President Trump will not attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner this year, he announced in a tweet Saturday, making him the first president in more than 30 years to miss the annual event.
The announcement, which came one day after the White House blocked a number of news organizations from attending a briefing with the press secretary, marks the latest development in the tumultuous relationship between the new administration and the press. Since the start of his campaign, the president has repeatedly railed against "mainstream media" organizations including The New York Times and CNN, denouncing coverage portraying the White House in a negative light as "fake news." In a controversial tweet earlier this month, Mr. Trump described the fourth estate as the "enemy of the people," an assertion he repeated in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
"I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake," Trump said. "A few days ago, I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people,’ and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none."
It isn't particularly surprising that Trump would choose not to attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner, observers say, especially as he's been a subject of ridicule at the event in the past. Still, the announcement was met with criticism from some Trump opponents who noted the symbolic significance of the president's skipping out on the dinner, which raises money for journalism scholarships and recognizes reporters for their coverage of the White House.
But some members of the press saw silver linings in the announcement – in particular, an opportunity to return the dinner, typically attended by major media outlets and a plethora of celebrity guests, to its roots.
"Honestly, I think outside observers get way more worked up about this dinner than members of the correspondents association," said Julie Mason, host of the "Press Pool" on SiriusXM's POTUS channel and a former White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) secretary and board member, to Politico. "After the massive, celebrity-fraught drama of the past eight years, this feels like a nice reset opportunity to get back to the original point of the dinner – which is honoring the First Amendment by raising money for journalism scholarships and handing out journalism awards."
This year's dinner, with or without Trump, is already shaping up to be a less glitzy event than in years past. Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Bloomberg all canceled their usually star-studded parties surrounding the dinner, while media outlets including CNN and MSNBC have reportedly considered skipping the event altogether.
Still, said WHCA president Jeff Mason in a statement, the show will go on as planned on April 29, 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."
But some have questioned in past years whether the black-tie event is truly a positive force for democracy, as critics say it contributes to a widespread perception that the media elite is a part of the Washington establishment. As Dante Chinni wrote for The Christian Science Monitor in 2006:
The press has always occupied an odd place in this city. The reporters, pundits, and editors here are not the political establishment. They don't make laws or issue court rulings. But they clearly are part of the city's primary industry. And at times that leads some in the press to view all of the folks here, politicians and reporters alike, as part of one big organism – or worse, one big game.
"Hey, underneath the bickering, we're all 'Beltway people.'" That's the message of the correspondent's dinner. And that message fits too neatly with what many already think of the press in Washington.
"[T]he 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," wrote columnist Renée Loth for The Boston Globe last week. "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."
The last president to miss the dinner was Ronald Reagan, who in 1981 made remarks by phone while recovering from a gunshot wound following an assassination attempt. But Trump isn't the first to miss the dinner voluntarily: Jimmy Carter skipped the event twice, in 1980 and 1978, and Richard Nixon declined to attend in 1974 and 1972.