Update The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner will go on as planned, Trump or no Trump. WHCA president Jeff Mason issued a statement, taking note of Donald Trump’s refusal to attend, while explaining that the dinner “will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy public spotlight.”
Here is the statement in full:
Previous President Donald Trump has tweeted his regrets to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, but wishes “everyone well and have a great evening.” (See the tweet below.)
Trump’s decision to break with tradition and skip the politico-press schmoozefest comes after a number of big-league news organizations have yanked their usual parties. Bloomberg L.P., Vanity Fair and The New Yorker ditched the glitzy affairs they usually stage.
And yesterday, the WHCA issued a statement “protesting strongly” against the White House’s exclusion of CNN, The New York Times, Politico and other prominent news organizations from a Sean Spicer press gaggle. “We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not,” the statement read. “The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”
Also as of yesterday, the WHCA was going ahead with the annual dinner, set for April 29 at the Hinckley Hilton in D.C.
The crumbling of the usually good-natured event comes as the president continues ramping up his battle with the press, calling “fake news” the “enemy” of the American people and condemning the use of anonymous sources. The press wasted no time pointing out that Trump’s administration routinely offers journalists not-for-attribution info, and that the new president’s old demands for Barack Obama’s birth certificate were fueled by his standard “people are saying” sourcing.
The dinner, with proceeds now funding college journalism scholarships, dates back to 1920 with Calvin Coolidge becoming the first president to attend in 1924. John F. Kennedy famously threatened to boycott unless the dinner’s ban on women was axed (it was), Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter skipped years, and a recovering President Ronald Reagan did not attend after being shot in an assassination attempt. For the most part, presidents from both sides of the partisan aisle have grinned and beared the often-scathing barbs during the roast-like event.
Stephen Colbert’s 2006 keynote speech, with President George W. Bush in the house, was particularly hard-hitting, even uncomfortable. As Bush looked on from the dais, Colbert made jokes like, “He not only stands for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers, and rubble, and recently flooded city squares.”
But perhaps no dinner moment has had more far-reaching consequences than the 2011 event, in which then-president Obama mocked a grim-faced Trump, sitting in the audience and not laughing as Obama said the release of his birth certificate meant Trump could “finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing, what really happened in Roswell, and where are Biggie and Tupac?” Pundits have long speculated that Trump was angered into his presidential bid at that very moment.