There were no sitcom actors. No Olympians or supermodels or Real Housewives, either. Even some of the usual high-profile media names were missing, too. And for the second consecutive year, so was the president.
The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday attracted about 3,000 journalists, random plus-ones and curious hangers on, but the usual buzz around the event was reduced to something more like a snore.
The annual social rite of spring in Washington was less the government-meets-Hollywood-meets-the-press glitzfest of yore and more like a dressed-up Kiwanis Club dinner, albeit one televised live by CNN, MSNBC and C-SPAN.
This may have been #President Trump’s intent when he turned down an invitation to the dinner, making him 0 for 2 since his inauguration last year. Trump — who distilled his signature hostility toward the news media by branding them “the enemy of the people” — arranged to be out of town while the journalists and their guests partied.
As he did last year, Trump staged a campaign-style rally, this year in Michigan, timing it to begin just as the salad was being served in the Washington #Hilton ballroom. Many of the people at the Hilton read that as more than a coincidence. At one point in the speech, Trump eviscerated the media for being “very, very dishonest people.”
Fifteen presidents have attended the correspondents’ dinner since it began in 1921, which has made the event a hot ticket long before the likes of Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson began showing up. The presidents-in-the-house streak ran to 36 consecutive years until Trump pooped out on the party last year. The last time Trump attended, in 2011, he sat stoically as the evening’s entertainer, Seth Meyers, dropped comic bombs on him. The prospect of it happening again seems to have deterred him from returning.
Trump did make one gesture toward press-administration glasnost, encouraging current and former members of his administration to attend (the White House announced last year that no staff employees would attend in “solidarity” with the president’s snub). And so Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus showed up. Omarosa Manigault-Newman came, too (accompanied by a fellow who tended to the train of her gown). Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders occupied a seat at the head table at the invitation of the White House Correspondents’ Association.