From The Ethics Alarms “Doing The Right Thing For The Wrong Reason” Files: The President Snubs The White House Correspondents Dinner

trump-tweet-dinner

President Donald Trump has declined the invitation to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, becoming the first President to skip it since Ronald Reagan in 1981, who missed the dinner while recovering from an assassination attempt but still delivered remarks over the phone.

Good.

Once, before it was televised, over-publicized, and hyped, before Presidents started hiring comedy writers to give them professional qualify stand-up material, and especially before the last eight years of an event that looked like the President was fraternizing with complacent and sycophantic supporters and cronies—which he was— the dinner served the purpose of sending a salutary message that the relationship between the press and the President in power was adversarial but not personal, and that like all professionals, the adversaries could disagree intensely on important issues and have a congenial beer together later. It had become a classic example of the appearance of impropriety, however, going hand and in hand with Joe Biden’s “Super-Soaker” party for journalists that I examined in 2010.

Let me take you down on a stroll down Memory Lane. After Wolf Blitzer, Ed Henry and others appeared on You-Tube giggling and playing games with Vice President Biden, Rahm Emanuel and other Obama administration officials at the Biden-hosted party, Glenn Greenwald wrote,

I personally don’t think that these types of interactions ‘violate journalistic ethics,’ because I don’t think such a thing exists for them.  Rather, all of this just helpfully reveals what our nation’s leading “journalists” really are:  desperate worshipers of political power who are far more eager to be part of it and to serve it than to act as adversarial checks against it — and who, in fact, are Royal Court Spokespeople regardless of which monarch is ruling.  That’s why they’re invited into the heart of Versailles to frolic with the King’s most trusted aides:  it’s their reward for loyal service as Court courtiers.”

To which I added,

It’s not very complicated: if the public believes that journalists are inclined to be favorable toward government officials because they like them, get benefits from them, and seek their approval, then they cannot trust the objectivity of the news. The Biden party proves that some prominent journalists either don’t understand this, or don’t care.

Now, after 8 years,  we know: they don’t care. Their relentless partisan bias has become transparent, and journalists, as well as the beneficiaries of their bias, are content to continue denying it, pointing to the solid and fair reporting mixed in with the deceptive and incompetent stories. The White House Correspondents Dinner has been both the product of an illicit relationship between the White House and the press, and proof of it. To bolster the public’s trust, to avoid conflicts of interests and to reduce the appearance of impropriety, Presidents, Vice-Presidents and high government officials should not participate in this event or others like them—OR super-soaker parties at the VP’s mansion.

It would have been nice if President Trump’s decision was based on an appreciation of these factors, and a desire to return the distance between the news media and those they are pledged to view with a critical and jaundiced eye to a proper remove, just as it would have been admirable for President Obama to pointedly reject the news media’s sycophancy as bad for the nation. It is a fair guess that the President is boycotting the dinner as one more tactic in his efforts to isolate the press, and to make it clearer still that he regards the news media as substantially part of the Democratic opposition, which, of course, it is. The President’s action wounds the event, for without him. the dinner is of little interest. His withdrawal ensures  weak TV ratings and general apathy; the President, as is his nature, is acting out of spite, an unethical motivation.

Nevertheless, Trump’s refusing to attend creates a precedent that other White House occupants, even those whom the press wants to support rather than, in his case, destroy, should continue.

22 Comments

Filed under Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

22 responses to “From The Ethics Alarms “Doing The Right Thing For The Wrong Reason” Files: The President Snubs The White House Correspondents Dinner

  1. Ash

    > It is a fair guess that the President is boycotting the dinner as one more tactic in his efforts to isolate the press, and to make it clearer still that he regards the news media as substantially part of the Democratic opposition, which, of course, it is.

    Is it unethical for the President to isolate the press? It’s not unconstitutional… And if he feels this way, would it be more ethical for him to attend to or to decline?

    • It’s not unethical to isolate a news media that isn’t engaging in fair and ethical reporting, but presenting itself as if it is. As I have written, it is arguably his duty. It is unethical to attend at all under current conditions.

      • Chris

        It’s not unethical to isolate a news media that isn’t engaging in fair and ethical reporting, but presenting itself as if it is. As I have written, it is arguably his duty. It is unethical to attend at all under current conditions.

        I wonder if this works the other way around:

        “It’s not unethical to isolate a president who isn’t engaging in honest or ethical leadership, but presenting himself as if he is. It is arguably the duty of Democrats. It is unethical to attend any presidential address at all under current conditions.”

        Does that still work?

        • No, it doesn’t. Obviously. A news media that views its role as manipulating public opinion and political events is no longer serving their role. That’s non-performance and a breach of their own ethics. The privileges the institution has are no longer beneficial when the reason for those privileges doesn’t exist, making the privileges dangerous.

          The President’s job is to lead, just as the journalist’s job is to inform fairly and objectively. “Honesty,” while desirable, is not an requirement of successful leadership, especially honesty about tangential issues. “Ethical leadership” has no objective definition, other than fulfilling the duty to lead in the direction the leader believes is best for the nation. Otherwise, it could easily be argued that Obama was an unethical leader. No, he was just a lousy one.

  2. fattymoon

    “The last president to outright skip the event was Jimmy Carter, who did so twice — in 1980 and 1978. Richard Nixon also skipped it twice — in 1974 and 1972. Nixon warned the press he’d do so and followed through. Trump called the press the “enemy of the American people,” in a tweet recently. That echoes Nixon, who told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “The press is your enemy.” http://www.npr.org/2017/02/25/517257273/trump-will-be-first-president-in-36-years-to-skip-white-house-correspondents-din

  3. fattymoon

    “The President’s action wounds the event, for without him. the dinner is of little interest. His withdrawal ensures weak TV ratings and general apathy…”

    I think the opposite. I think ratings will soar on this one.

  4. Wayne

    Jimmy Carter says he’s going fishing instead, his reason being Trump. I think it’s a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation for a president to attend. Roasts are ok for celebrities and comedians, but not for presidents.

  5. E2 (nee Elizabeth I)

    If ratings will soar because Trump will not be there, then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought. All it will mean is that any tiny modicum of civility and politeness — because of the actual presence of POTUS — will be gone, so the press will only expand its ideological narcissism and self-congratulatory behavior beyond the bounds of decency.

    Headlines will be: Trump was AFRAID to attend, not Trump REFUSED TO SUCK UP TO US as a power to be reckoned with. Good for Trump. Regardless of the NYT and other major outlets, he is saying “Screw you” and they deserve it. And frankly, I think most of us know this.

    • Ash

      I will be interested in watching who they choose to headline the event and the material that person chooses.

      For instance it’s been suggested they should get Alec Baldwin, and my god, what greater concession to Trump’s point that they are the opposition could they make than by hiring Alec Baldwin OR ANY headliner who used their time primarily to go after Trump?

      Colbert in contrast, went after the press.

      • Ash

        Or if I recall that incorrectly, I think he went after both.

      • E2 (nee Elizabeth I)

        Alec Baldwin? Really? The first Jack Ryan who said he stopped making the Tom Clancy movies for “ideological reasons?” He is not intelligent, not funny, not worth watching (though he was really good in “The Hunt for Red October.” (He’s not aging well either, though that is petty.)

        Regardless, Baldwin is proof positive that acting ability does not equate with intelligence. I am reminded of the wonderful and brilliant if silly Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens, about whom it was said, after he made one particularly stupid comment: “Clemens is called the ‘rocket man,’ not the ‘rocket scientist.’

        The same is true of actors. The old term “idiot savant” comes to mind, especially in terms of the arts. There is a collective stupidity that acts like a virus, and interestingly, infects mostly the ones with enough money that they will never be touched by any socialist government policy.

  6. Other Bill

    Is it really fair or accurate to say the President is doing this for any reason, much less the wrong one? His tweet is certainly silent as to motive or reason.

    • All speculation. But there is certainly plenty of data on which to base make an intelligent guess.

      • Other Bill

        I’m not sure he had much of a choice. Speculation on my part, but I can’t imagine the commentary/roasting being anything other than the worst, most vicious, un-funny rancor. He’d have been absolutely savaged. It would have made the Oscars look like a love fest. If not going is part of his “war” on the enemy media, it just seems to me to be a logical extension of treating the hostile press like the enemy they in fact have announced themselves to be.

        • No, even the White House Correspondents aren’t THAT stupid. The backlash would have been terrible, just as it will be if they bash him when he’s not present. They have to make a pass at respecting the office. If Trump went, he’d bring his wife and Barron, and dare then to be assholes. I would.

          • Steve-O-in-NJ

            No, but they might be THAT biased…

            • Other Bill

              But Jack, where would the backlash come from? You. Fox. Breitbart, Althouse, Manhattan Contrarian. National Review. That’s it. All the rest of the media and Hollywood would crow and pile on. Conan, Jimmy Fallon, Jummy Kimmel, SNL. They’ll all have a turkey shoot.

              • 1. Don’t ever mention me and Breibart in the same breath, please.

                2. You underestimate a) the public, and b) the mews media. Even Hollywood was smart enough to cool it last night. Slamming the President when he’s not there looks cowardly and petty, and they know it.

                • Other Bill

                  Sorry about the Brietbart thing. Change to WSJ.

                  Underestimate the news media? That strikes me as a near impossibility these days.

                  Didn’t tune in to the Oscars but from the news reports and general crowing therein, there seems to have been a healthy portion of anti-Trump stuff.

                  But maybe things are kind of calming down and burning themselves out. It’s what I’ve been hoping would happen over some time. Maybe exhaustion is setting in in some quarters.

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