US President Joe Biden took it on the chin Saturday at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as he laughed gamely through sharp jokes about his age, and hit back with a few of his own.
Washington’s political and media elites gathered for their annual big-night-out in the US capital for an event that ranged from the traditional comedy gags to somber calls to free reporters imprisoned abroad.
Headlining the after-dinner entertainment was “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr., who gleefully mocked Biden, 80, for running for a second term in the White House that could mean he is still president at age 86.
Wood noted recent angry protests in France against raising the retirement age.
“They rioted because they didn’t want to work until 64. Meanwhile, in America, we have an 80-year-old man begging us for four more years of work,” he dead-panned, drawing a broad smile from Biden, sitting only yards away.
“‘Let me finish the job’ — That’s not a campaign slogan, that’s a plea,” Wood added. “Say what you want about our president, but when he wakes up from that nap, work gets done.”
Biden aimed one of his barbs at media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old owner of conservative TV network Fox News.
“You might think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch, that’s simply not true. How can I dislike a guy who makes me look like (29-year-old pop star) Harry Styles?” Biden joked.
He also targeted CNN presenter Don Lemon who was sacked allegedly after sexist and ageist on-air remarks.
“Call me old — I call it being seasoned. You say I am ancient — I say I’m wise. You say I’m over the hill — Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime.”
The dinner institution had started to wither — first boycotted by Donald Trump, then shut down altogether to fend off Covid-19.
Even last year, strict Covid testing, frequent use of masks and diminished attendance resulted in a low-key affair.
But this year’s event for 2,600 guests was sold out, and attended by both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Having the president and vice president in attendance restored a tradition last observed in 2016, the final dinner before Trump entered the White House.
“Folks, it is wonderful to be back here again, proving I haven’t learned a damn thing,” said Biden.
The occasion is meant to celebrate the constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of free speech and to advocate for a free press worldwide.
Before the dinner, Biden met with the family of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter arrested and imprisoned in Russia last month on espionage charges.
US officials strenuously deny the allegations, and a large media campaign has been launched to push for his release.
Gershkovich, who previously worked for AFP, is the first foreign journalist arrested in Russia on spying charges since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“We are working every day to secure his release. We’re looking at opportunities and tools to bring him home. We keep the faith,” Biden said.
This week Moscow said it had denied a consular visit to Gershkovich in retaliation for Washington not issuing visas to several Russian journalists, as bilateral ties remain frozen more than a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Also among the dinner’s star guests was basketball player Brittney Griner, who was released by Russia as part of a prisoner swap last year and who has vowed to fight for other detainees.