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Hamilton biographer to headline White House correspondents' dinner

The Hill logo The Hill 11/19/2018 Judy Kurtz
a clock tower lit up at night: Hamilton biographer to headline White House correspondents' dinner © Getty Images Hamilton biographer to headline White House correspondents' dinner

The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) is tapping presidential biographer Ron Chernow as the headliner for its 2019 dinner, forgoing the typical Hollywood celebrity.

Chernow, who penned 2004's award-winning biography of Alexander Hamilton that was the basis for the smash Broadway musical "Hamilton," will speak at the dinner on April 27.

"I'm delighted that Ron will share his lively, deeply researched perspectives on American politics and history at the 2019 White House Correspondents' Dinner," Olivier Knox, president of the WHCA and SiriusXM's chief Washington correspondent, said in a Monday statement.

Chernow, 69, said he was asked by the WHCA to "make the case for the First Amendment."

"Freedom of the press is always a timely subject and this seems like the perfect moment to go back to basics. My major worry these days is that we Americans will forget who we are as a people and historians should serve as our chief custodians in preserving that rich storehouse of memory. While I have never been mistaken for a stand-up comedian, I promise that my history lesson won't be dry," the Pulitzer Prize winner said.

Chernow's role as the dinner's performer eschews the tradition of the WHCA choosing a household name comedian for the role. Past headliners for the dinner have included an array of late-night talk show hosts and "Saturday Night Live" stars: Jay Leno, Cecily Strong, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert.

The move also comes months after comedian Michelle Wolf drew intense criticism for her controversial remarks at this year's WHCA dinner in April.

In her routine, the former Netflix comic took aim at Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other Trump administration officials, comparing the White House press secretary to Aunt Lydia from "The Handmaid's Tale" and saying she "burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye."

Following Wolf's explicit remarks, The Hill announced it was pulling out of future WHCA dinners without "major reforms" to the event.

Knox, in comments made shortly after Wolf's monologue drama, said he had been "deluged" with suggestions on how to adjust the Correspondents' dinner in the Trump era.

"Among the many, many ideas landing in my inbox, my voicemail, and my Twitter DMs, are to change nothing, scrap the entertainer, go with an entertainer but not a comic, do a bunch of dad jokes, scrap the dinner - which is a nonstarter for me - or go with a Gridiron model of a Democratic speaker and a Republican speaker," Knox told ABC News in May.

President Trump - who's frequently clashed with the press and has referred to the "fake news media" as the "enemy of the people" - bucked tradition by skipping the annual event the first two years of his administration.

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