Amid deepening tensions between the press and the president, Donald Trump tweeted today he will not be attending the upcoming White House Correspondents’ 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 combative relationship between Trump and the press soured many journalists’ attitudes toward the annual event. Vanity Fair and The New Yorker announced earlier this month they would be scaling back their participation over reservations regarding the president.
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), the organization that hosts the dinner, then issued a statement reassuring its members that the annual event would proceed as scheduled.
“This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role and independent press plays in a healthy republic. We will also reward some of the finest political reporting of the past year while using our scholarship program to highlight and support up-and-coming journalists who are the future of our profession.”
It’s not surprising Trump would wish to avoid the April event. Presidents are often ribbed and expected to engage in good-humored self-deprecation, something Trump seems unable to do. Trump was previously a guest at the dinner in 2014, where he was mocked by President Obama for promoting the “birther” conspiracy.
Trump has been a staunch opponent of the media since his campaign began. In 2015 he ejected Jorge Ramos, a Univision reporter, from a press conference for asking questions about immigration policy. He later mocked a disabled New York Times journalist, Serge Kovaleski.
While Trump limited himself to verbal assaults, others turned to violence. In March 2016, Corey Lewandowski (then Trump’s campaign manager) was charged with battery after he grabbed Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a forceful rebuke of Trump’s behavior and attitude toward the press late last year, which reads, in part:
“Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values. … Since the beginning of his candidacy, Trump has insulted and vilified the press and has made his opposition to the media a centerpiece of his campaign. Trump has routinely labeled the press as ‘dishonest’ and ‘scum’ and singled out individual news organizations and journalists.
Trump has consistently demonstrated a contempt for the role of the press beyond offering publicity to him and advancing his interests.”
The long-simmering feud between Trump and the media only accelerated after Trump won last year’s election. In January he accused CNN’s Jim Acosta of representing a “fake news” organization. And Stephen Bannon, one of Trump’s most trusted advisors, suggested the media should “keep its mouth shut.”
Trump continued his criticism of the media during his most recent press conference, insisting:
“The [media’s] tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. … I don’t mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true and, you know, over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly and I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.”
Then, yesterday, the White House refused access to a host of media outlets – including CNN, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Politico – during a scheduled press gaggle.
For now, the WHCA says it still plans on holding the annual dinner. But if it does get canceled entirely, it wouldn’t be the first time. The dinner was canceled in 1930 when President William Howard Taft died, then again in 1942 when the U.S. was engaged in World War II. And President Harry Truman canceled the 1951 event due to the “uncertainty of the world situation” – a cause which, given Donald Trump’s unruly administration, seems equally applicable today.
Featured image via YouTube video.