It’s meant to be the annual Washington love-in, a dinner where White House journalists and the president yuck it up in a hotel ballroom. But this Saturday, president Donald Trump will stand up his dates.
Members of the White House Correspondents’ Association, or WHCA, will be decked out in bow ties and gowns at the downtown Washington Hilton.
Trump, however, will be 1100 kilometres away in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a rally with his baseball cap-wearing supporters.
And he’s almost guaranteed to devote a portion of his speech - like most of his speeches - to haranguing the ‘fake news media’ or ‘enemy of the people.’
Although there’s nothing obligatory about attending WHCA dinners, presidents have usually done so at some point during their time in office every year since the inaugural version in 1921.
Ronald Reagan was the last absentee in 1981 and he had a decent excuse: being recently shot in an assassination attempt.
Trump, however, has boycotted what he calls the ‘boring’ and ‘negative’ party for three years in a row - his entire presidency so far.
The gala used to be a glamorous affair where hundreds of journalists, Hollywood celebrities and the president were entertained by a top-drawer comedian or other talent.
Now the celebs have drained away and this year even the comedian is missing. A presidential historian, Ron Chernow, will deliver the main speech instead.
‘Killing the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,’ runs the headline of a Columbia Journalism Review article amounting to an obituary for the formerly revered fixture.
Underlining the snub, Trump has ordered staff, including chief press secretary Sarah Sanders, to also refuse invitations.
It’s the latest shot in what the president sees as his war against a media machine refusing to give him fair coverage.
Trump’s main weapon is Twitter, which he uses daily to reach some 60 million followers. Millions more follow him on other platforms.
As Sanders said in 2017, Twitter ‘gives him a communications tool... that isn’t filtered through media bias.’
The other main way of bypassing potentially critical outlets is his extraordinary relationship with Fox News, the Rupert Murdoch owned network which has been criticized for coming to resemble state television.
Even if many of the news journalists maintain their independence, some of the most prominent anchors and hosts show nothing but loyalty to Trump. They’re rewarded with exclusive access to administration officials and to the president himself.
Meanwhile, other outlets are mostly kept at arm’s length.
The press briefing room in the White House, which used to see nearly daily Q&A sessions under previous presidents, has been all but abandoned.
Trump is unusually accessible, but mostly through often chaotic, informal gatherings, while Saturday marks the 48th day since Sanders held a full briefing.
When they’re not being ignored, White House journalists can expect to hear abuse. Trump’s rallies invariably include segments where he encourages the crowd to boo the reporters covering the event.
‘This is new,’ says Jeff Morosoff, a journalism and media professor at Hofstra University’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. ‘No president has ever been so contentious, insulting and confrontational.’
‘I think the day is going to come when one of his followers is going to hurt somebody,’ Morosoff warned.
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