WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: Donald Trump has ratcheted up his feud with the US media by announcing he will skip the annual correspondents’ dinner, the first US president to do so in 36 years.
By boycotting the event Trump breaks a tradition that began in 1921 in which journalists invite the US president for a light-hearted roast.
“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!” Trump wrote Saturday on Twitter.
The last time a president missed the event was in 1981, when Ronald Reagan was recovering after being shot in an assassination attempt. Reagan however phoned in with friendly remarks.
Richard Nixon, who despised the media, skipped the event in 1972.
Trump frequently blasted the mainstream US press during the election campaign, and as president has intensified his media-bashing.
He ripped the New York Times on Sunday for a television ad that the newspaper will air during the Oscars ceremony stating “The truth is more important now than ever.”
“For first time the failing @nytimes will take an ad (a bad one) to help save its failing reputation. Try reporting accurately & fairly!” Trump tweeted.
Over the years the dinner organized by the White House Correspondents’ Association has evolved — or devolved, depending on one’s point of view — into the self-described “Nerd Prom” packed with Hollywood celebrities.
The WHCA said it will proceed with this year’s dinner, set for April 29.
The event “has been and will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment (on freedom of the press) and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic,” WHCA president Jeff Mason tweeted.
Some news groups have already pulled out. Conde Nast, publisher of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines, will be absent, and Bloomberg will no longer co-host a popular post-dinner party.
According to Buzzfeed News, CNN is debating whether to also pull out.
The New York Times has skipped the event for years to avoid charges that its reporters are too close to the White House.
The dinner normally features a big-name comedian to rib the president, but this year a funny person has yet to be booked.
Comedian Samantha Bee earlier announced a “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” on the same night at a nearby hotel to raise money for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
‘War on the free press’
Trump’s cancelation comes after the White House denied access Friday to an off-camera briefing to several major US media outlets, including CNN and The New York Times.
Smaller outlets that have provided favorable coverage however were allowed to attend the briefing by spokesman Sean Spicer.
The WHCA said it was “protesting strongly” against the decision to selectively deny media access.
The New York Times said the decision was “an unmistakable insult to democratic ideals,” CNN called it “an unacceptable development,” and The Los Angeles Times warned the incident had “ratcheted up the White House’s war on the free press” to a new level.
It is not uncommon for Republican and Democratic administrations to brief a limited number of reporters on specific themes.
However the Friday event was billed as a regular briefing open to credentialed media before it became a closed event in Spicer’s office for a chosen group.
Several outlets that regularly cover the White House, including newswires Reuters and Bloomberg, attended. They are part of the “pool,” a small group of reporters who have access to certain events and share the contents with other media.
The Associated Press boycotted the event in protest at the exclusions, which included The Los Angeles Times and Politico.
AFP was not included despite being part of the press pool. Its journalist protested, and attended the briefing uninvited.
Spicer gave no explanation for the media selection.
As protests erupted a December interview re-emerged in which Spicer told Politico that the Trump White House would never ban a news outlet.
“Conservative, liberal or otherwise, I think that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship,” he said.
Ari Fleischer, a former George W. Bush spokesman, said the White House’s stance was “unwise and counterproductive,” but added that it should be kept in perspective.
“Press secretaries need to meet with the whole press,” Fleischer told CNN. “But beyond that, there is nothing unusual about presidents meeting with selected reporters, and White House staffs do it all the time too.”