In a break with more than three decades of tradition, President Trump on Saturday announced he would not attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017
The dinner will still proceed as scheduled, according to a statement from Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“The White House Correspondents’ Association looks forward to having its annual dinner on April 29,” the statement reads. “The WHCA takes note of President Donald Trump’s announcement on Twitter that he does not plan to attend the dinner, which has been and will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic.”
The association looks forward to “shining a spotlight at the dinner on some of the best political journalism of the past year and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession,” he added.
Before Trump’s tweet on Saturday, there was already some uncertainty hanging over the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, a star-studded gala that sees journalists hobnob with sources and celebrities. Several news organizations, including Bloomberg, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair canceled standing parties before or after the dinner. CNN’s was reportedly deliberating whether to attend.
Given the Trump administration’s combative relationship with the press, several journalism observers wondered publicly whether the media should be seen glad-handing with the president. Some, like CBS News’ Major Garrett, suggested that attendance at the event would be a step toward cooling tensions between the Trump administration and the press.
President Trump has a somewhat fraught relationship with the annual dinner. He was memorably skewered at the White House Correspondents’ dinner by comedian Seth Meyers in 2011, a ribbing that some have suggested was one of the factors that inspired his run.
There are upsides and downsides to President Trump’s decision to opt out of the dinner, said Patrick Gavin, a journalist who covered the gala for Politico from 2009 to 2014 and released a documentary about the dinner, “Nerd Prom,” in 2015.
By choosing not to attend, Trump is interrupting one of the longest-standing traditions in D.C. journalism, Gavin said. The last president to skip was Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was recovering from an assassination attempt and even managed to phone in his remarks. Before that, the last no-show was President Carter, who cited exhaustion in 1978.
“On the one hand, it stinks, because without the president, there’s less interest in the dinner and fewer tables get bought, and that means less money for the scholarship,” Gavin said. “That being said, I think the dinner is popular enough nowadays that they may not miss out.”
On the bright side, Trump’s decision to skip the dinner may allay concerns from those who say the gala fuels perceptions that journalists are too buddy-buddy with their sources, Gavin said. The lack of a president may help the occasion return to its roots as a simple scholarship and awards banquet.
“Anything that can get the dinner and the party back to the basics is great,” he said.
This year’s dinner, which is being held on April 29, will be notable for at least one other reason. Comedian Samantha Bee, who hosts the show “Full Frontal” on TBS, is holding a comedic dinner in the mold of the White House Correspondents’ Association celebration at the same time.
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s announcement, there were a surge of pleas on social media for the Correspondents’ Association to persuade Alec Baldwin to reprise his “Saturday Night Live” impression of President Trump at the dinner.
Hey, @AlecBaldwin: I hear there’s a speaking gig you’d be perfect for on April 29th. Now *that* I’d attend.
— Tarah Wheeler (@tarah) February 25, 2017
— Jonathan D. Lovitz (@jdlovitz) February 25, 2017
— Jonathan Aguiar (@JonAguiar) February 25, 2017
— Deanna Rilling (@DeannaRilling) February 25, 2017
Send Alec Baldwin! https://t.co/oVPQrlr6cF
— Kristoffer Kræn (@Kriskraen) February 25, 2017
This evening’s turn of events further underscores the bellicose relationship between the Trump administration and the press, said W. Joseph Campbell, a professor at the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. and a former newspaper reporter.
“It’s not such a surprise, given the tensions and ugliness that have characterized Trump-media relations,” Campbell said. “And it may be overdue, given the controversies that have flared up around the dinner over the years.”
As the news echoed across social media on Saturday, several journalists and media observers offered opinions on the president’s decision to spurn the annual dinner.
Media orgs hesitated long enough on whether to boycott an event they should have abandoned long ago, Trump beat them to it. https://t.co/aOxHrHmbgI
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) February 25, 2017
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) February 25, 2017
Translation: didn’t want to be uninvited https://t.co/guwgyxWVln
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) February 25, 2017
Some news organizations, including The New York Times, make a habit of not attending the dinner based on concerns that cozying up to sources on national TV looks unseemly. The association has also been criticized in recent years for donating a decreasing proportion of the dinner’s proceeds to its scholarship fund.
Today’s announcement is the latest development in Trump’s antagonistic relationship with the press. Trump’s campaign was characterized by a renunciation of journalism and journalists: He kept several news organizations from obtaining credentials for his campaign events and questioned the truthfulness of reporters on social media.
Tensions haven’t eased much since Trump took office. Last week, he tweeted that journalists from The New York Times, ABC and CNN were the “enemies of the American people,” an assertion he doubled down on during his speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee on Friday.
Later that day, his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, held a briefing from which several news organizations, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Politico, BuzzFeed and the Los Angeles Times, were excluded.