The White House has ordered Trump administration officials to boycott the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, according to a senior administration official.
The order was issued Tuesday morning by White House Cabinet Secretary Bill McGinley, who announced that all Trump administration officials are being ordered to boycott the dinner, scheduled for Saturday night.
An administration official adds that the order came from Trump personally, though staffers have been trying to talk him out of it.
The move marks yet another deterioration in relations between the White House press office and the press corps, though President Donald Trump had announced earlier this month that he would be skipping the annual dinner for the third year in a row. The President will instead hold a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the same evening.
“The dinner is so boring and so negative that we’re going to hold a very positive rally,” Trump told reporters at the time.
The usual tensions between reporters and government representatives have escalated to extreme levels in the Trump age, due largely to the President’s near-daily attacks against the media. His portrayal of the people who cover him as his “enemy” and the “enemy of the people” has been denounced by historians, press freedom advocates and politicians in both parties.
Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, responded to the boycott saying: “We’re looking forward to an enjoyable evening of celebrating the First Amendment and great journalists past, present and future.”
In previous administrations, both the President and vice president traditionally attended the gala event which promotes the First Amendment. The last president to skip the dinner was Ronald Reagan in 1981, who declined because he was recovering from an assassination attempt.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also previously told CNN she would not be attending the dinner, instead traveling to the Trump rally with the President.
Sanders had attended the two previous dinners under the Trump administration. Last year, she was infamously roasted by comedian Michelle Wolf while sitting at the head table on stage.
Afterward, while commentators debated whether the performance was too mean-spirited, Trump said Wolf “bombed” and set her up as a symbol of Hollywood elitism, someone for his base to oppose.
But the black-tie dinner is not fundamentally about comedy acts or partisan politics – it is a fundraiser and awards event that acknowledges the role of the free press and allows journalists to schmooze with sources and each other. News outlets pay for tables and invite administration aides, lawmakers, other government officials and the occasional Hollywood celebrity.
The dinner is a chance to strike up new relationships and get to know White House staffers. Sanders and her press assistants mingled with journalists at receptions leading up to last year’s dinner.
But that apparently won’t be happening this year. The dinner will still take place, but the White House boycott is another example of a tradition coming to an end – or at least being put on pause.
There won’t be a comedian, either. Last November, the White House Correspondents’ Association decided to invite author Ron Chernow as the featured speaker instead.
The change was a recognition that the dinner’s meaning has changed amid constant attacks on the media and increasing political polarization. The President’s playbook is clear: Each year he makes a show of skipping the dinner and holding a media-bashing rally instead.
Without the President in attendance to make jokes and take jabs at the press, having a comedian there to roast the President felt off-key to some members of the association. Having Chernow instead of a stand-up performer is a recognition that the dinner changes dramatically when the President isn’t there.