Let me be the first to welcome you to May, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, our month in the nation’s diversity calendar.
It begins as we all wait to see if anyone famous/important tests positive for Covid after the weekend’s 3,000 person indoor celebration of free-speech and normalcy, a/k/a, the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD).
If you were watching on C-SPAN as I was from California, then you know the last face on the cable coverage was that of the Asian American of the moment, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid Czar.
He didn’t seem too concerned about what comedian Trevor Noah called “the nation’s most distinguished super-spreader event” where the masked are a minority and most everyone else is maskless, conversing in close proximity without a care.
Does it matter that there were 321 deaths on April 30 nationwide as the country moved to 992,010 deaths? I guess not.
Jha is generally of the belief that if you’re vaxed, boosted, and tested, go out and live your life. The WHCD did take some precautions requiring proof of vaccination and boosters, plus a same-day negative test. But I’m still wondering if it was right for 78-year-old President Joe Biden to be out for the night in such a crowded, relatively low-ceilinged indoor event.
Just to see Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian in person?
I suppose it’s a kind of “herd mentality” in action, where everyone conforms to a new normal and the president makes us all feel good by cracking jokes.
“This is the first time a president has attended this dinner in six years,” said Biden. “It’s understandable. We had a horrible plague, followed by two years of Covid.”
The room erupted with a howling laughter that lasted 11 seconds.
And he followed up.
“Just imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year. Now that would really have been a coup if that occurred.”
Some groaned, but it was another big 7-second laugh.
Can you imagine laser images of the spit droplets in the ballroom?
Well, let’s hope they were innocent droplets.
Biden was comedian-in-chief, showing the country “we’re getting through this pandemic.”
And as pointed out, everyone had to show proof of being vaccinated and boostered, so Biden reminded people at home watching, “If you’re wondering how to do that, just contact your favorite Fox News reporter, they’re all here, vaccinated and boostered.”
A full 14 seconds of rousing laughter.
Now if only the president could get his overall approval rating to rise by 14 percentage points.
The actual comedian for the night, Trevor Noah, was funny too. But Biden was funnier, especially when he introduced the comic and said he could be free to say what he wanted, because he “wouldn’t go to jail.” Unlike in Moscow.
Because that was the point of the night. The media, the president, and the country celebrating the First Amendment, the right to gather and assemble, the right to tell jokes like the one Noah did about Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. “Who ever thought we’d see the day when a senator could be openly bisexual but a closeted Republican?”
That’s a joke I wouldn’t have heard in the years I attended the event in the ‘90s.
Free speech in our divided country is good old American fun again
Now will anyone get sick afterwards like the more than 70 who tested positive after the smaller Gridiron Club event (another political yukfest held two weeks ago)?
It’s worth noting that while people were at the WHCD, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in Kyiv visiting the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine.
Yes, while Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was gladhanding with KimPete at the WHCD, Pelosi was with Zelensky at another secret A-List event in Ukraine. And just weeks after testing positive at the Gridiron Club. The power of the booster? Or the weakness of the subvariant? Maybe we’re at the “it’s just like the flu” stage, after all.
AN ASIAN AMERICAN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT
Of course, there have been more than a few. I was a credentialed White House correspondent for a time during the G.W. Bush years. And I knew of other AAPIs before me, like Rita Gerona-Adkins, who died last year. Rita wrote for the Philippine News and a variety of ethnic media.
Ethnic media has been the important gateway for AAPIs and other reporters of color to reach audiences the mainstream often ignores.
I thought of Rita and her byline as the WHCD paid tribute to the first African American women to cover the White House, Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne.
Dunnigan was the first credentialed reporter on the White House beat in 1947 for the Associated Negro Press. Payne began covering the White House in 1951 for the Chicago Defender.
Two months after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, Payne asked President Eisenhower if he’d support a ban on segregation in interstate travel.
“I’d like to know if we could assume that we have administration support in getting action on this?" Payne asked.
“Well, I don’t know what right you say that you have to have administration support. The administration is trying to do what it believes to be decent and just in this country,” Eisenhower responded.
The answer to Payne’s question made news. And that’s what any journalist hopes to get when posing a question.
It doesn’t matter if you’re ethnic media or mainstream.
In 2020, Weijia Jiang, the senior White House correspondent for CBS News, made news when she asked the now twice-impeached former president a tough question on Covid. He responded with an insulting answer that managed also to be racist.
It made worldwide headlines.
That was from May of 2020. Coincidentally, it was both an AAPI Heritage Month/White House Correspondent moment.
More thoughts on our month to come.
Happy AAPI Heritage Month.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.