clock menu more-arrow no yes

How to watch the White House Correspondents' Dinner

Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2014.
Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2014.
Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama, the journalists who cover him, and a handful of celebrities will gather Saturday for one of the strangest rituals in Washington, DC: the White House Correspondents Dinner.

The dinner, nicknamed "Nerd Prom," will begin at 7:30 pm. But you probably won't want to tune in until around 9:45 pm, when comedian Larry Wilmore will deliver a standup act before Obama takes the stage.

"I like Obama a lot," Wilmore, host of Comedy Central's The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmoretold CBS. "But remember, I only supported him because he's black, so I can attack his positions all I want."

Why is the White House Correspondents Dinner a thing?

The White House Correspondents Dinner began in 1921 as a festive way for the president and the press corps to share a few inside jokes over cocktails.

In the Obama era, particularly, it has also become a vehicle for Obama to express his frustrations with the media and make some jokes at their expense, as Vox's Ezra Klein has pointed out.

"It is, ostensibly, an evening when the president and the press can come together to share a few lighthearted laughs. But it's evolved into a recital of brutal truths — albeit one neither side ever really admits happened," Klein wrote after Obama's speech in 2014.

Obama has had no shortage of advice for the media this year, and he might play press critic again on Saturday night. Over the last few months, Obama has openly worried about that "balkanized" media has fed partisanship and criticized the press for enabling Donald Trump's rise.

"The choice between what cuts into your bottom lines and what harms us as a society is important. You have to choose which price is higher to pay, which cost is harder to bear," Obama said in what Politico termed his "scolding to the Fourth Estate" over Trump's rise.

That criticism hasn't always been well-received, especially by those in the media who regard Obama as one of the worst presidents for press freedom in modern US history.

But the bigger story from the WHCD this year may be what Obama has to say about Republican frontrunner Trump. Obama's putdowns of Trump — made with Trump sitting not far away — are famously rumored to have spurred Trump's presidential ambitions.

"Donald Trump is here tonight," Obama said in 2011. "Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is prouder to put this birth certificate to rest than The Donald. Now he can get to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"

So while you can expect plenty of laughs, look for a much more serious undercurrent to animate much of the night, too.

How to watch

When: Wilmore will begin speaking around 9:45 pm, Obama sometime after that, according to CBS News.

Where: Washington, DC

TV: CBS

Online: CBS News is expected to have a live stream here

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.