When Barack Obama was in the White House, the political press corps celebrated with him once a year at a ritzy, A-list-only five-course dinner and laughfest inside the Washington Hilton ballroom. Celebrities from Hollywood jetted into town to join America’s top media as major news outlets tried to outdo one another with outlandishly lavish parties.
But now that President Trump has moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there are new calls by the liberal mainstream media to jettison the annual soiree, known as the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which has grown into a weeklong affair with garden parties and brunches galore.
Already Vanity Fair and The New Yorker have decided that the dinner is beneath them, with Vanity Fair bailing on its exclusive after-dinner party. Editor Graydon Carter, who said he’ll go fishing that weekend, told The New York Times, “We’ve taken a break from the dinner in the past,” so, whenever a Republican is in the White House, party over.
And now calls are emerging that everyone — everyone! — should just boycott the April 29 dinner altogether, even though the night is intended to be a lighthearted get-together of the players and the people who cover them, topped by a usually funny monologue by whoever happens to be president at the time.
Opinion editor Robert Schlesinger wrote recently in U.S. News & World Report that journalists shouldn’t show up, but instead should “make other plans that night and if [Mr. Trump] does attend, let the ratings- and crowd-obsessed narcissist freak address an empty ballroom.”
What’s more, the not-so-funny comedian Samantha Bee has announced an alternative event, very cleverly titled “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” (get it?), which will feature comedians bashing the president in what will likely be a not-so-friendly slamfest. Said Bee: “We just want to be there in case something happens — or doesn’t happen — and ensure that we get to properly roast the president.”
In a conference call with reporters (seriously), Miss Bee said she is hosting the dinner out of the goodness of her heart. With Mr. Trump in office, “We thought, ‘it will be canceled or it will be the most sinister, awkward thing you’ve ever seen,’” she said.
The optics of the annual dinner have always been a bit unseemly. Journalists in tuxedos and ball gowns hobnob with their guests over cocktails — lots of cocktails — and face time with their sources, along with political power players, over endless bottles of wine. But that didn’t stop news agencies from clamoring for tickets. At least until this year — and that makes at least one longtime critic of the bash uncomfortable.
“I’m all for the White House press corps getting a spine and sticking it to administrations who disregard the press, but I will admit that they have a bit of selective outrage,” said Patrick Gavin, a filmmaker/journalist who in 2014 made the documentary “Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week.”
“Sure, Trump has said some disparaging things about reporters, but President Barack Obama wasn’t exactly a champion of the press either, and absolutely no one thought about boycotting the dinner during his administration. I think reporters need to be tough on all presidents, not just the ones they happen to personally dislike.”
But the media, which throughout the Obama administration was more than happy to suck down gallons of chardonnay at the annual fete, are in full dither over this year’s gathering — which is actually televised each year on C-SPAN.
The Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, says the WHCA should just cancel the dinner. “Once merely embarrassing and ridiculous, the annual White House correspondents’ dinner is poised to tip over into journalistic self-abasement,” she wrote on Sunday. “It’s time to stick a silver-plated fork in it.”
It’s still not known whether Mr. Trump himself will show up. Presidents rarely miss the dinner and almost always wrap up their comedy schtick with praise for the media, noting that while they do battle, the Fourth Estate performs a crucial service protected — even established — by the Constitution.
But Mr. Trump is no fan of the MSM, calling CNN “fake news” and lashing out at outlets that have the temerity to question his policies. And his attendance may well be predicated on who is the chosen professional entertainer. Some liberal comedians have been exceedingly harsh on Republicans in the room and beyond, so Mr. Trump might himself boycott if someone like Stephen Colbert is the main act.
Still, it’s hilarious that this year — after eight straight years of partying hearty and having a blast in Obama lovefests — that the media are going to, as Mr. Gavin says, “grow a spine” and take a pass. “It’s cute that The New Yorker and Vanity Fair have finally had enough, but, if they truly do care about First Amendment issues, where were they for the past eight years?” Mr. Gavin said.
The whole thing just makes the press look exactly like what most Americans already think they are: in the bag for any bleeding-heart liberal and fully in opposition to anyone who doesn’t think like them.
Perhaps it really is time to put a fork in the stupid night after all.
• Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He also ran the Drudge Report as morning editor for four years. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.