"Ask yourself that question every day, because you have one of the most important roles in the world."
For the first time in six years, the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD) was held with the president of the United States in attendance on April 30 in Washington, D.C. The WHCD has been a tradition in Washington for more than a century and for the past several decades it has taken the form of a comedic roast of both the government and the press. This year's dinner was hosted by comedian and host of "The Daily Show" Trevor Noah, who's known for his smart, witty commentary on social and political issues.
The "let's invite a comedian to publicly and viciously make fun of us for a couple of hours" idea may be a bit odd, but these events have proven quite popular over the years, with many viral moments (including President Obama's infamous GIF-worthy mic drop) coming from them.
This year's dinner opened with Noah joking about it being a superspreader event, earning some uncomfortable laughter, then the individual roasts commenced. Noah didn't hold back slamming people across the political and media spectrum—all in good fun, of course—including President Biden himself.
But it was Noah's closing remarks that earned the most attention. In his signature style, Noah managed to bring a serious and thoughtful element to a night of ribbing and laughter when he admonished the press to recognize both their freedom and their responsibility.
“If you ever begin to doubt your responsibilities, if you ever begin to doubt how meaningful it is, look no further than what’s happening in Ukraine," Noah said. "Look at what’s happening there. Journalists are risking and even losing their lives to show the world what is happening. You realize how amazing that is?
“In America, you have the right to seek the truth and speak the truth, even if it makes people in power uncomfortable. Even if it makes your viewers or readers uncomfortable. You understand how amazing that is?" he reiterated.
Noah pointed out that he had just stood there and made fun of the president of the United States and he was going to be fine. Then he contrasted that with the reality Russian journalists are living under Putin.
“Ask yourself this question," he said to the members of the media. "If Russian journalists who are losing their livelihoods … and their freedom for daring to report on what their own government is doing—If they had the freedom to write any words, to show any stories, or to ask any questions—if they had, basically, what you have—would they be using it in the same way that you do?
"Ask yourself that question every day," he said, "because you have one of the most important roles in the world."
I\u2019ve always respected @Trevornoah so much but this closing speech from the White House correspondents\u2019 dinner is particularly spectacular.pic.twitter.com/k8GmBOAoYB— Mike Birbiglia (@Mike Birbiglia) 1651380675
People had high praise for Noah's entire evening of hosting, but especially for his closing remarks. Russia's war on Ukraine has put a spotlight on many things we tend to take for granted, including the freedom of the press.
Journalists do play a vital role in society and it's one they must take seriously. To be fair, most journalists do feel the weight of their responsibility, but the corporatization of news media and a 24/7 news cycle has created a competitive landscape in which coverage is sometimes determined by what will drive traffic or viewers rather than on what's truly newsworthy or important. The demonization of news outlets by some has also created a hostile media environment, and news organizations have to resist the urge to kowtow to the loudest voices or inadvertently amplify the wrong things. Journalists often have to fight for the truth on multiple fronts, sometimes inside their own newsrooms.
Thank you, Trevor Noah, for reminding reporters that the fight is worth it and for using this opportunity to remind the press of its primary purpose with such a simple yet profound question.
Trevor Noah with an amazingly powerful close reminding journalists in the United States, some of whom seem to take for granted what they have, of how lucky they are to have the freedom to speak truth to power.pic.twitter.com/oIcdPyO2bD— Sarah Reese Jones (@Sarah Reese Jones) 1651376844
I found myself cheering @Trevornoah's closing as though he could hear me. I felt foolish, but his words are that important. Sometimes speaking truth to power is telling people why it's their responsibility to speak truth to power. Thank you, Mr. Noah!https://twitter.com/cspan/status/1520598522000719874\u00a0\u2026— Benjamin Gorman \ud83c\udf4e (@Benjamin Gorman \ud83c\udf4e) 1651445670
If you didn't actually listen to @Trevornoah's closing speech -- please do. He speaks not only to journalists, but to all of us.https://twitter.com/birbigs/status/1520626883616030720\u00a0\u2026— \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 Ian Ricksecker \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddea\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udf0d (@\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 Ian Ricksecker \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddea\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udf0d) 1651466123
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