Trump Skips Nerd Prom, Attacks The Press In Speech To Supporters
Instead of attending the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, Donald Trump spent his Saturday attacking the press and the First Amendment.
For the first time since President Reagan skipped the event in 1981 due in large part to the fact that it took place a month after he had been shot, the White House Correspondents Association dinner went on last night without the President, who instead spent the night at a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania:
The White House Correspondents’ Association punched back this weekend against an administration that has denigrated it, attempted to discredit it and, ultimately, snubbed it by becoming the first administration in decades to skip out on the annual bread-breaking between the White House and the reporters who cover the presidency.
“We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do,” association president Jeff Mason told a ballroom of journalists attending the correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. “We are not fake news. We are not failing news organizations. And we are not the enemy of the American people.”
At the last line, he received a standing ovation.
President Trump’s relationship with the press has been notoriously tempestuous. He lambasted the media at his campaign rallies, calling them “fake,” and “failing” and, most memorably, America’s “enemy.”
In February he announced that he would skip Washington’s premier social event, with word coming later that his staff would follow his lead in “solidarity.” And because the affair is usually a two-way roast between the president and the press, attendees were forced to focus on what has ostensibly been the purpose of the dinner all these years: to honor journalism.
“We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency,” Mason said. Alluding to speculation that the president’s absence would dampen interest, he said, “I am happy to report for anyone who’s interested that this dinner is sold out.”
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration for The Washington Post, acted as senior statesmen for their profession with remarks at the podium.
Journalism should be “the best obtainable version of the truth,” Bernstein said, sharing his strategy for covering politicians: “When lying is combined with secrecy, there is a pretty good roadmap in front of you. . . . Yes, follow the money, but also follow the lies.” He sang the praises of “incremental reporting,” the tedious stories that inch a larger story forward, and said that he viewed this type of work as important, “especially now.”
Woodward added: “The press, especially the so-called mainstream media, comes under regular attack. Mr. President, the media is not fake news. Let’s take that off the table as we proceed.”
Hasan Minhaj, the “Daily Show” correspondent who had been tapped as the evening’s comedic entertainment, joked that he had gotten the job in this sensitive year because, he said, “no one wanted to do this, so, of course, it landed in the hands of an immigrant.”
After a sharp-tongued set that poked fun at everyone from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Minhaj turned serious.
“This has been one of the strangest events I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. He noted that he had been asked not to roast the president in absentia, but felt it was his duty to say how he really felt.
“We’re 100 days in, 1,030 days to go,” he told the audience, saying that he was rooting for their continued coverage of the Trump administration. “You guys are running the marathon, and I’m at the half-mile mark, giving you tape for your nipples.”
In addition to the fact that the President wasn’t in attendance the tradition Correspondent’s Dinner also faced competition from a far less serious event thrown by comedienne Samantha Bee, the former Daily Show correspondent who now hosts her own politically-oriented comedy show on TBS, that drew a sizeable crowd of its own, including several prominent journalists from TBS’s sister network CNN such as Jake Tapper. As a result, the tone of the main dinner was significantly different from what it had been in the past. Gone was much of the glitz and glamor of what had come to be called “Nerd Prom” during the Obama Administration due in no small part to the competition between media companies to invite Hollywood stars, typically minor ones and often “stars” of reality shows and other such things. In its place from what I did observe in the small amount of coverage I watched of last night’s dueling events was a more subdued event with less glitz and glamor and more focus on the press itself and the job of journalism, which is, of course, what the event is supposed to be about in the first place. As noted, there was entertainment of a sort in the form of one of the minor stars of the post-Jon Stewart Daily Show but, from what I saw of his routine, most of that comedy came across as rather dull and didn’t have the same bite as performances in the past. In no small part, of course, that was due to the fact that the President wasn’t in the room and we didn’t get a rebuttal from the President himself as has been traditional in the past.
To some degree, the fact that the Correspondent’s Dinner became more subdued this year is probably a good thing. As I wrote two years ago, the entire event had become something of an absurd spectacle, a blending of journalism, politics, and celebrity that managed to seem both pathetic and inappropriate at the same time. Pathetic in the sense that the idea of news organizations falling all over themselves to compete over who got the biggest celebrity to sit at one of their tables was, in the end, really quite silly to watch unfold. Kind of like the high school kid struggling to ask someone to the prom who was clearly out of their league. At the same time, the annual dinner became somewhat inappropriate in the way that it seemed to promote a more cozy relationship between politicians and the journalists who ought to be covering them with a critical eye, it was as if Woodward and Bernstein were covering Nixon by day and smoking cigars and drinking whiskey with him at night. If that part of the White House Correspondents Association Dinner comes to an end during the Trump Era, it will be a good thing both for our political culture and for the press as an institution.
While the press was celebrating itself in New York last night, the sitting President was attacking the press in Pennsylvania:
HARRISBURG, Pa. — President Trump came to a farm expo center here on Saturday to celebrate his first 100 days in office by bathing in the support of his bedrock supporters, reprising the populist themes of his campaign and savaging a familiar foe: the news media.
In a rally timed to coincide with an annual dinner of the White House press corps in Washington, which he declined to attend, Mr. Trump laced into what he referred to as “the failing New York Times,” as well as CNN and MSNBC, which he accused of incompetence and dishonesty.
“Their priorities are not my priorities, and not your priorities,” Mr. Trump said to a sea of supporters, many in familiar red “Make America Great Again” caps. “If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade,” he said, adding that they were “very dishonest people.”
Mr. Trump reveled in his decision to skip the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, describing a scene in which Hollywood stars and reporters consoled themselves in a Washington hotel ballroom, while he mixed with a better class of people in the American heartland.
The crowd responded with a chorus of boos and chants of “CNN sucks,” some turning to jeer reporters. Mr. Trump was interrupted several times by protesters, who were escorted out of the arena by the police, under a rain of catcalls and shouts that recalled the most bitter days of the campaign.
Mr. Trump saved some of his most colorful vitriol for The Times, lampooning its sale of its headquarters near Times Square — a “cathedral to journalism” — to move into a “very ugly office building in a very crummy location.” The new Times Tower, designed by the architect Renzo Piano, sits across the street from the Port Authority bus terminal on the West Side of Manhattan.
“They covered it so badly,” he said of the presidential campaign, “that they felt they were forced to apologize because their predictions were so bad.” The Times did not apologize for its election coverage.
The president’s attack on the news media started earlier in the day, when he said on Twitter that the “mainstream (FAKE) media refuses to state our long list of achievements, including 28 legislative signings, strong borders & great optimism!”
The split-screen image that followed — journalists dining in black tie at what is normally one of the most fashionable events on the capital’s social calendar while Mr. Trump spoke to the crowd at the farm show center and, before that, toured a factory that makes landscaping and gardening tools — clearly delighted the White House.
Still, Mr. Trump’s thumb in the eye to the reveling press corps felt a bit manufactured. He spent much of the past week giving interviews to the same reporters he was to snub on Saturday night, including Jeff Mason of Reuters, who serves as president of the Correspondents’ Association.
These attacks on the press are nothing new for Trump, of course. They were a common part of his rhetoric during his campaign for President, and it was often the case that his rallies would turn into nothing more than rants by him against the media which were wildly cheered by a crowd that would then turn their ire toward the reporters giving him the media coverage he so obviously craved. As I noted at one point Trump displayed a contempt for the press that was unique for a candidate for high office and which included actions such as sometimes randomly blocking leading media companies such as The Washington Post and newspapers such as the Des Moines Register from receiving press credentials to cover his events. On other occasions, he openly talked about expanding libel laws to allow more lawsuits against media organizations and other steps that were nothing less than open attacks on the First Amendment. Just today, as a matter of fact, Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus admitted that the Administration has “looked at” ways to attack the press legally, even if it means a Constitutional Amendment:
Q: Is POTUS considering a constitutional amendment to change press laws?
PRIEBUS: "I think it's something that we've looked at." pic.twitter.com/fwZRMvsEjz
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 30, 2017
When Trump was a candidate for President, his attacks and open contempt for a free press and the First Amendment was deplorable. Now that he’s continuing this line of argument while serving as President, and even possibly openly contemplating using legislative and other means to attack the press now that he’s in power is alarming to say the very least.