After months of being slammed by President Donald Trump himself for dealing in “fake news” and being a literal enemy of the American people, the media was honored on Saturday at Samantha Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” — a love letter of sorts to America’s beleaguered journalists. Or to most of them, anyway.
Bee, the acerbic host of TBS’s Full Frontal, had her event staff wear shirts that said “Free Press,” donated $200,000 in proceeds from the evening to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and gave shoutouts to the staff of small local newspapers like the Flint Journal, which broke the story of the Michigan city’s lead-polluted water.
None of which is to suggest it was an evening of highbrow conversations about the importance of a free press. There was a bit of that, but Bee also took the opportunity to joke that “CNN gives you news like your shitty boyfriend gives you orgasms.”
The entire event — recorded Saturday afternoon to air that night — had a meta vibe. Rather than be the latest in a long line of comedians to needle a president at the actual White House Correspondents’ Dinner (Trump famously skipped this year’s dinner), Bee skewered the entire conceit of the “other” event, with targets including — but definitely not limited to — the president himself.
Some of those targets were predictable. Fox chief Rupert Murdoch was described as a “sentient liver spot”; ousted Fox News chief Roger Ailes and more recently ousted Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly were described as “media titans who were snatched from us far, far too late.”
CNN, by contrast, was both praised and mocked — sometimes in the same joke. Bee did a pretaped segment with Jake Tapper and went out of her way to praise other CNN reporters like Dana Bash and Jim Acosta. Jeff Zucker, CNN’s top executive, wasn’t as lucky, with Bee mocking him for comparing news to sports and filling CNN’s airwaves with so many partisan mouthpieces that it amounted to a “pundit infestation.”
Below are the winners and losers from an at times funny and at times deeply uneven show.
Winner: CNN (the reporters)
Bee did a pretaped segment with Tapper in which he jokingly interrogated her about her agenda for the evening and whether the paltry amount of food she was providing would disqualify it from being called a dinner (more on that below). Bee also went out of her way to praise other CNN reporters, including the aforementioned Bash and Acosta. When it came to Anderson Cooper, arguably the network’s biggest star, Bee said he needed to leave CNN’s filled studios, put on one of his trademark tight black T-shirts, and get back into the field.