There has been a lot of talk about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner lately, and the announcement by President Donald Trump that he will not attend is turning some heads. Trump will become the first President in 36 years to skip the event. The last President to miss the dinner was Ronald Reagan in 198, while he was recovering from an assassination attempt. Reagan did call into the event and even made a few jokes. Two other Presidents in recent history also declined the invitation.
Republican Richard Nixon skipped the event twice. The first time he declined was shortly after his election in 1970. He did attend in 1971 but was unhappy with how the press treated him in the following days. In a memo to then, Whitehouse Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman President Nixon discussed his appearance at the Whitehouse Correspondents’ Dinner and says the press were more vicious than usual during the next press conference. Nixon suggested treating the media with more contempt would be productive. He skipped the event in 1972, and again in 1974 at the height of the Watergate scandal.
Democrat Jimmy Carter also declined to attend the dinner for 2 out of his 4 years. Carter did not attend in 1978, nor did he go in 1980. According to George E. Condon Jr. of the National Journal, officially Carter said in 1978 he was tired from overseas travel and wanted to rest at Camp David. However, Carter wrote the media was completely irresponsible and unnecessarily abusive in a diary entry. He spoke at the event in 1979 but skipped once again in 1980 at the height of the Iran hostage crisis.
Two previous Presidents skipped the event over a contentious relationship with the White House press corps, can we really be surprised by the decision by President Donald Trump to skip it as well?
Social media had drawn a lot of attention to the decision. If the President had been more traditional and sent a letter to the organization expressing regret would we still be talking about it? The President chose to use Twitter to make the announcement, where he could control the message.
He did not ask for the event to be canceled, just decided not to place himself in a hostile situation. The President did tell Fox News and Friends about the decision, saying he has not been treated well by the press corps and does not like the tone the dinner has taken in recent years.
Donald Trump did attend the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. He was the focus of many of the jokes by President Barrack Obama and others.
He was at the event as a guest of Lally Weymouth, Senior Associate Editor of the Washington Post. There are some that contend this event triggered his decision to run for President. Trump has denied that and is even quoted as saying the night was fantastic. Yet, it is not hard to imagine that the event may have played a role in the decision not attend this year’s event as a sitting President.
The social media reaction to the President’s decision to miss the dinner was fodder for social media. Some reacted with humor, chiding the President for fearing the media. Others believed the President was doing the right thing in missing the dinner, which has turned more into a roast in recent years.
This event was not always done this way. The White House Correspondents Association began in 1914 when rumors swirled that then President Woodrow Wilson would be holding a series of press conferences, and a congressional committee would decide which reporters were allowed to attend. Eleven journalists cover the White House got together and formed this White House Correspondents’ Association. The selection committee never came to fruition so the association lay dormant for a number of years. In 1920 the first dinner was held. It was and continues to be, an event to raise money for scholarships and recognize work by journalists. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge was the first sitting President to attend. Women were not allowed to participate in the dinner until 1962 when President John F. Kennedy refuse to attend unless Helen Thomas and other female reporters were allowed.
White House Correspondents History
The dinner has been canceled a few times over the years. In 1930 the dinner was canceled because former President William Howard Taft died. The event was canceled in 1942due to America’s entry into World War II. It was also canceled in 1951 at the request of President Harry Truman during the Korean War.
The dinner has had celebrity performances over the years, but it was in 1987 that the transformation began into the event it is today. The Boston Globe reports that a reporter for the Baltimore Sun invited Fawn Hall, the secretary to Oliver North, the former Marine Lt. Colonel at the center of the Iran-Contra Affair. Fawn was considered glamorous and more organizations began to invite celebrities. The lavish after parties began in the early ’90s.
The event is no longer just an opportunity for journalists to be recognized for hard work, and to encourage students, it is now a who’s who event that is surrounded by big names in journalism and Hollywood stars. The parties before and after the dinner only add to the hype each year.
There have been increasing calls for the event to be canceled permanently after this year, saying it goes against the mission of holding public officials accountable and sends the wrong message about journalists.
The question I pose today, would you go to this event as a journalist or as a poli