Donald Trump to skip White House correspondents’ dinner

Reporters’ group covering the White House says April 29 event will go ahead after US president says he will not attend.

President Donald Trump meets with Peru''s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski
In a speech on Friday, Trump called journalists 'the enemy of the people' [Reuters]
Correction3 Mar 2017
A previous version of this article stated that Al Jazeera was also blocked from joining Spicer's press briefing. This is incorrect. Al Jazeera was not included in the pool, as is now reflected below.

US President Donald Trump has announced he will not attend a century-old annual correspondents’ dinner, a day after a fierce fight erupted over press access to the White House.

In a post on Twitter on Saturday, Trump wrote: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”

He made the announcement just a day after a speech to conservative activists, wherein he reiterated his criticism of journalists as “the enemy of the people”, and a decision by his spokesman to exclude major news organisations from a media briefing.

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The reporters’ group said it would go ahead with its April 29 dinner despite Trump’s decision, which breaks with an annual tradition in which the US president is the guest of honour at a light-hearted roast held by journalists and typically studded with movie stars, politicians and business leaders.

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”, said Jeff Mason, a Reuters White House correspondent who heads the association this year.

Ronald Reagan was the last president to miss the event after he was shot in 1981.

Some news outlets such as Bloomberg News and the New Yorker have said that they will not host the lavish after-parties that have been a fixture of past events.

The dinner occasionally makes news: in 2011, President Barack Obama delivered a scathing evisceration of Trump, joking that the mogul, who sat stone-faced in the audience, would move on from questioning Obama’s citizenship to figuring out “did we fake the Moon landing”.

This was after Trump appeared on several networks questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, and promoting the conspiracy that the 43rd president was born in Kenya, not the US state of Hawaii.

Critics of the correspondents’ say the event encourages journalists to cosy up to politicians they should cover aggressively.

News outlets blocked

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

On Friday, the White House excluded several news outlets from covering a question-and-answer session with spokesman Sean Spicer held in place of the daily press briefing.

Media organisations including The New York Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining the informal, on-the-record, off-camera press briefing on Friday, referred to as a “gaggle”.

Spicer invited only a pool of news organisations that represents and shares reporting with the larger press corps.

Journalists from several right-leaning outlets were also allowed into Spicer’s office, including the website Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is Trump’s chief strategist.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies