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The Strangest White House Correspondents’ Dinner Ever

April 24, 2015

Here is some history that is quite remarkable as we get ready for this years White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

It was nine months before Pearl Harbor.

The film ended at 9:30. Time for the president to take the spotlight. And radically change the mood. It was time to talk of war, on what was to become, and remains today, the strangest—and most important—night in the dinner’s history.

When President Obama strides to the microphone at the Washington Hilton this Saturday, he’ll be going for laughs. He’ll be poking fun both at himself and his political foes. No one expects him to address the nation. Or promise higher taxes. Or call for sacrifice. But that’s what Roosevelt did, boldly using the dinner to prepare the nation for entry into World War II. And, although the event was opened to live TV coverage when I was vice president of the association in 1993 (I’m now the unofficial historian) and has since become a cable fixture, 74 years later, no White House Correspondents’ Dinner has drawn a larger broadcast audience than the one held on that pre-television, pre-Internet night.

The correspondents back then certainly didn’t foresee how important the evening would turn out to be. They thought the event they were staging would be just like the 19 before it—an all-male gathering for an amiable mélange of soaring opera, naughty ballads, gag newsreels, hearty laughter, and generous drinking.

But that all changed about 30 hours before the dinner, when the correspondents gathered in the Oval Office for a presidential press conference, and FDR asked if he could make a nationally broadcast address at their dinner. Three days earlier, he had signed into law his much-debated Lend-Lease Act, permitting him to send badly needed aid, munitions, and equipment to Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and other countries under siege by Nazi Germany and Japan. Now, he wanted to tell the nation—and the world—what it meant.

Read the rest here–it is a great story.

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