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Donald Trump

Trump won't attend correspondents dinner, sparing him a likely roasting

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, calls to boycott the annual event have grown louder amid his increasingly fraught relationship with the press

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2017, 10:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2017, 10:03pm

US President Donald Trump, who has been criticising the news media and is famously thin-skinned, says he won’t be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — sparing himself the dubious honour of being an in-the-house target of jokes.

The annual fundraiser for college scholarships and venue for reporting awards mixes politicians, journalists and celebrities and is typically attended by the president and first lady.

Remarks by a comedian, often roasting the president, and a humorous address by the president himself, often roasting the press and political opponents, have highlighted the event, which C-SPAN has carried live.

In a tweet Saturday, Trump wrote: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!” He gave no reason for not attending.

In a statement following Trump’s tweet, White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said: “The WHCA takes note of President Donald Trump’s announcement on Twitter that he does not plan to attend the dinner, which has been and will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic.”

Since Trump’s inauguration, calls to boycott the annual event have grown louder amid his increasingly fraught relationship with the press. Throughout his campaign, Trump regularly lashed out at the press, singling out news outlets for being “dishonest”. Since his election, he has accused certain media outlets of publishing “fake news.” Earlier this month, the tense relationship reached a boil when Trump called the media “the enemy of the American People”.

In response to concerns, the White House Correspondents’ Association released a statement earlier this month, saying the dinner would take place. Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Bloomberg cancelled their parties, which had usually drawn celebrities. Comedian Samantha Bee announced in January that she was planning an alternative event on the same night for “journalists and non-irritating celebrities from around the world.” (Its tentative name: “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”)

Questions about whether the dinner was appropriate existed before Trump took office. The event is an annual gathering of journalists and the people they cover, typically headlined by the sitting president. The White House Correspondents’ Association awards $100,000 in scholarships at its annual dinner, according to its website, and recently started a mentoring programme that pairs working journalists with journalism students.

The annual dinner began in 1921, and Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend the dinner in 1924. In 1978, Jimmy Carter declined to attend, citing exhaustion. First lady Rosalynn Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale also didn’t show up that year.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan managed to deliver remarks by phone even though he was at Camp David recovering from an assassination attempt.

“If I could give you just one little bit of advice, when somebody tells you to get in a car quick, do it,” Reagan said to laughter.

Trump has attended the dinner before.

Watch: Obama roasts Trump at 2011 correspondents dinner

In 2011, then-president Barack Obama roasted Trump at the dinner - five minutes of jokes directed at the man who had raised questions about whether Obama was born in the United States.

“No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald,” said Obama, who ultimately released his birth certificate. “That’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”

At the time, Obama joked about Trump’s experience to lead the nation.

“All kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience,” Obama said.

“For example, no seriously, just recently in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around but you, Mr Trump, recognised that the problem was a lack of leadership and so ultimately you didn’t blame Little John or Meatloaf - you fired Gary Busey. And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well-handled, sir. Well-handled.”

Obama ended his roast talking about the change a President Donald Trump would bring to the White House.

Then he flashed a picture of the then-hypothetical Trump White house, emblazoned with pink neon and gold columns, with bikini-clad women relaxing in the fountain outside.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post