White House Correspondents’ Dinner: Joe Biden pokes fun at his age, calls for release of detained journalists

The dinner celebrated the First Amendment and Biden said, ‘I believe in the First Amendment — not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it.’

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President Joe Biden shakes hands with comedian Roy Wood Jr. on Saturday night during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner at the Washington Hilton.

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WASHINGTON — In a 21-minute White House Correspondents’ Association dinner routine on Saturday night — about equal parts of serious and shtick — President Joe Biden made jokes about his age, called for the release of detained journalists and paid tribute to pioneering journalism in Chicago that led to the modern civil rights era.

Takeaways from the annual dinner, a glitzy night with the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and some 2,600 filling the high-demand seats in the Washington Hilton ballroom:

ON A SERIOUS NOTE

Biden kicked off his remarks noting the wrongful detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in Russia on trumped-up charges of spying, and Austin Tice, the freelance journalist kidnapped in Damascus, Syria, on August 13, 2012.

Biden and first lady Jill met privately with the Gershkovich family after they arrived at the hotel.

Said Biden, “We are here to send a message to the country and, quite frankly, to the world: The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar, of a free society, not the enemy….”

Tice being held 11 years is “simply wrong. It’s outrageous. And we are not ceasing our effort to get him, find him, and bring him home. Tonight, our message is this: Journalism is not a crime. Evan and Austin should be released immediately.”

Biden gave a shout-out to WNBA star Brittney Griner, freed last December after being held in Russia for 10 months — she was at the dinner with her wife, Cherelle — and noted that another American, Paul Whelan, remains in Russian custody.

Members of the Tice family were also in the audience.

MY FAVORITE CELEBRITY SIGHTING

The show business celebrity I got the biggest kick spotting — and I had choices here — was “Succession” star J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Gerri Kellman, the general counsel of media conglomerate Waystar Royco. She was a guest at one of CNN’s tables.

BIDEN’S ZINGERS

On his age: It took the room a few moments to get the joke, when Biden, 80, who recently officially announced his bid for a second term, transitioned to standup.

And, as always when it comes to political figures making jokes, it is never wrong to use hefty doses of self-deprecating humor.

The dinner celebrated the First Amendment and Biden said, “I believe in the First Amendment — not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it.”

“… You call me old? I call it being seasoned. You say I’m ancient? I say I’m wise. You say I’m over the hill? Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime.”

“… You might think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch. (Murdoch is 92.) That’s simply not true. How could I dislike the guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?

On Fox News’ $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems: “It’s great the cable news networks are here tonight. MSNBC owned by NBCUniversal. Fox News owned by Dominion Voting Systems.”

ON EMMETT TILL, IDA B. WELLS AND ROY WOOD JR. CHICAGO CONNECTIONS

As Biden handed off to comic Roy Wood Jr., from “The Daily Show,” Biden noted that the comedian’s father, Roy Wood Sr., was a pioneering Black radio journalist who covered the civil rights movement.

(Roy Wood Sr. for a time was also at WVON — the famous Chicago radio station with programming aimed at Black audiences.)

That led Biden to bring up Emmett Till and Ida B. Wells as he talked about the civil rights movement and role of the Black press.

Till was the 14-year-old from Chicago who was lynched and brutally murdered on Aug. 28, 1955, by white men while visiting relatives in Mississippi.

Wells was the Chicago journalist who crusaded against lynching in the years after the Civil War.

Till’s lynching became a turning point in civil rights history because a key decision by his mother gave credibility that Till was a victim of lynching.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket for his funeral at Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St., so the world could see Till’s mutilated body.

“The reason the world saw what she saw was because of another hero in this story, the Black press. That’s a fact,” Biden said, citing two publications based in Chicago, Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender.

EMBRACING DARK BRANDON

Remember how Biden was mocked by the right-winger slogan, “Let’s Go, Brandon,” a coded way of saying, “f—— you, Biden.”

Along the way, that got turned around, with the emergence of the “Dark Brandon” aviator sunglasses-wearing Biden meme — which Biden is embracing.

Said Biden as he put on sunglasses while turning the podium over to Wood, “I’m going to be fine with your jokes, but I’m not sure about Dark Brandon.”

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