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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Coverage of the White House Correspodnmets Dinner; Takeaways From The WH Correspondents' Dinner. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 27, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN KARL, JOURNALIST, ABC NEWS: Pruitt struggled to answer, and soon found himself out of a job.
Henry was prepared, the judges write, knew his facts, and marshaled them for a penetrating interview which made news, all under deadline pressure. Ed Henry.
KARL: Honorable mention for the Merriman Smith Award for broadcast goes to CNN for its coverage of the confirmation vote of Brett Kavanaugh. And finally, one more, the Edgar A. Poe award honors excellence in news coverage of subjects and events of significant national or regional importance to the American people. It is in honor of Edgar A. Poe. Not that one, another one. A long time correspondent for the New Orleans Times Picayune and former White House Correspondents' Association president.
In selecting the recipient, the judges looked for excellence in stories with fairness and objectivity. So the Edgar A. Poe Award goes to "Ambushed at Home" by Joshua Schneyer, Michael Pell, Andrea Januta and Deborah Nelson of Reuters.
KARL: The -- the judges -- the judges write, the Pentagon hoped to improve base housing through privatization, but after 20 years Reuters' "Ambushed at Home" found military families in, quote, slum- like squalor with high levels of vermin, mold, leaking ceilings and foul water. Using data, meticulous record searches and reporting with often reluctant sources, the report showed endangered families with little recourse, a military that often looked the other way and private investors who profited. So for Reuters.
KARL: And one last honorable mention. For the Edgar -- Edgar A. Poe Award to "Hidden Cost" by The Weather Channel and Telemundo. Thank you all, and thank you to our judges, and congratulations to the winners.
(APPLAUSE) OLIVIER KNOX, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: All
right. By this point there's no way you are not sick of hearing me talk, so I'm going to keep this short. When I ran for this position in 2016 I told one and all that I felt it was time that we reset this dinner and put the focus a little more squarely on -- on journalism and a little more squarely on the first amendment, and a little more on the people, the men and women who help hold the most powerful institution in American life to account. I've tried to keep that promise and as part of that I've invited someone who doesn't need much of an introduction.
I will simply say that I learned in the process of doing this that he's been featured three times in the New York Times crossword puzzle and once on Jeopardy. That I didn't know. His latest book, "Grant" on the 18th president was --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).
KNOX: That's got to be Kennedy (ph). Was published in 2017 and spent four months on the bestseller list, the New York Times named it one of the 10 best books of the year. The Lincoln Journal Star of Nebraska said the book, quote, cements Chernow's reputation as America's preeminent and historic biography. You of course know what that other little book that got a little bit of attention called "Hamilton" maybe? I asked Ron to put the current moment in historical context, didn't tell him what to say, told him roughly how long he had to say it. Please joining me in welcoming Ron Chernow.
RON CHERNOW, HISTORIAN: Thank you for that lovely introduction, Olivier. I confess that I was surprised when I received the invitation to speak here tonight. I mean, I knew they weren't approaching me as an international sex symbol, right?
Then Olivier told me that they wanted to try boring at this year's dinner, and I said -- I said, oh, I can deliver on that big time. Now you're talking my language. So here I am, your 20-minute sedative for the evening. Now, it's nice to see such a healthy turnout tonight. As you all know, on Tuesday the president let it be known that he wanted members of his administration to stay away from this dinner.
And at first I was puzzled by this news, but then I learned that a rumor was circulating in Washington that I was going to be reading aloud from the redacted portions of the Mueller report, and everything was explained. Of course, there has been some squawking from the comedians and I'm sorry about that. Frankly I thought that those folks would have a little more of a sense of humor about my selection. After all, they are comedians. But we need them now more than ever during this surreal interlude in American life. As Will Rogers once observed, people are taking their comedians seriously and their politicians as a joke, and that certainly describes our topsy-turvy moment.
CHERNOW: I sincerely hope the comics will be back for many more star turns (ph) in the future. Meanwhile, it's always fun for a serious historian to stand in the crossfire of an active war zone. When I asked a friend what the atmosphere would be like at this dinner, he replied, oh, the Roman Colosseum. Now, being a dutiful historian I thought I should research my audience so I picked up a copy of Henrik Ibsen's great play, "Enemy of the People." I hadn't realized before that the president was a student of Norweigian literature. Did you know that? The drama takes place in a small Norweigian town that hopes the discovery of mineral springs will turn the bath water into a thriving spa.
Then the hero of the play, Dr. Thomas Stockmann discovers that the miraculous springs are actually polluted and breeding typhoid and other diseases. In his naivety, he imagines that the townspeople are going to applaud him as their savior from this calamity, then he discovers the truth is a political commodity defined by the town's business interests and he is persecuted for truth telling. His house is stoned, his windows are shattered and angry mobs brand him, yes, an enemy of the people.
So the next time you are dubbed an enemy of the people, please think of the term in the Norweigian sense and wear it as a badge of honor.
CHERNOW: Now, I'm delighted to make a spirited case tonight for the first amendment. We now have to fight hard for basic truths we once took for granted. We gather here in perfect security because of a little piece of parchment called the Bill of Rights that has acquired the status of American scripture. In the last analysis, that paper barrier stands between a free press and executive tyranny. It's author, James Madison, was a tiny, often sickly man who probably would not have gotten past the bouncers in this ballroom and his low voice would scarcely have projected from this podium. So fervently did Madison believe in these 10 amendments that he didn't want them tacked on to the end of the Constitution as if they were an afterthought, he wanted them woven straight into the original text.
In fact, of those 10 landmark amendments, Madison considered the first indispensable. Like all our founders, he regarded a free press as the cornerstone of democracy. As Jefferson famously said, if forced to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he would unhesitatingly prefer the latter.
CHERNOW: Good for Jefferson. The first amendment was not written for the exclusive use of saints and choir boys, nor was it granted only on good behavior. As Mark Twain noted, somewhat ruefully, the right to stupidity is protected by the U.S. Constitution. That became unfortunately patently clear during George Washington's first term in office. Now, as best I can tell, Washington committed only one major blunder as a president. He failed to put his name on Mount Vernon and thereby bungled an early opportunity at branding. (APPLAUSE)
CHERNOW: Clearly deficient in the art of the deal, the poor man had to settle for the lowly title of father of his country. A very sad story.
CHERNOW: The press of the early republic was as ferociously partisan as anything we see today. In that golden age of character assassination, writers murdered reputations while hiding behind Roman pseudonyms.
Washington was the victim of the most preposterous slander when the opposition press charged that he'd been a secret British agent throughout the Revolutionary War. Obviously the British had gotten a poor return on their investment. Now, some of most blistering attacks against Washington came from an unexpected source, his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson had hired a poet named Philip Freneau as state department translator. Now, Freneau was perfectly qualified for the translator job except for one small detail -- he knew only a single foreign language.
In truth, Jefferson had recruited him to found a party organ called The National Gazette that would publish slashing broad sides against the very president that Jefferson served. Freneau performed his task with such malicious gusto that he used to drop off copies of his incendiary paper on Washington's doorstep every day. Now it's hard to convey the anguish that seized Washington's mind as he reeled from press criticism. One day Freneau printed a cartoon showing Washington being beheaded ala Louie XVI -- this was the period of the French Revolution. In his diary, Jefferson recorded Washington's towering rage. The president was much enflamed, got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself and said that rascal Freneau sent him three of his papers every day as if he thought he would become the distributor of them.
A very 18th century form of chutzpah, eh? But despite this extreme provocation, Washington always honored the first amendment, saying such evils, quote, must be placed in opposition to the infinite benefits resulting from a free press. Like every future president, Washington felt maligned and misunderstood by the press, but he never generalized that into a vendetta against the institution. In fact when he --
CHERNOW: -- when he wrote his farewell address, you know, he never delivered it in person. He had it printed in the newspapers so that readers could digest it and consider it. My main theme here tonight is that relations between presidents and the press are inevitably tough, almost always adversarial, but they don't need to be steeped in venom.
CHERNOW: Our founders were highly literate people and perhaps none more so than one Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant -- an immigrant who arrived, thank god, before the country was full.
CHERNOW: I -- frankly, I don't know why they let the guy in. Clearly somebody had slipped up at the southern border. Now, Hamilton was a human word machine. When Columbia University Press published 27 thick volumes of his collected papers, the editor used to joke that he wanted to dedicate the entire voluminous edition, quote, to Aaron Burr, without whose cooperation this project would never have been completed. Hamilton had a flourishing career as a journalist as well as government official, founding the New York Post long before its page six incarnation. Now, when writing the Federalist Papers, Hamilton cranked out as many as five or six essays per week and this, mind you, with a full-time legal practice.
He was writing the Federalist Papers as a sideline. He would be scribbling the final sentences of an essay as the printer waited in his outer office, ready to rush the latest installment into print. After leaving his first treasury secretary, Hamilton took to the newspapers to defend a major treaty with England. He wrote one set of essays under the pen name Camillus, then he launched a parallel series under the pen named Philo Camillus. Now, Philo Camillus heaped extravagant praise upon Camillus and both Camillus and Philo Camillus, for some reason were rapturous in their mutual admiration for the former treasury secretary, one Alexander Hamilton.
During the administration of John Adams the country lurched into a period of reaction amid a war scare with France and rampant fear of foreigners. Congress enacted the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts which made it a crime for journalists to write about the president in a scandalous or malicious fashion. At this stark moment, Jefferson, with his serene faith in the people prophesied, quote, with patience we shall see the reign of witches passed, their spells dissolved. Let it be noted that because of his anti-press record, John Adams not only lost his re-election campaign in 1800, but his Jeffersonian opponents reigned supreme for the next quarter century.
Campaigns against the press don't get your face carved into the rocks of Mount Rushmore, for when you chip away at the press you chip away at our democracy.
The tribunal of history does not deal (ph) leniently with presidents who punish the free press. You know, people now say that we're fighting for the soul of America, but folks we've always been fighting for the soul of America, we've always fallen short of the hallowed ideals enshrined in our founding documents.
America has always been a work in progress, a perpetual journey, a freedom ride with no final destination and it falls to each new generation to renew and rediscover our country's lofty promise.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said memorably that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, but it never does so in a smooth or unbroken line. Our precious republic feels fragile even perishable at the moment and after the shooting at the synagogue near San Diego today, our civil society feels fragile as well.
I shutter, shutter at the sheer savagery to which Washington politics has descended. But we've also seen the wisdom of our constitution at work with the boldly assertive press, an independent judiciary and a rejuvenated Congress providing checks on executive power.
We're being tested, fiercely tested, but I'd like to think that decency will prevail. History shows that in the short run, the American people can be swept up in all sorts of misguided and wrong headed things, think Scottsboro Boys, think Japanese internment camps, think John McCarthy. But in the long run, Democracy endures.
You know, during the Civil War, we battled each other not with ballots, but with battalions. We slaughtered 750,000 of our fellow citizens, maiming millions more. Amputees hobbled through every American town.
Toward the end of that bloody conflict, a chasing (ph) but still hopeful Abraham Lincoln sat around a Virginia campfire with his Chief General Ulysses S. Grant, and Lincoln quote his Secretary of State William Seward as saying, quote, "that there was always just enough virtue in this republic to say that sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency".
Like Lincoln, I believe devoutly in that saving remnant of grace in our country. We've fought horrific wars, weathered massive depressions and ended the unspeakable cruelty of slavery in Jim Crowe.
America has always been at its greatest not when it boasted, not when it blustered, but when it admitted its mistakes and sought to overcome them. OK let me move on to the president and the press in the 20th century.
Back in the days of William McKinley, there was no White House Press Room, just a long table for reporters on the second floor. As one journalist complained it's part of the unwritten law of the White House that newspapermen shall never approach the president as he passes unless he himself stops and talks to them, a rather royal conception of the presidency with no shouted questions allowed.
In those more innocent days, reporters still shielded the private lives of presidents. Let me tell you how Warren Harding got the Republican nomination in 1920. Party bosses summoned Harding to the proverbial smoke filled room in Chicago, and they asked him point blank if he had any damaging personal issues they should know about.
Now Harding, a married man, drank heavily and gambled freely. He had a 15 year affair with his best friend's wife. And he had a mistress and an illegitimate baby right there in Chicago, in fact his young mistress sat in the balcony of the convention hall enjoying the speeches.
But Harding assured the party bosses that he couldn't think of a single personal problem to worry about. And he got it. Of course, the press would go bigger and more intrusive as the century progressed and relations with the White House would grow ever more acrimonious.
Even though it may seem wistful and naive and a touch quixotic, I would like to keep alive tonight the fading memory of more civilized dealings between chief executives and the news media.
Call it a museum of presidential decorum. At this confrontational moment in American politics, we must recall that civility has been an essential lubricant in our Democratic culture and that our best presidents have handled the press with wit, grace, charm, candor and even humor.
After McKinley's wooden (ph) formality, Teddy Roosevelt of course proved virtuoso in dealing with the press. The prolific author of 45 volumes, T.R. devoured a book a day in the White House and seemed to retain all of them.
One novelist who brought a new book to dinner at the White House was amazed that the president had read it by breakfast the next morning. Such a literate president enjoyed a natural affinity with the press corps.
T.R. devised a midday ritual called the barber's hour in which reporters would cluster around him as he was being shaved. The babbling president would spout a never ending stream of opinion while his poor barber, bobbing and weaving with his razor, gamely tried to shave T.R. without slitting the presidential throat.
When Calvin Coolidge was president of the 1920s, he inaugurated the first regularly scheduled press conferences. Reporters had to file their questions in advance and silent Cal sat stiffly behind his desk working his way through a tidy stack of index cards.
Small wonder that Dorothy Parker, when informed of Coolidge's death retorted how do they know? Now press relations only worsened with Coolidge's successor, Herbert Hoover. Mired in the Great Depression and his own personal gloom, even his own secretary of state bemoaned that conversing with Hoover was like sitting in a bath of ink.
The president hired a hapless press secretary who proved so unpopular that one reporter quipped, quote, it was the first known instance of a rat joining a sinking ship. When Franklin Roosevelt came into office, he swept away these restrictive rules and treated reporters low and behold like grown ups.
We're not going to have anymore written questions, the genial president declared at his first press conference, of course while I cannot answer 75 or 100 questions, I see no reason why I should not talk to you ladies and gentlemen off the record.
Please note the ladies and gentlemen. The 125 reporters packed into the Oval Office that day were so impressed by FDR's clear straightforward rules that they gave him a standing ovation at the end, the first and undoubtedly last time that would ever happen.
In the end, FDR conducted nearly 1,000 press conferences, not to mention 30 fireside chats, and even Eleanor Roosevelt held her own press conferences where she invited only female reporters.
This - right on. This proved a tremendous boom to women journalists across the country, because even the most high bound publishers realized they were now for us to hire women journalists.
Of course when it came to wit and charm, John F. Kennedy probably retired the prize. His memory reminds us how far a little self deprecating humor can go, remember modesty?
When a small boy asked Kennedy how he became a war hero, Kennedy replied it was absolutely involuntary, they sank my boat. In 1958 then Senator Kennedy was being touted as a presidential hopeful, but he was shadowed by scoreless (ph) rumors that his rich father would buy the race.
So at the Gridiron Club dinner, JFK drew a slip of paper from his pocket and proudly announced that he had a telegram from his generous daddy. He read allowed dear Jack, don't buy a single vote more than is necessary, I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide.
The press was enthralled when JFK as president held his first televised press conference in January, 1961, 60 million captivated viewers were glued to their TV sets, a record only eclipsed by the 70 million who watched the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show three years later in 1964.
I have often wondered what the Beatles' poll numbers would have looked like in Iowa and New Hampshire in that presidential year. Now Ronald Reagan was a no less sunny personality and a past master of course of media relations.
When he became president he said I think that most of the time the overwhelming majority of reporters do a fine job, and as a former reporter I know just how tough their job can be.
Nevertheless Reagan had a sometimes bumpy relationship with the press. Then on March 30th, 1981, he was shot and nearly killed outside this very hotel, the Washington Hilton, as he was about to duck into his limousine. A bullet lodged within an inch of his heart.
Reagan was scheduled to speak at yes, the White House Correspondents' Dinner. And so he telephoned in this line instead, quote, if I could give you just one little bit of advice, when somebody tells you to get into a car quick, do it.
That was a touch of class that has been sorely missing in our political culture in recent years. It was a subtle reminder that whether Republicans or Democrats, we are all bona fide members of team USA and not members of enemy camps.
OK I know I'm wallowing in nostalgia here and ignoring less savory moments of these and other presidents. Richard Nixon forced himself to go to dinners like this where he had to hobnob with reporters who had just written exposes of him.
In the spring of 1971, Nixon followed the advice of Press Secretary Ron Ziegler and decided to play the good sport at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. His gesture evidently did not impress the news media.
After his next press conference, Nixon grumbled privately, quote, "the reporters were considerably more bad mannered and vicious than usual, this varies out (ph) my theory that treating them with considerably more contempt is a more productive policy."
When Nixon then hosted a part for POW families and felt bathed in female adoration, he though his masculine appeal insufficiently acknowledged in the subsequent press coverage, that's what the god damn New York Times and Washington Post should be writing about, he groused, I'm going to kick their assess around the block.
Such presidential eloquence shall we ever here it's like again, don't answer. Of course, the one who ended up getting his ass kicked around the block was you know who. Now you folks in the media write the early drafts of history and we historians the later ones.
Your work gives freshener and color and immediacy to our sagas. I know how embattled you feel that this critical juncture as you combat the mistrust of a significant portion of the American electorate.
I think you're doing noble work to preserve democracy at a time when a rising tide of misinformation masquerading as news threatens to make a mockery of the First Amendment.
And there are so many journalistic fakes and forgeries out there that the genuine article can become devalued and debased. We must also deal with pervasive world of social media rife with self appointed pundits who search out news outlets that only strengthen their preconceived views.
Still this is as good a time as any to take stock and rededicate yourself to the highest standards of journalistic integrity and accuracy. Donald J. Trump is not the first and won't be the last American president to create jitters about the First Amendment, so be humble, be skeptical and beware of being infected by the very things you're fighting against.
The press is a powerful weapon that must always be fired with reluctance and aimed with precision. Warren Buffet has a very handy saying, always take the high road, it's far less crowded there.
And some days in Washington, let's face it, a high minded politician can sail on (ph) that upper roadway for hours without spotting another car. You folks should always remember you are heirs to a grand crusading tradition that dates back to Ida B. Wells exposing the horrors of lynching, Jacob Riis, the misery of Manhattan slums, Lincoln Steffens, the municipal corruption, Ida Tarbell, the machinations of standard oil, Upton Sinclair, the scandalous meatpacking industry, Rachel Carson the dangers of pesticides, Woodward and Bernstein exposing Watergate and the New York Times and Washington Post publishing The Pentagon Papers.
This is a glorious tradition, you folks are part of it and we can't have politicians trampling on it with impunity. I'm sorry to report I'm not finished. H.L. Mencken once warned of a political system that would, quote, "keep the populous alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
[22:30:00] We simply cannot allow the press to become an imaginary hobgoblin exploited for political gain.
The thing that troubles me most at the moment is the sustained assault on truth, or at least a cavalier disregard of it, both here and by autocratic regimes abroad. As John Adams said facts are stubborn things and our wishes cannot alter them. Facts are the foot soldiers of our respective profession. They do the hard marching and should wear no ideological coloring.
Without the facts, we cannot have agreement in our badly divided nation. More importantly, without the facts, we cannot have an honest disagreement. I applaud any president who aspires to the Nobel Prize for peace. But we don't want one in running for the Nobel Prize for fiction.
Ulysses S. Grant wasn't flawless president but he was a stickler for the truth. One day in the White House, Grant was busy when a stranger called. Knowing Grant was occupied, an aide informed the usher, tell the gentleman that the president is out. Over hearing this Grant outrage, no, don't tell him that. Tell him I'm engaged and must be excused. I never lie for myself and do not want anybody to lie for me. That's a powerful example that all presidents should emulate.
You know, we have seen past administrations threaten the press directly whether it'd be Lincoln shutting down disloyal papers during the Civil War or Woodrow Wilson stifling dissent with the espionage act in World War I. But what is happening today is perhaps even more insidious, so relentless campaign against the very credibility of the news media. Even the smartest courtroom lawyers can't defend the press against such vague and sweeping attacks.
You folks can only preserve that hard won credibility in one way with solid, fair-minded, accurate, and energetic reporting. OK. Since I have cruelly deprived you of a comedian tonight, I thought I'd end with some pertinent quotes from Mark Twain who cast a rather satirical eye on Washington, Foley. He said, the political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter. They are an entire banquet.
And I love this quote. Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it. He could be scathing about Capitol Hill saying, there is no distinctly Native American criminal class except for Congress. He could be equally savage about presidents saying, the United States was never content, quote, to have a chief magistrate of gold when they could get one of ten.
And a as we head into another election season, I will leave you with one final gem from Twain. Politicians in diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason. Good night and God bless America.
KNOX: That's a slightly awkward segue to my point that John Carl is succeeding me.
Listen, thank you all very much for coming tonight. I hope you wear your Austin Tice pin, first amendment pin with pride if you chose to wear it again. Thank you very much. It's meant the world to me. My term ends only in July, but it's sort of customary to consider the WHC president kind of a lame duck at this point. Thank you everyone. Again, thank you to this board and thank you to all of the WHC members and all of those who came out here tonight. Have a lovely night.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. And thus concludes the 2019 White House Correspondents' Dinner. It was quite different, Don --
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I liked it.
CAMEROTA: -- than the years past. Yes, of course. Ron Chernow was entertaining.
CAMEROTA: He is, of course, renowned best selling biographer and self-described international sex symbol that we hadn't heard before. But he is owning it.
[22:34:59] LEMON: I thought there was a little bit of something in there for everyone, a lesson for the press, a lesson for the president, a lesson for the political class. So I thought he was really good. You know, I liked it. I thought it would be, you know, he didn't see the president, he didn't see a comedian. Maybe people at home, you know, didn't have the star power. But the message was there. And we learned some history from, geez, every single president --
CAMEROTA: For sure.
LEMON: -- until now.
CAMEROTA: So let's take the temperature of the room where we have our intrepid reporters and partygoers, Laura Jarrett, Kaitlan Collins, and Kate Bennett --
LEMON: Wow, wow.
CAMEROTA: -- looking fabulous and very glam, ladies. So, how was the correspondents' dinner?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was great because it was this funny notion that beforehand that it wasn't going to be this entertaining dinner because it wasn't a comedian as it typically has been and it wasn't the celebrities that have been here in the past and no administration officials were here either.
But I think that the historian did actually a great job. He tied it in. He made it related to the current administration. He talked about things that the president has said, deeming the media the enemy of the people. But he made it comical. People in the room I think liked it. I agree with you, maybe people at home won't get it. But think do think it was well received.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It played well. And I think another thing he did was really talk about journalism and the history of journalists and the importance of a free press. And we talk about that in sort of a glib way these days. But he really put some gravitas to it, going all the way back to George Washington and talking about Thomas Jefferson and sort of the history that the press has had with the presidency, with this country.
And I think that resonates in a room of journalists where this party, this event, hasn't always been, let's face it, about journalists.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: And I think he tried to say, look, the press and the office of the presidency have always had sort of an acrimonious relationship, and that's OK. That's how it's supposed to be. We're doing our jobs when there's a little bit of tension there. But it doesn't have to be filled with venom I think was his word.
And he said, you know, facts are stubborn things. And when you don't have a shared set of facts, it makes it really hard to do your job and to earn the trust of the American people.
COLLINS: And just the reaction in the room was so much different than last year when there was the comedian who made comments about some people in the administration, including Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, who notably was absent from the front of the room tonight. And it was just a completely different reaction than last year when it was pretty silent in the room during some of those remarks as we talked about during this very night last year. It was not like that at all. There was a lot of hearty laughter.
COLLINS: A lot of seriousness about reporters because of course, before Ron Chernow came on stage they also talked the jailed Reuters reporters in Myanmar. And it was just a really all-encompassing, such a focus on reporting tonight. And I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that the administering was not here.
LEMON: Let's talk about not just tonight, but the entire weekend. And there is still more to go. The tone of the entire weekend, did it feel different to you, Kaitlan, I saw you at a couple of events. Kate, Laura is with child so she is, you know, not --
CAMEROTA: She was there.
JARRETT: She was there.
CAMEROTA: She was representing.
LEMON: All right, Laura. But it's been -- the tone has been different.
JARRETT: I'm still on this past 10:30, Don.
LEMON: I think it was more manageable. And I think people actually enjoyed it more. That was our word last night, manageable.
LEMON: Manageable, right, yes.
BENNETT: Yes. I think it was definitely --
LEMON: What did you think?
BENNETT: There is a vibe in the city this time that feels again like a camaraderie. Like it feels this has been a couple of years where we have had to band together, get each other's backs, really sort of hunker down sometimes and understand what our job is. And I think you can feel that at the parties. There is a lot of sort of hearty, you know, back slaps and good feelings. And there is not this sort of focus on celebrities. Not a focus on the administration or who is there. It's just everyone seems to be having a good time.
JARRETT: -- pendulum had to swing a little bit because in the years past it had gone so far on to the spectrum of the celebrities and having a real red carpet and it being a who's who and everyone searching to see like who went to what party and playbook. That is over. Those days are way over. And the pendulum has now, I think, come back to what was really what it was supposed to all be about in the first place, which was journalism and the first amendment and the scholarships.
I mean that's really what the president, I think, of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, his message tonight was he wanted to have a reset.
COLLINS: And that's why the historian was so interesting because a lot of what he talked about was dating back to from George Washington on and their relationship with the press. And it was so fascinating. Some of them did not like press either. They back to the alien and sedition act. But then there were some who invited 125 reporters into the Oval Office for an off the record chat.
[22:40:05] You really saw just how different it's changed from every administration. And I think that's what important for reporters because these dinners go on every year. Administrations are limited to four years or potentially eight years. So it's interesting just for our art in what we do to see what changes and how it goes from each president to the next.
BENNETT: And let me just say this. The major celebrity last night that people kept chatting around was the Fiji Water Girl. So things have definitely changed in terms of caliber of celebrities.
COLLINS: Kate Bennett is our biggest celebrity.
LEMON: My favorite celebrity moment last night was Sean Spicer interviewing Alisyn Camerota for extra.
CAMEROTA: That was a strange comment. That was concerning moment where tables had strangely turned. Yes.
LEMON: So we were talking about, hey, Kaitlan, we're going to talk about some of the people? Lauren, were you at the brunch today?
JARRETT: I was.
LEMON: I didn't see you. And I know, I heard your mom was there as well. But I saw --
JARRETT: I was there, I was listening to every word that came out of your mouth when you were trying to honor the veterans and everyone else was talking. I was listening intently, Don.
LEMON: Thank you for that. I appreciate it. But some of the -- we'll talk about it with the panel. Some of the odd, you know, just sort of surreal moments was seeing Rudy Giuliani walk in and, you know, Kellyanne Conway and Rod Rosenstein. I'm like, this is a living embodiment of the Mueller report.
JARRETT: Exactly. Yes. It was Washington. That is the microcosm of Washington to have Jay Leno and Rod Rosenstein, both celebrities in the same room.
CAMEROTA: Yes, yes, worlds colliding.
COLLINS: Honestly, Rod Rosenstein may be a bigger celebrity in Washington than Jay Leno. I saw more reporters clamoring to speak with the deputy attorney general who is not expected to be at the DOJ much longer than they were to Jay Leno which is --
BENNETT: But this weekend is always a weird sort of fever dream mash up of, you know, Washington and celebrities. And that was a moment today with Rosenstein and Jay Leno that I think was like, oh OK, it hasn't changed that much. We're still in that weird like coupling strange mash up of people for sure.
LEMON: Well, thank you, ladies. You look fantastic. And I can say that, I don't mean it in a weird way. I think you look amazing.
LEMON: You look very gorgeous.
JARRETT: Thank you Don.
LEMON: No. You've got to be careful these days, you know.
BENNETT: We still take complements Don.
CAMEROTA: -- taking the stuff really--
BENNETT: -- overboard. LEMON: You never know. But my colleagues look amazing. And they're also very smart and accomplished I have to say. So I do have to say the weirdest --
JARRETT: Thank you Don.
LEMON: Thank you. So the biggest celebrity last year hands down was Kellyanne Conway.
CAMEROTA: Oh, yes. There was a media scrum around her last year. I remember that as well.
All right, we're going to take a very quick break. And our special coverage is going to continue next. Stay with us.
[22:46:28] RONALD REAGAN, 40TH UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Where he also said that preparing me for a press conference was like reinventing the wheel. That's not true. I was around when the wheel was invented and it was easier.
BILL CLINTON, 42ND UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Senator McCain is back tonight. I welcome him specially. As you all know, he just made a difficult journey back to a place he endured unspeakable abuse at the hands of his oppressors, the Senate Republican caucus.
LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: One night, after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales. I wouldn't mention it except Ruth Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's secret service code name is now "Dollar Bill."
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Where is the great white hunter? I am sorry Vice President Cheney couldn't be here tonight. I agree with the press that Dick was a little late reporting that hunting episode down in Texas. In fact, I didn't know a thing about it until I saw him on America's most wanted.
BARACK OBAMA, 44TH UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: My partisan outreach will be so successful that even John Boehner will consider becoming a Democrat. After all, we have a lot in common. He is a person of color, although not a color that appears in the natural world.
No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
Some folks still don't think I spend enough time with Congress. Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they ask. Really? Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell? I am determined to make the most of every moment I have left. Now, after the midterm elections my advisors asked me, Mr. President, do you have a bucket list? And I said, well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.
[22:48:53] Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. New climate regulations. Bucket. That's the right thing to do. And my new attitude is paying off, look at my Cuba policy. The Castro brothers are here tonight. Welcome to America, amigos. Que pasa.
CAMEROTA: OK. Welcome back everybody.
LEMON: There we go.
CAMEROTA: The final moments, I can't help but notice you've changed --
CAMEROTA: -- outfits.
LEMON: I did a wardrobe change. I almost had a wardrobe malfunction.
CAMEROTA: I can see that you look fantastic.
LEMON: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Thank you for being so festive.
LEMON: This is what I was supposed to wear.
CAMEROTA: I remember. I know, our night change dramatically because of all the events happening out in California. But do want to get everybody's final thoughts, so lightning round. Lisa, tell us what you think at the end of the White House Correspondents' Dinner and the focus on journalism?
LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, despite, Don, I think it was some festivity. It was a more sober night and serious night. But look, maybe the times we lived in call for the dinner, right?
CAMEROTA: For sure, OK.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I like the tone. I think the dinner had gotten a little big for its bridges. It was emblematic of a disconnect between Washington and a lot of regular Americans. And I like this one quote, from Chernow he said, advice for us, for the press, be humble, be spectacle, and be weary of becoming what you're fighting against.
HAM: And I think that is something we should all take to heart. And also, Don, you look great. And I mean that in the weirdest way possible.
LEMON: I'm feeling uncomfortable. How does my hair smell? Does it smell good? Sorry.
CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh.
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So weird. How about my lightning smell? Oh, wow. So I really wanted to go back to trying to be hopeful in this moment and I think that one of the things he said, I also have a quote, was always take the high road, it is always less crowded there. I mean, I'm grateful that he said it. I might barrow it for two commencement speeches I have coming up.
CAMEROTA: It's a really good one. Ana.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I miss humor. I miss funny. I miss people poking fun at each other in a night when self-important people in the media and the administration and in government laugh, laugh at the absurdity of life. So, you know what, I'm hoping for a president that got some comedic timing and a sense off humor and does not such thin skin.
MIA LOVE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, a turnout tonight referred to our precious republic and that was really important to me. And in the times that we're in, I just -- I want us all to just remember that we are all on the same side. We can laugh. We're on team USA. And at times like this when things get really difficult that we have to remember to uplift one another. And I think that this was a great evening to remember that.
[22:55:09] ROB ASTORINO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I thought he did a good job. It was a tough situation, you know. I want to get back the humor too. I really do. But it's got to be done --
LEMON: Ana and Rob agree.
ASTORINO: We do. We do.
NAVARRO: We might hold hands with Mia and start kumbaya.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Don, I think was an important night. And two, as it did center the correspondent center again on more on the subject of journalism itself. And I think Olivier Knox, the outgoing president of the correspondents association does lot of credit for the tone he took this evening and the seriousness with which he approached it.
And I think journal speech, Americans live in this very immediate moment all the time. It's good to have a historic reminder that, you know, all presidents have had confrontational relationship with the press. And most of them haven't declared going to be enemies of the people. So I think it was a valuable lesson from Chernow and a great evening over.
NAVARRO: You know what else? Norwegian is having a moment.
WILSON: It is.
NAVARRO: I mean have you noticed, he talked about enemy of the people, the book in Norwegian. We got (INAUDIBLE). I'm telling you. Norwegian is the new Spanish.
CAMEROTA: Wow, wow. Yes. And I thought that we were due for a reset. I think that it was had a good tone. I remember a couple of years ago, I went to this. It was probably six years ago. And I saw Lindsey Lohan about seven times. And after that I thought maybe we've gotten away from the mission of what this is supposed to be about. So I thought it was fun for tonight.
LEMON: I mean Lindsey Lohan was in the press a lot but, you know. What everybody all said here, I mean I think, I think everyone had poignant words. I think it's great that we all sit around and everyone comes here and we go back, you know, we go back and forth and that's what it should be about. But we should have as he mentioned a shared sort of shared reality in what's true and what's not and on truth and, you know. So that's what I think. I do miss humor. But what do you want to bet that the next administration will be back to the stars?
CAMEROTA: I don't know. Who knows?
LEMON: Yes. We will. And you'll see Jared and Ivanka at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. You'll see them on the red carpet. And they're be laughing like nothing, like this never happened again. Mark my word.
CAMEROTA: All right everyone, have a wonderful evening. Thank you so much for joining us.
LEMON: I love our music listen.
CAMEROTA: That's so '80s.