Trump to skip annual correspondents' dinner

Mr Trump, seen here with members of the media at the White House last Friday, has had an antagonistic relationship with the mainstream press, calling it "the enemy of the people" and the "opposition party".
Mr Trump, seen here with members of the media at the White House last Friday, has had an antagonistic relationship with the mainstream press, calling it "the enemy of the people" and the "opposition party".PHOTO: REUTERS

Move escalates feud with media, following row over press access

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has escalated his feud with the United States media, announcing that he will skip the annual correspondents' dinner one day after a row erupted over White House press access.

By skipping the April 29 event, he breaks a tradition in which the President is the guest of honour at a light-hearted roast held by journalists and studded with celebrities.

"I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!" Mr Trump wrote on Twitter last Saturday.

The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA), which has organised the annual dinner since 1921 to raise money for journalism scholarships, said the event would go ahead as planned.

The dinner "has been and will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic", WHCA president Jeff Mason tweeted. The US Constitution's First Amendment protects freedom of the press.

Mr Trump built his presidential campaign on criticising the mainstream US press, whose editorial boards overwhelmingly opposed his election. He has intensified his rhetoric since taking office, routinely accusing the media of bias in overstating his setbacks and downplaying his accomplishments.

The cancellation comes one day after the White House triggered widespread outrage by denying access to an off-camera briefing to several major media outlets, including CNN and The New York Times.

Smaller outlets that have provided favourable coverage of the Trump administration, such as the right-wing news site Breitbart and the One America News Network, were allowed to attend the briefing by spokesman Sean Spicer.

The WHCA said it was "protesting strongly" against the decision to selectively deny media access and would bring it up with the Republican administration.

The New York Times described the White House decision as "an unmistakable insult to democratic ideals", while CNN called it "an unacceptable development" and the Los Angeles Times warned that the incident had "ratcheted up the White House's war on the free press" to a new level.

Hours earlier on Friday, speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering of conservative activists and politicians, Mr Trump slammed the mainstream US media as "the enemy of the people" and labelled the Fourth Estate "fake news" and the "opposition party".

Mr Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon, a former head of Breitbart, predicted at CPAC on Thursday that relations with the media would only get worse as the President rolls out his agenda.

It is not uncommon for Republican and Democratic administrations to brief a limited number of select reporters on specific themes.

However, Friday's White House event was initially billed as a regular briefing open to credentialled media, before it was reconfigured as a closed event for a cherry-picked group of participants in Mr Spicer's office.

During the off-camera briefing, Mr Spicer said that the White House has shown an "abundance of accessibility... making ourselves, our team and our briefing room more accessible than probably any previous administration". He gave no explanation for the media selection.

As protests erupted, a December interview re-emerged in which Mr Spicer told Politico that the Trump White House would never ban a news outlet. "Conservative, liberal or otherwise, I think that's what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship," he said then.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Trump to skip annual correspondents' dinner'. Print Edition | Subscribe