In a recent editorial for U.S. News and World Report, opinion editor Robert Schlesinger questioned whether Donald Trump would show up, saying that, regardless of whether he does, journalists should not. Instead, Schlesinger suggested, reporters should “make other plans that night and if [Trump] does attend, let the ratings- and crowd-obsessed narcissist freak address an empty ballroom.” He also suggested that, “news organizations should buy tickets as usual (it’s for a good cause).”
Beau Willimon, creator and writer of the American version of “House of Cards,” had a similar thought, tweeting Friday that the press should boycott the dinner entirely, or at least “leave when [Trump] speaks.”
Iranian American author Reza Aslan shared a similar view, in a tweet of his own: “I swear to God, any reporter or journalist who attends this should be boycotted.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association received so many inquiries about the fate of this year’s dinner, scheduled to take place at the Washington Hilton, that association president Jeff Mason released a message Thursday saying the show would go on: “This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic,” he wrote.
The WHCD has faced criticism in recent years, as the dinner has became a celebrity event that allows journalists to hobnob with the very government officials they’re supposed to objectively cover. But this year, emotions are likely to become even more heated — and conflicted. The White House has a highly contentious relationship with the press, with Trump echoing the sentiment of his top adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, who referred to the media as “the opposition party.”
“I’m not quite sure what boycotting the dinner would accomplish,” said Patrick Gavin, a former Politico reporter and creator of “Nerd Prom,” a documentary about the dinner. “Essentially, people are boycotting the president. They’re not really boycotting the dinner.”
At the dinner, awards are given to top White House correspondents, and scholarships are presented to students pursuing careers in media. But that’s not why Hollywood stars now flock to the event, as well as to the dozens of parties that take place before and after it. They’re there to see and be seen, and to mix it up with top journalists and political bigwigs.
The White House Correspondents’ Association has not yet announced its entertainment lineup for the evening, which traditionally features a comedian roasting the president, the media and other A-listers in the room. In 2011, Seth Meyers eviscerated Donald Trump, and his prospects for political office, while Trump sat stone-faced in the audience. Gavin said the choice of headliner will probably determine whether Trump attends the dinner or punts, as he did with the Alfalfa Club dinner in January.
“If they pick Jimmy Fallon, then Trump will show up. If they pick Jon Stewart or [Stephen] Colbert, Trump is just not going to show up,” he said.
Gavin added that this year the dinner could serve as a platform for journalists to promote freedom of the press, and “to really hold the administration to task and let the C-SPAN audience know what’s going on,” suggesting that any organization or advertiser who boycotts the event should instead donate to organizations that protect journalists.
If Trump himself decides to boycott the event, he said, it will certainly break with tradition: “The last president who didn’t come was Reagan in ’81 — and that’s because he got shot.”