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.
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.