The White House Correspondents’ Dinner: History, Tradition, and Trump

The White House Correspondent’s Association was officially started in early 1914, and launched the first White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) in 1920. What has come to be known as “Nerd Prom” is a yearly event when journalists—from prime time anchors to humble editors—are given the opportunity to brush elbows with Hollywood’s elite at a night filled with bad stand-up comedy and (supposedly) bipartisan laughs. Need to brush up on your history before this year’s dinner on April 29? Never fear, MediaFile is here.

Appetizers (before the dinner)

The very first White House press conference was actually an accident. Woodrow Wilson was under the impression that he’d be chatting with each of the press corps one-on-one. But when 125 newspaper men showed up in his office as a large crowd on March 15, 1913, he suddenly was compelled to “make a speech to [them] en masse” – and thus, the White House Press Briefing was born.

That same year, President Wilson considered nixing the presidential press conference – upset that he was quoted publicly when off-the-record, in his view. This prospect encouraged several White House correspondents to get together and convince the president to relent. The regulars eventually formed the White House Correspondents Association.

Main Course (beginning of the dinner)

On May 7, 1921, 50 men gathered at the Arlington Hotel and celebrated what would become the very first White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The dinner came shortly after Warren G. Harding reinstated the presidential press conference. Harding didn’t attend the first dinner, but many of his top staffers were in attendance. The first president to actually attend a dinner was Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

Dessert (some of the best moments so far)

One of the best parts of the annual dinner is hearing our Chief Executive crack a few jokes about his staff, his opponents and mostly himself.  

Some of the best moments in WHCD history have included:

Bill Clinton bemoaning his final days in office.

Laura Bush stealing the spotlight in 2005 and admitting to being a “desperate housewife.”

Barack Obama showing his official “birth video” and roasting future president Donald Trump.

Coffee (2017 dinner)

On April 29, the White House will host the 96th #WHCD. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will present the annual journalism awards to Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post, Edward Isaac-Dovere of Politico and David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post. Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show will host the event, and neither President Trump nor his staff will attend.

The lack of presidential presence has been quiet controversial, considering every president since Calvin Coolidge has appeared at the dinner at least one time during their presidency. The last president to skip the dinner was Ronald Reagan, who was recovering from a gunshot wound at the time after a failed assassination attempt in 1981.

It is clear that our current president is not a fan of some aspects of the media, and those components of the media may hold similar views towards the WHCD. For example, Samantha Bee of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” has chosen to host a competing media event called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.” Proceeds from the event will benefit the Committee to Protect Journalists.  

Several publications will not be hosting their usual parties surrounding the event, such as Bloomberg, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time and People.

As of late, it is unclear who will take the president’s place as the guest of honor if he does not attend – but plenty of jokes and gaffes about Trump, along with many self-depreciating media hits, are to be expected during this year’s festivities.

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