NEW YORK ― President Donald Trump declared “war” on the press during his first full day in office and has since echoed chief strategist Steve Bannon’s description of the news media as “the opposition party.”
But why should that get in the way of a good party.
Jeff Mason, a Reuters correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, informed members of the organization in an email Thursday that the annual event will take place on April 29, as had been previously announced.
“This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic,” Mason wrote. “We will also reward some of the finest political reporting of the past year while using our scholarship program to highlight and support up-and-coming journalists who are the future of our profession.”
Mason told The Huffington Post that he issued the statement after receiving questions about whether the dinner was still happening or would be changed in any way.
Journalists might have understandably wondered if the show would go on given how Trump vilified the press during the 2016 election campaign, and as president, has continued attacking the media and suggesting legitimate news outlets produce “fake news.”
Trump’s routine ridiculing of the press from the White House is unprecedented, leading some journalists to suggest skipping the dinner.
“Faced with these attacks on our doing our job, we’re going to invite this guy to come and mock us in person?” Slate chairman Jacob Weisberg said at an NYU panel last week. “It’s abhorrent.”
The president is traditionally invited to the dinner and usually gently roasts reporters before also saluting the work they do and role they play in a democracy.
A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond for comment on whether Trump plans to attend.
Trump, like many celebrities, has attended the glitzy dinner in the past. It was President Barack Obama’s on-stage mockery of Trump at the 2011 gala ― coming after the reality star’s birther crusade ― which reportedly helped drive him to run for president.
Even before the Trump era, some journalists have argued against the so-called “Nerd Prom,” from the unseemliness of news organizations jockeying for celebrity guests to the image of black tie clad reporters mingling at the Washington Hilton with the political elite they’re expected to hold accountable.
“This is a moment when people already think the press is too cozy with government,” Dean Baquet, then-Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, said in 2007. “And I think these events confirm that.”
The Times, now led by Baquet, has not attended since.
The WHCA dinner will also have competition this year across town.
Samantha Bee, host of TBS late-night show “Full Frontal” announced this week that she will be hosting a counter event ― “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” ― at The Willard Hotel.
“The evening is sure to bring plenty of surprises, music, food, and laughter—and if you’re not careful you just might learn something,” Bee said in a statement. “Specifically, you’ll learn how screwed we’d be without a free press.”
While the White House Correspondents’ Association may be best known outside Washington for the celebrity-packed dinner, Mason emphasized in his statement that the group’s primary role is advocating on behalf of the press.
“In the meantime, the WHCA will pursue its core mission of advocating for journalists’ ability to ask questions of government officials, push for transparency from the presidency, and help Americans hold the powerful to account,” he wrote. “This is a responsibility that we have taken seriously for more than 100 years and will continue to uphold.”