No American President has so openly made war on the press the way Donald Trump and his advisors have done since Richard Nixon, who famously was brought down by the dogged reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal.
As part of his anti-press campaign, Trump has claimed much of what is said and published about him is “false news.” He and his aides have called the media “scum,” and “an enemy of the people.”
Thus it is not a surprise Trump is not attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. on April 29. He is the first President to skip the event in three decades, since the Nixon era.
So it is completely appropriate that this year’s dinner will replace the glitz and glamor with the legendary, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters who brought down Nixon: Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, authors of the 1974 bestseller All The President’s Men. As special guests, they will sit in a position of honor on the dais and present major awards during the evening.
“Having Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at the dinner exemplifies everything our event is about — celebrating the First Amendment and highlighting really good journalism,” said WHCA president Jeff Mason, a correspondent for Reuters News.
Woodward has continued to work for the Washington Post while authoring eighteen acclaimed bestselling books on politics, Presidents and the Washington scene.
Bernstein left the Washington Post but has continued to write for magazines, authored six books and been a frequent guest on radio and TV, speaking about politics and Washington.
Mason had announced previously that the priority for the dinner this year will be “our commitment to the first amendment.”
Mason noted in an interview with the Huffington Post that while the First Amendment is always important to journalists, it hasn’t always been at the forefront of the annual black tie dinner, “but,” he added, “this dinner it will be more front and center.”
In the past, the dinners were dubbed the “Nerd Prom,” because it was one of the rare times journalists – never known for their sartorial sense – dress to the nines.
Past dinners have been most famous for the President’s presence, accompanied by numerous White House staff and elected officials. They have been joined by a glitzy collection of Hollywood celebrities, who also attended parties put on by Vanity Fair and others during a spirited weekend of festivities. This year the White House staff are not attending so they can stand in “unity” with Trump – or more likely have been ordered not to attend.
This year Vanity Fair canceled its party, as did others, including Bloomberg, the New Yorker and Time Magazine.
Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter has said that the party is off because of Trump, who he has written a blistering editorial about. He said it just seems wrong to party with celebrities when Trump is being not just anti-media – but also violating many of the principles of a free press which have kept America strong.
People Magazine canceled their annual party and instead are donating the money they would have spent to the WHCA, which will use it for scholarships given to promising journalism students.
CNN, instead of filling its table with celebrities this year, is going to bring journalism students to fill the seats.
The dinners have been hosted by a famous comedian or entertainer. Last year, Larry Wilmore was the host and did routines with President Obama, who was smart, incisive and hilarious. Donald Trump sat in the audience as he was the butt of numerous jokes, rarely smiling and looking very uncomfortable.
A host has not yet been announced this year. There are reports the comics feel it may be hard to make fun of a President who will not be present and who is already a joke – not in a good sense.
There were some who wanted to cancel the dinner this year, but it was decided to go back to its roots instead, and make it for and about journalists and the important work they do, often without much credit or applause.
As Mason has put it, this “is a celebration of the press, not a celebration of the president.”