Have Any Other Presidents Skipped The White House Correspondents' Dinner?

by Alexandra Svokos
Getty Images

Donald Trump is skipping the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night.

In doing so, he is the first president since Ronald Reagan to not attend the annual media event.

Presidents have been going to the WHCD in Washington for nearly 100 years. It's an annual event that's supposed to be a symbol of transparency and respect between the president and the press.


The tradition was started with a dinner hosted by the White House Correspondents' Association way back in 1921. The WHCA formally started in the early 1900s. They're the group of reporters who report from the White House.

That was the year President Warren G. Harding, who had been a newspaper publisher himself and who reinstated regular White House press conferences as president, was inaugurated.

Harding, however, skipped his own White House Correspondents' Dinners.

The first president to actually go to the WHCD was Calvin Coolidge in 1924, three years after the tradition started.

The early White House Correspondents' Dinners were very similar in tone to what we know now. The press and the president kind of joke around with each other, having some levity.

There have always been some sort of performance, whether it's casual music or the professional comedian roasts we see today.

Trump is not the first president since Coolidge to skip the WHCD.

But every president since Coolidge has gone to the White House Correspondents' Dinner at least once.

As previously mentioned, the last president to skip one, however, was way back in 1981. And even then, Reagan only skipped it because he was recovering from an assassination. He still called in to address the press.

Aside from Reagan, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon also skipped WHCDs.

Carter skipped the dinners in 1978 and 1980, and Nixon skipped the dinners in 1970, 1972 and 1974.

President John F. Kennedy almost skipped the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 1962.

Up until then, women were not allowed to the dinner, even if they were White House reporters.

Back in 1962, that meant that reporter Helen Thomas would not have been allowed at the dinner. She was not happy about that.

"At her urging in 1962," Steven Thomma, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, wrote, "Kennedy said he would not attend the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association unless it was opened to women for the first time. It was."

White House Correspondents' Dinners have also been totally canceled in the past.

It was canceled in 1930...because former President William Taft died the morning the dinner was supposed to happen.

It was also canceled in 1942 when the United States entered World War II.

While Trump is not the first president to skip the WHCD, it's still very unusual.

Especially in the modern age. The WHCD has become a very public event vital for the president.

Barack Obama, for instance, didn't even skip the White House Correspondents' Dinner on the very same night the raid to kill Osama bin Laden happened.

So while it's really just one big swanky party, it's still a big deal that Trump is skipping it.

Instead, he'll be hosting a rally in Pennsylvania to celebrate his first 100 days as president.

Citations: What the White House Correspondents' Dinner will do in Trump's absence (Vox), White House press corps salutes Helen Thomas's role (Planet Washington), Obama and Gates Gave No Hint of Raid at Correspondents' Dinner (New York Times)