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Trump Gets Tweaked Aplenty at Correspondents' Dinner

Hasan Minhaj
AP Photo by Cliff Owen

The president didn't attend, but that didn't keep comic Hasan Minhaj from lampooning the elephant who wasn't in the room.

Donald Trump did not attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner Saturday night, but the elephant who was not in the room, as comedian Hasan Minhaj put it, received plenty of attention from Minhaj and other speakers.

Trump, known for having a thin skin and not an elephant's hide, would most likely have not enjoyed the evening, as many of Minhaj's jokes were at his expense, and journalists who addressed the event denounced his attitude toward the media.

The dinner, which raises money for the correspondents' group's scholarship fund, did not draw the celebrity A-listers it did when Barack Obama was president, but it had a capacity crowd, and the comedy set by Minhaj, a correspondent for The Daily Show, was often hilarious and mostly well-received.

"Who would have thought that with everything going on in the country right now, that a Muslim would be on this stage?" Minhaj said, joking that it was the "ninth year in a row, " a reference to the far right's assertion that Obama is a secret Muslim.

"The leader of our country is not here," Minhaj observed. "And that's because he lives in Moscow." He noted Trump's tendency to tweet in the middle of the night, but added that's during business hours in Russia. He also pointed out that Trump doesn't drink alcohol, then asked the audience to ponder this: "He tweets at 3 a.m. sober."

He took Trump to task for much more, including his handling of foreign policy and his history of bragging about sexual assault. Journalists and other Americans shouldn't worry about all the time Trump spends golfing, because during this time "he's not being president," and that makes the U.S. less likely to go to war with North Korea, the comic said.

And Bill O'Reilly, recently let go from Fox News amid allegations of sexual harassment, heard from a friend that you can get away with it if you're a star, Minhaj said. He added that O'Reilly's reported $25 million severance package is the only package he won't ask a woman to touch.

He lampooned several members of Trump's administration as well -- reportedly, not one of them was in attendance. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Minhaj said, was attending "a pre-Civil War reenactment." And White House press secretary Sean Spicer was not there "because I think he's at home Googling how to fake his own death," the comic said.

He ventured into some edgy territory, saying that Spicer, when asked a tough question, went into "denying the Holocaust," a reference to Spicer's remark that Adolf Hitler didn't use chemical weapons. And when Minhaj said, "I do not see Steve Bannon," Trump's key adviser, he kept repeating it until it sounded like "Nazi Steve Bannon."

Minhaj did get in some digs at the media too. He said he watches Fox News "because sometimes I like to turn my brain off and watch strangers insult my family and my heritage," but he also tweaked liberal MSNBC, saying its hosts are turning into conspiracy theorists and Rachel Maddow should "chill out about Trump's tax returns," because there's not going to be a line that says "bribes from Russia." And CNN should remember that "everything isn't breaking news," he added.

But independent journalism is more important than ever in the age of Trump, he said. "When one of you messes up, he blames your entire group -- and now you know what it feels like to be a minority," he said. He also told the journalists, "Donald Trump is liar in chief and you guys are public enemy number one."

He further acknowledged the importance of the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech and the press. "Only in America can a first-generation Indian Muslim American kid get on this stage and make fun of the president," he said, adding: "Even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment ... but he doesn't care about free speech."

"In four hours he'll be tweeting about how badly Nicki Minaj did at this event," Minhaj concluded.

Other speakers didn't get as many laughs, but they did push back against Trump's characterizations of the media. "Seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic," said Jeff Mason, a Reuters journalist and president of the correspondents' association. "We are not fake news, we are not failing news organizations, and we are not the enemy of the American people."

Famed journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who investigated the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post, made their attitudes clear too. "Mr. President, the media is not fake news," Woodward said. "Let's take that off the table as we proceed." But a journalists' political leanings must not affect their work, he added: "Journalists should not have a dog in the political fight except to find that best obtainable version of the truth."

Watch Minhaj's full set below.

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