Why Presidents Usually Go To The White House Correspondents Dinner In DC

by Alexandra Svokos

Donald Trump is not going to the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night.

By skipping the dinner, he is breaking a long-held tradition by presidents of the United States.

Trump announced in late February that he would not be attending the WHCD by sending out a tweet, naturally.


Like much of his presidency, this is an unprecedented move in modern times.

The last president to skip the White House Correspondents' Dinner was Ronald Reagan in 1981...but he skipped because he literally just survived an assassination attempt and was still recovering. Even then, Reagan called in to the event to talk to the press.

Presidents have been attending the WHCD for almost 100 years.

The White House Correspondents' Dinner is an annual event for the White House Correspondents' Association, which is the group of reporters who report in the White House.

The official association was founded in the early 1900s.

The WHCA hosted the first WHCD on May 7, 1921, when fifty men had dinner at the Arlington Hotel. That dinner included "such fun as the Prohibition Era afforded" (yeesh), according to one attendee.

This was just after the inauguration of President Warren G. Harding, who reinstated regular press conferences when he became president.

Harding had actually been a newspaper publisher before becoming president, and the press appreciated his restarting of the press conferences. So they threw a dinner for their bro.

But Harding didn't go to any of the WHCDs during his term.

The first president to go to the White House Correspondents' Dinner was Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

Although Harding didn't go to his dinners, staff members of the White House did, along with other political staffers.

The early years of the WHCD set up the humorous tone the dinner still have in a mutual, affectionate mocking of the president and the press.

The early dinners also had musical performances, often satirical. A newspaper described the 1922 dinner as "an occasion of much gayety and enthusiasm."

The WHCD is supposed to be a sign of transparency between the press and the president.

It's an annual reminder of the importance of the relationships between the media and the White House. It's a sign of goodwill that the president will continue to allow the press to know what's going on in order to help inform the public.

The history of Harding's press conference reinstatement shows the dinner is a symbol of gratitude both for the president letting the press into the White House and the press going to the White House to get information rather than looking for people to leak news in unofficial forms.

Relationships between politicians and the press are strange, to be sure, and it can be a hard balance between friendliness and combativeness.

But the WHCD is a show of mutual respect between the press and the president, acknowledging the importance of each other's roles in serving the public.

Although it's become a showy black-tie event ripe with celebrities in recent years, the core intention remains the same.

The president skipping the White House Correspondents' Dinner is kind of like your friend not showing up to your annual freshman floor reunion party. Like fine, but damn. That's cold.

Citations: Trump declines to attend White House correspondents' dinner (CNN), History (White House Correspondents' Association)