, where he was fired after two days for controversial tweets from an earlier time. When he pointed out to editor Jeffrey Goldberg that the late Atlantic contributor Christopher Hitchens was noted for controversial writings the response was: “Yes. But Hitchens was in the family. You are not.”

With all of that in mind, I note you have said of President Trump that “he will actively encourage members of the executive branch to attend and join us as we celebrate the First Amendment.”

My question: In celebrating the First Amendment, will anyone speaking at this year’s dinner be defending the free press/free speech rights of Laura, Sean, and Kevin? If not, why not?

And the response from Ms. Talev was… silence. Complete and total silence. And with all the predictability of heat in July, the only mention I heard of Sean Hannity’s name was from the comedy act, one Michelle Wolf, whose Hannity joke was as follows: “People wanted me to make fun of Sean Hannity tonight, but I could not do that. This dinner’s for journalists!” (Wolf, by the way, got awful reviews from her audience, bringing the rarest of network rival unity with CNN’s Jeff Zeleny calling her performance “cringeworthy” and Fox’s Ed Henry saying: “I was there for it. It was disgusting, despicable. Sarah Sanders should get an apology from the White House Correspondents Association… and what a contrast to what the president was doing. Talking about issues people actually care about.” Exactly.

The morning after, Talev appeared on CNN with Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter and said that her aim was to build a “spirit of unity” around a free press and free speech.

Which raises the question. If these were journalists “celebrating the First Amendment” and it was Talev’s desire to build a “spirit of unity” — where was the mention of Hannity, Ingraham, and Williamson in the context of hostile anti-First Amendment campaigns designed to remove conservatives from their shows and from the pages of the Atlantic? The fact is, when push came to shove and members of the media were under attack with a demand that they lose their jobs, the President of the White House Correspondents’ Association fell silent.

Talev said instead in the best of intellectual mush: “We’re all here, all of us, because we cherish the First Amendment. An attack on any journalist is an attack on us all.” The Washington Post reported that “Talev also said that the best leaders champion the freedom of the press ‘even when the scrutiny is turned on them.’”

Hannity and Ingraham regularly do just that. In fact, Hannity has been nothing less than scorching in his criticism of what he calls the “destroy Trump media.” Which is precisely one of the reasons Hannity’s left-wing critics want him gone and Laura Ingraham as well — the First Amendment be damned. Ingraham has responded to all of this, as she correctly calls it, “Stalinist” anti-free press behavior by launching her own “Defending the First” series on her show. (And yes, full disclosure, I have appeared on it.) The White House Correspondents’ Association would do well to watch Laura’s segments on the subject of the First Amendment — which they profess to care so much about but seem strangely silent about when conservatives are under attack.

Last year, after I had been in attendance at the dinner as a guest of CNN — the event was similarly focused on “celebrating the First Amendment” — I checked with both Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to see if, in their respective fights with those on the Left who have sought to get them off the air, they had ever been defended by the Correspondents’ Association. Here, in part, were their answers:

HANNITY: “Not one liberal. Not one speaks vs the weapon of Boycotts used vs conservatives to silence them. I call it Liberal Fascism. An organized and well funded effort to silence political opposition.”

LIMBAUGH: “Of course not. Clinton called me a racist for defending Janet Reno after she was criticized by John Conyers. ‘Rush only defended her because she was being attacked by a black guy.’ I was at the USA Today table. There was a huge reaction in the whole room. Disbelief and shock. Some embarrassed laughter, mostly groans. Chris Matthews approached me at the end of the dinner and said I could not let that stand, the president of the United States calling you a racist cannot stand.”

It was amazing in particular this year to see not that the group’s Merriman Smith award went to CNN journalists Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper, and Carl Bernstein. All of them solid journalists. What was amazing was to see what it was for. Here, per the Daily Caller, was the WHCA judges’ statement on the award:

“These four journalists and a number of other CNN reporters broke the story that the intelligence community had briefed President Barack Obama and then-President elect Donald Trump that Russia had compromising information about Trump. The CNN team later reported that then-FBI Director James Comey personally briefed Trump about the dossier. Thanks to this CNN investigation, ‘the dossier’ is now part of the lexicon. The depth of reporting demonstrated in these remarkable and important pieces, and the constant updates as new information continued to be uncovered showed breaking news reporting at its best,” reads a judges’ statement.

Nowhere was there the slightest acknowledgement that there is considerable belief that, to use the old baseball saying of a star double-play team for the Chicago Cubs, what was really going on with the dossier story was a combined journalistic/political insiders’ version of “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.” In this case, the players were former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, now-fired FBI Director James Comey — and CNN.

Here is headline and sub-headline over at the Federalist by reporter Mollie Hemingway after ferreting out the story from the report of the House Intelligence Committee:

Comey’s Memos Indicate Dossier Briefing Of Trump Was A Setup

Newly released memos from former FBI director James Comey indicate that an early 2017 briefing for Trump on the contents of an unverified dossier was part of a setup to enable media to report on the most salacious details of the dossier.

Mollie’s story begins thusly:

Newly released memos written by former FBI director James Comey indicate that an early 2017 briefing for then-President-elect Donald Trump about the contents of an infamous dossier was held so it could be leaked to media outlets eager to report on the dossier’s allegations. In multiple memos, Comey specifically mentioned that CNN had the dossier and wanted a “news hook” that would enable the network to report on its most salacious allegations even though they had not been verified.

And then, post-dinner, was this from investigative reporter and Fox contributor Sara Carter, headlined:

THIS IS CNN: Hiring of Suspected Leaker Clapper Raises Ethical Questions

Which, if accurate, makes CNN not a serious digger for facts and truth but a participant in setting up the President-elect of the United States by working with government officials to produce a “news hook” that would then enable the network to reveal the dossier. The fact that none of this was acknowledged in a fashion that would reflect on the decision to give CNN the award says everything about why all those Americans at the President’s Michigan rally cannot abide CNN and the mainstream media in general. Tellingly, without a second thought, not only was the White House Correspondents’ Association ignoring the threat conservatives in the media face but was casually complicit, even if in an unsought fashion, in a bit of what the House Intelligence Committee is essentially identifying as media skullduggery aimed at snaring the newly elected president.

Amazing.

The White House Correspondents Dinner could in fact be a useful moment in Washington at any time in any presidency. But sadly it has deteriorated badly enough in a fashion that was captured by former Bush White House aide Matt Schlapp, whose wife Mercedes is currently an aide in the Trump White House. Tweeted Matt:

“My wife @mercedesschlapp and I walked out early from the wh correspondents dinner. Enough of elites mocking us.”

Until the White House Correspondents’ Association gets its act together — as in this case quite publicly standing up for the Sean Hannitys, Laura Ingrahams, and Kevin Williamsons of the media — they will continue to give journalism a black eye with the American public.

The really sad part is that without doubt a lot of people in that ballroom — and I know many of them and they are good people — think the problem is the President. When in fact, as their conduct shows in abandoning Hannity, Ingraham, and Williamson while chest-beating about the First Amendment, millions of Americans think the real problem is the media.

To put it gently? The elitist snobbery of the dinner’s comedy act was merely illustrative of a much, much larger problem on vivid display in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton. Juxtaposed with the images of the President in Michigan? One wonders if the billionaire President is paying everybody in the Washington press corps to act the way they do. Because without doubt, events like the WHCA dinner do nothing but help Donald Trump.

Jeffrey Lord
Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com. His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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