In a break with recent tradition, President Donald Trump announced in February 2017 that he will not attend the White House Correspondents' Dinner, an annual awards ceremony and benefit thrown by the White House Correspondents' Association, an organization representing journalists who cover the president and White House. The event is scheduled to take place on 29 April.
Launched in 1921 (the first president to attend was Calvin Coolidge, in 1924), an early correspondents' dinner was jocularly described in a publishing industry journal as "an occasion of much gayety and enthusiasm, with an elaborate menu flanked by stretchers and rolling chairs for the relief of those determined to stay through the full series of speeches."
It evolved over the years from a male-only event for select Washington insiders into a celebrity-studded extravaganza not unlike the Academy Awards (except with politicians). For the past three decades or so, the dinner has been typically headlined by a professional comedian hired expressly to "roast" the president and policies.
Trump announced his decision to skip the 2017 event in a 25 February tweet:
I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2017
In an interview with ABC News, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained President Trump's decision thus:
This wasn't a president that was elected to spend his time with reporters and celebrities. This is a president who campaigned on speaking directly to Americans, and that’s what he’s going to spend his time doing. I think it's kind of naive of us to think we can all walk into a room for a couple of hours and pretend that some of that tension isn't there. You know, one of the things we say in the South — "If a Girl Scout egged your house would you buy cookies from her?" — I think that this is a pretty similar scenario. There's no reason for him to go in and sit and pretend like this is going to be just another Saturday night.
Sanders' egg throwing reference was presumably meant to address Trump's antagonistic relationship with the press, as noted on Politico.com:
The event has long attracted criticism from some journalists, but questions about the event took on new urgency this year because of Trump’s regular attacks on individual news outlets and the press at large.
Trump often responds to stories he dislikes by labeling them “fake news.” Like one of his top advisers, Steve Bannon, he has taken to calling the press “the opposition party,” and he has accused reporters of making up sources and fabricating stories, while offering no evidence for those assertions.
On Friday, the tensions escalated further when White House press secretary Sean Spicer barred several news outlets, including POLITICO, from attending a briefing in his office.
White House Correspondents' Association president Jeff Mason responded to Trump's tweet with a brief statement:
The White House Correspondents' Association looks forward to having its annual dinner on April 29. 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. We look forward to shining a spotlight at the dinner on some of the best political journalism of the past year and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession.