The White House correspondents’ dinner is a fixture of the Washington scene, a spring event at which the cream of political journalism shares bonhomie, fine food and comedy roasting with the politicians it reports on – including the president. Under Donald Trump, however, the dinner is facing uncertainty.
Trump, who has repeatedly attacked “the very dishonest press” and accused leading news outlets of peddling “fake news” about him, is expected nonetheless to attend the dinner, at the Washington Hilton on 29 April.
Many news outlets, however, are planning to give the event a miss. The New York Times has not sent journalists to the dinner since 2008. The Guardian, which normally attends, will not be represented there this year. Jeff Mason, a Reuters journalist and president of the WHCA, has been obliged to confirm that the event will happen.
Celebrities are also choosing to spend the night elsewhere. Actors from the casts of TV political drama shows such as House of Cards, Veep and Scandal, for example, have attended in recent years. They are not expected to be present this time. And according to the Hollywood Reporter, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) has yet to secure a comedy headliner.
One comedian, Samantha Bee, will be dining on Washington on the night of 29 April. The Full Frontal host will be debuting what she declines to call a rival party, even though it is titled Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and is being held on the same night at the historic Willard Hotel, a block away from the White House.
Over the years, the dinner has spawned a number of receptions and after-parties. Some of those are now being cancelled or losing co-hosts. Vanity Fair, for example, has pulled out of co-hosting a prestigious after-party, leaving Bloomberg to go it alone. The New Yorker has cancelled its curtain-raiser. It is reportedly unclear if MSNBC will hold its own traditional after-party, while ABC and Yahoo, which have previously co-hosted a pre-dinner reception, have not confirmed if they will do so this year.
Whoever is eventually named as master of ceremonies for the dinner will have a chance to tease, needle or even roast the president, as Stephen Colbert famously did to a not-very amused George W Bush in 2006. And Trump will get a chance to reply in kind.
He may see a chance for revenge. Famously, in 2011 Barack Obama and TV host Seth Meyers roasted a stone-faced Trump, a guest at the dinner who was also a key champion of the widely debunked “birther” movement, which claimed Obama was not born in the US and thus ineligible to be president.
His audience may lack familiar faces. In the past, stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington and the cast of Game of Thrones have been guests at the sprawling, ticketed dinner in the Hilton ballroom, which seats 2,670. This year, an unnamed Washington media executive was quoted as saying: “There will be minimal celebrities in that room … it’s going to be difficult to get any talent there.”