President Donald Trump took a break from criticizing the media to announce he won’t be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. In a tweet Saturday afternoon, the commander in chief doesn’t give a reason for eschewing tradition and skipping the annual event that is scheduled for April 29.
Trump attended the dinner in the past as a guest and was the butt of jokes by both then-President Barack Obama and comedian Seth Meyers in 2011. Now that he could be the star of the night, the president said he won’t be going a day after he once again railed against the media at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
The annual dinner has long been criticized by many who say it puts on display how Washington journalists are way too close to the politicians they’re covering. And even though it’s still months away there was already lots of handwringing in the media world about whether to participate in the annual event considering Trump’s adversarial relationship with the press. CNN, for example, was considering skipping the event entirely.
The commander in chief made the decision to not attend as it was becoming clear that the dinner would not be nearly as glitzy of an affair as had become the norm during the Obama presidency. Bloomberg confirmed on Friday it was canceling its famed after party for the dinner after Vanity Fair, its longtime partner in the lavish affair, had already pulled out. The New Yorker had also said it wouldn’t be holding its traditional kickoff party this year. Comedian Samantha Bee, meanwhile, had announced an alternative to the annual dinner under the creative name “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
As some of the big media outlets began scaling back their plans for the dinner, others outright called on journalists to skip the event. “Whether Trump himself will show up is an open question anyway; but regardless, news organizations should buy tickets as usual (it’s for a good cause) but make other plans that night and if he does attend, let the ratings- and crowd-obsessed narcissist freak address an empty ballroom,” wrote Robert Schlesinger of US News & World Report. Boston Globe columnist Renée Loth recently wrote that it’s about time for a shakeup:
The White House Correspondents’ dinner is a hoary Washington tradition founded in 1921 in which the president, and the reporters entrusted to keep a check on him, engage in an evening of cheer. But the dinner is Exhibit A of the too-cozy relationship between political and media elites that has badly undermined journalism’s most precious asset: its credibility. The obsequious hob-nobbing is why many Americans consider the press to be part of the problem.
Now some news outlets and individual reporters are considering skipping the dinner this April. Trump supporters have seized on the potential boycott as proof of the media’s double standard. Maybe it took the shock of Trump’s election to reacquaint the Washington press corps with its essential watchdog mission, but better late than never: The demise of this unseemly lovefest is long overdue.
Amid rising questions about the event, the White House Correspondents’ Association confirmed earlier this month the event would go on as planned. “This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic,” the association’s president, Jeff Mason, said in a statement. But it seems those are two things the commander in chief doesn’t have much interest in celebrating.