President Trump announced Saturday that he would not be going to the political media’s “nerd prom,” making this the first time since 1981 that a president did not show up to the annual event.
“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year,” Trump tweeted. “Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”
You couldn’t ask for a more magnanimous, tactful RSVP, but hidden beneath the gracious decline is the animosity that is growing stronger every day between this White House and the news media. Trump’s announcement came at the end of a week that saw that relationship deteriorate even further than it had before.
First there was the infamous press conference of Friday the 17th, where Trump told a CNN reporter that he was dropping the term “fake news” and replacing it with an updated critique: “Very fake news.”
Then there was Stephen Bannon, who reiterated Thursday that the Trump administration considers the political press the “opposition party.” When Trump spoke at CPAC on Friday, he lashed out at the media again, telling conservatives that there was no conflict between his support for a free press and his criticism of the modern media machine.
“I love the First Amendment,” he said. “Nobody loves it better than me. But as you saw throughout the entire campaign, and even now, the fake news doesn’t tell the truth. I say it doesn’t represent the people, it will never represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”
Also on Friday, the White House attracted outrage when Press Secretary Sean Spicer barred The New York Times, CNN, Politico, and others from a small press briefing in his office.
The darkening clouds made it hard to imagine how President Trump and the press could come together and playfully joke about their differences at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and now we know how it will play out: It won’t.
But WHCA officials say the dinner will go on, with or without Donald Trump.
“The White House Correspondents’ Association looks forward to having its annual dinner on April 29,” said the organization’s president, Jeff Mason. “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. We look 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.”
The funny thing is, it’s only through this war between the media and Trump that we can glimpse what a truly independent press might look like. It won’t mean anything until they start going after Democrats with the same viciousness – which probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon – but it’s a glimpse. If you look at it that way, Trump has been the best thing that has happened to the First Amendment in years. The American people WANT the media to investigate. We WANT them to dig up dirt. Their relentless search for “the story” on Trump has led them down a few unseemly back alleyways, but those aren’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem continues to be their unwillingness to turn that bright flashlight on the other party. The moment they do that, their reputation will be restored.
But don’t hold your breath.