Entertainment

Samantha Bee gets star support for her Not the Correspondents' Dinner event

Late-night TV star Samantha Bee was pulling in celebrities for the first Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday — a tongue-in-cheek play on the real bash, where journalists, the president and, in recent years, lots of boldface names have mingled.

Canadian comedian and late-night host says proceeds will go to Committee to Protect Journalists

Comedian Samantha Bee talks to reporters ahead of her Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner event in Washington Saturday, held hours before the traditional White House Correspondents' Association gala. President Donald Trump said early in his presidency he would not be attending the official dinner, the first time in decades that a president has done so. (Jack Gillum/The Associated Press)

Washington's once-glitzy "nerd prom" is about to get overshadowed.

Late-night TV star Samantha Bee was pulling in celebrities for the first Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday — a tongue-in-cheek play on the real bash, where journalists, the president and, in recent years, lots of boldface names have mingled.

The real White House Correspondents' Association gala event is being held on the same night in Washington, D.C., with different guests.

President Donald Trump was skipping the real correspondents' dinner, instead marking his 100th day in office with a rally in Pennsylvania. No president had declined an invitation since Ronald Reagan in 1981, and he was recovering from an assassination attempt. Still, Reagan phoned in some friendly, humorous remarks.

Support for freedom of the press

Several TV stars who walked the red carpet to Bee's unofficial dinner event have homed in on a key reason they were there: to support freedom of the press.

They say they feel press freedom has been under attack since Trump took office 100 days ago.

"Administrations have been hostile to the media before," said actor Matt Walsh, who played press secretary Mike McClintock on the HBO political comedy Veep. "But this one is particularly isolating, or singling out, the retailers of media that they like."

TV stars such as Alysia Reiner of Orange Is The New Black and Retta of Parks and Recreation were expected at Bee's after-party.

Bee, a Canadian-born comedian, says she feels "the press is under assault" in the United States. The host of her namesake show says she's contributing proceeds from her dinner event Saturday to the Committee to Protect Journalists because it "seemed very logical." 

Prepared for 'different dinner'

WHCA dinner organizers wanted to put the focus on the First Amendment and the role of the press in democracy. The scheduled headliners were Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, set to present journalism awards.

Woodward told the Washington Post the two planned to speak about "the First Amendment and the importance of aggressive but fair reporting."

The correspondents' group, as usual, booked a master of ceremonies: Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show.

Hasan Minhaj, who is hosting the official White House Correspondents' gala, is an actor, comedian and, currently, the senior correspondent on The Daily Show. (Getty Images)

Broadcast coverage was to begin at 9:30 p.m. on C-SPAN, followed by Bee's event airing on TBS at 10 p.m. Jeff Mason, the WHCA president, said this year would have been different even if Trump had attended, "based on the tension that has existed in the relationship and some of the things he has said about the press. We were preparing for a different dinner either way."

President's relationship with media

Trump has called the media "fake" and "dishonest" and even "the enemy of the people." In an emailed fundraising appeal before leaving for Pennsylvania, Trump cited among the accomplishments over his first 100 days, "We fought back against the media's lies."

Mason promised that Minhaj would use his comedy chops without "roasting the president in absentia."

"People don't want to come to a dinner and feel bored or preached at. Hopefully neither of those things will happen," Mason said.

The dinner began in 1921, and last year, for President Barack Obama's final appearance, the crowd included Will Smith, Emma Watson, Kerry Washington, Helen Mirren and model Kendall Jenner.

Bee, who hosts TBS's Full Frontal weekly show, said she planned to focus on celebrating the press at her Not The Correspondents' Dinner event.

Donald Trump and wife Melania arrive for the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. President Trump said he wouldn't attend this year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

"We care deeply about it. For God's sake, we could not do our show if things were more restricted. So, boy, nobody needs press freedom more than we do," she told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.

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