- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In 2009, the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD) was the most coveted ticket in Washington, D.C., as celebrities flocked into town to celebrate the election of then-President Barack Obama with journalists and government officials.

“It just seems more glamorous. Now it’s rock-star, Kennedy elegance. Nothing wrong with being cool,” actor Richard Belzer explained to The New York Times.

“This is Christmas at Tysons Corner,” Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page told The Times. “With this president, they [celebrities, politicians, journalists] just want to be in the same room.”

Variety reported that Mr. Obama transformed the annual event from a “nerd prom” to something more akin to the Golden Globes, with its star-studded appeal.

And the excitement lasted for eight years.

“Suddenly there was a president that people (read: celebrities) wanted to see and hang out with,” the Atlantic wrote in 2013. “The WHCD offered a perfect opportunity. Media companies that had access finally had something that Hollywood wanted. And celebrities signed up in droves for the opportunity to meet the coolest guy in town, Barack Obama.”

Barbra Streisand, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Tracy Morgan, Fred Armisen, Claire Danes, Kevin Spacey, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes all clamored to be invited by Bloomberg News, Variety, The Washington Post, ABC, NBC, and CBS News among other news outlets.

The WHCD had long been criticized for the coziness it displays between the political press corps and the subjects they’re supposed to be covering, but in 2013, Politico wanted its critics to relax — and for all just to enjoy.

“To me it feels like a party, a night out at which a couple of thousand people drink heavily before, during and after dinner, and try to look sober whenever the C-SPAN cameras pan their way,” Roger Simon, Politico’s chief political columnist wrote.

But, alas, not this year.

It seems no one wants to celebrate with President Trump.

“Will there be any celebrities at Trump’s first White House Correspondence Dinner?” Vanity Fair asked in a column earlier this month.

It and The New Yorker have already said they will not attend — with Vanity Fair canceling sponsorship of its after-party. The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan has wrote this is the year to send the nerd prom to the history books, as has the Atlantic’s David Frum.

“How can media clink glasses with a White House that makes clear its contempt for press freedom and its admiration for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin methods?” Mr. Frum, a senior editor, tweeted.

There is no doubt that Mr. Trump has had a confrontational relationship with the press corps — calling them dishonest, and in CNN’s case “fake news.”

However, it’s the press’ job to take the hits and continue to accurately and fairly report the news. It’s not their job to lavish praise on one president, then boycott another because they don’t like his politics — or worse — feel personally insulted.

CBS’s Major Garrett said if the press decides to boycott this year’s event, then it will confirm what many believe to be true — that the mainstream media is bias against Mr. Trump.

“No self-respecting White House reporter has ever been a president’s prom date, and the dinner isn’t a date at all,” Mr. Garrett wrote in a Sunday op-ed in The Washington Post. “It’s a cease-fire with bad wine and crowded tables. And if we, the media, stand Trump up at the proverbial dance because we’re pining for another ‘date,’ we make it that much easier for him to say we’re playing favorites. And in this case, at least, he’d be right.”

If Helen Mirren chooses to sit out the WCHD that’s fine, Mr. Garrett argues, but journalists who have previously clamored to attend the event bail, that will show a double standard.

And he’s right.

Reporters — just do your job. Don’t turn everything into a Trump protest — especially a 102-year tradition.

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