The White House Correspondents Dinner, often referred to by journalists as the “nerd prom,” has been controversial for some time. Critics say that reporters and editors fraternizing at a black-tie event with the politicians and bureaucrats they cover is unseemly. And Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House has only added fuel to the fire.
At a time when the president appears to be conducting an all-out war on traditional media, a group he routinely refers to as “dishonest” and “scum,” is it really appropriate for journalists to attend an invitation-only gala with the president and his staff? Some say that it is not, and argue the event should be cancelled for good.
Publisher Conde Nast appears to have decided to reduce the amount of attention it pays to the dinner. Two of its magazines—Vanity Fair and The New Yorker—said they will not host parties before and after the event, as they have in the past.
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who has had run-ins with the president before over his magazine’s coverage of the former New York real-estate developer and his restaurant, said Trump was the main reason for the decision. Carter said he planned to go fishing instead of attending the dinner.
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Others, including the New York Times, have avoided the event since 2007 because of the message it sends. Columnist Frank Rich described it at the time as “a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era,” saying the dinner “illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows.”
A year earlier, Rem Reider of the American Journalism Review wrote about how the dinner should be cancelled. The event, he said, “underscores the notion that journalists are part of a wealthy elite, completely out of touch with ordinary Americans–their audience–[and] panting furiously after these name and semi-name guests is simply demeaning.”
And in 1999, then-New York Times Washington bureau chief Michael Oreskes (now at NPR) argued that “the purpose of honoring good journalism with awards and raising money for scholarships has become lost in the circus. [The dinner] is seen as host to a Bacchanalia that confirms everyone’s worst sense of Washington. We should not be a part of this.”
Not everyone seems to feel that way, however. Both Bloomberg and Politico reportedly still plan to host events related to the dinner, and so does The Hill, which covers Washington closely. The Washington Post usually hosts a pre-dinner cocktail party, but a spokesman for the paper told one of its reporters that its plans “hadn’t come together yet.”
Time magazine and People magazine–both of which are owned by Time Inc., which also owns Fortune–have co-hosted a party in the past before the correspondents’ dinner, but a spokesperson for the company declined to comment Friday on whether the company would be doing something similar this year.
As questions about the event have increased, the White House Correspondents’ Association has tried to redirect attention to the benefits that the dinner generate for journalists. Money raised at the gala goes towards scholarships and charitable causes, said WHCA president Jeff Mason, and celebrates “the role that an independent press plays in a healthy republic.”
Late-night host and comedian Samantha Bee has announced plans for a counter-party on the same evening as the WHCA dinner, entitled “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” which will include various celebrities roasting President Trump. Bee said that proceeds from her alternative event will be donated to the Committee to Protect Journalists.