There’s been much manicured hand wringing in big corporate media offices lately over whether to boycott the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.
So far, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker have announced plans to skip the dinner and posh after-parties. The Atlantic’s David Frum and Robert Schlesinger of US News & World Report have called on media outlets to boycott the dinner.
The Washington Blade will not be among them.
Mainstream media helped create the Trump phenomenon and now they’re appalled by his (predictable) behavior and want to boycott him? The time for that was during the primaries, when he could have been stopped. Back then, the network morning shows and cable outlets like CNN allowed Trump to phone in interviews almost daily to insult his Republican opponents and rant about whatever trivia was on his mind. Trump was good for ratings and those shows frequently led with Trump’s outrageous late-night tweets. No word yet on whether any of the major cable networks will join the boycott.
Trump’s attacks on the “dishonest media” and his rough treatment of reporters at rallies are red meat to his base. Trump probably doesn’t believe half of what he’s said about the media but he knows it plays with his supporters.
As usual, Trump is playing those media outlets like a fiddle — a boycott of the Correspondents Dinner and images of Trump speaking to an empty ballroom feed his narrative of the media as the “opposition party.” “See, I told you they were against me,” he’ll rant. And you can be sure he’ll show up. Trump’s probably been rehearsing for this night since he attended the 2011 dinner and President Obama skewered him. “No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald,” Obama quipped then, “and that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing?” Some have even speculated that Obama’s broadsides helped inspire Trump to seek the presidency.
Before those boycotting mainstream outlets get too impressed with themselves and their courageous stance against the president, they should consider the results of a new poll from Emerson College. It shows more Americans think Trump is truthful compared to the media; 48 percent described Trump as truthful, while only 39 percent believe the media are truthful.
Politics aside, the White House Correspondents Dinner is a fundraiser; 18 scholarships were awarded to aspiring journalists at last year’s event. The dinner is also an opportunity to network with sources and fellow journalists. Perhaps it’s easier for the big corporate outlets to skip a dinner as they’ve been privileged to be at the table since it began in 1921. Networking opportunities like the dinner are rare and valuable, especially for niche outlets like the Blade. As the saying goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The Blade only received tickets to the dinner a few years ago, the result of countless hours of hard work by our team. The Blade’s political reporter, Chris Johnson, is in the White House nearly each day; President Obama chose him to ask one of the final questions of his presidency. In addition, Johnson shadows the president one day per month and writes the pool report. We take these responsibilities seriously.
None of this is to suggest the media should normalize Trump’s administration. His attacks on underrepresented groups are chilling. But attending the dinner and holding the president accountable are not mutually exclusive endeavors. We look forward to the dinner on April 29.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.