Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump said Saturday he will not attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, breaking with an annual tradition in which the US president is the guest of honor at a light-hearted roast held by journalists.
“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!” Trump tweeted about the event, which is also heavily attended by celebrities.
The White House Correspondents’ Association, which organizes the dinner, insisted the April 29 event would still go on as planned as a “celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic.”
“We look forward to shining a spotlight at the dinner on some of the best political journalism of the past year and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession,” WHCA president Jeff Mason, who covers the White House for Reuters, said in a statement.
The tradition, which dates back to 1921, sees a handful of journalism students receive scholarships each year.
Trump’s tweet came a day after he renewed his assault on the media by calling it “the enemy of the people,” in an ongoing battle in which he has labeled the fourth estate “fake news” and the “opposition party.”
On Friday, the White House also denied access to an off-camera briefing to several major US media outlets, including CNN, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Politico.
Smaller outlets that have provided favorable coverage of the Trump administration, such as Breitbart and the One America News Network, received a green light to attend the so-called “gaggle” in White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s office.
The White House Correspondents’ Association said it was “protesting strongly” against the decision to deny coverage to the outlets, and would bring it up with the administration.
The New York Times described the White House decision as “an unmistakable insult to democratic ideals,” while a CNN statement called it “an unacceptable development.”
In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times warned that the incident had “ratcheted up the White House’s war on the free press” to a new level.
Trump built his campaign on criticizing the mainstream US press as biased, and has intensified his rhetoric since taking office, routinely accusing the media of overstating his setbacks and downplaying his accomplishments.
A week ago, at his first solo news conference, the 70-year-old launched into a long diatribe against dozens of journalists that were present, blaming their “dishonesty” for his month-old administration’s troubles.
Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, a former head of the right-wing news site Breitbart, predicted Thursday that relations with the media — which he dubs “the opposition” — would only get worse as the president rolls out his agenda.