President Trump has reignited his attacks on the news media in the days leading up to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, underscoring the White House’s use of the press as an effective foil.
Trump will skip the dinner for a third straight year, opting to hold a rally in Wisconsin instead on Saturday night. He has also directed other administration officials not to attend.
“The Correspondents’ Dinner is too negative. I like positive things,” Trump said earlier this month in explaining his decision.
Within hours of those comments, he had taken to Twitter to characterize the press as “the enemy of the people,” a favorite insult that has appeared to get under the skin of some in the media.
Trump has continued his near-constant criticisms of the news media in the weeks since, repeatedly lashing out in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.
The latest wave of criticism reached its crest on Tuesday, when he fired off seven tweets castigating the press and singling out specific outlets and reporters by name. It included shots at “Psycho Joe” Scarborough of MSNBC and applied the term “enemy of the people” to The New York Times, despite its publisher warning Trump about the dangerous implications of the phrase.
The White House essentially trolled journalists on Thursday when press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSanders made her first appearance at the briefing room podium in 45 days — complete with an appearance by Vice President Pence — at a mock Q&A for children as part of Take Your Kids to work day. Reporters were unable to ask questions.
None of the Trump attacks are the least bit shocking and they are likely to only continue as the president seeks another four years in the office.
Trump has scored political victories in part by running against the press, which delights his core supporters. In 2020, there is every indication that the president will continue with this strategy, framing the election in part on a Washington elite symbolized by the mainstream media seeking to thwart his effort to win another four years in the Oval Office.
Trump has a long history with the White House Correspondents Association and its dinner, which is a key part of the story surrounding how Trump became president and of his relationship with the media.
Trump was the subject of ridicule at the 2011 event from both Seth Meyers and President Obama, who made fun of Trump’s decision-making and importance with references to “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Trump, Obama said at the time, recognized the need to fire Gary Busey and not Lil John or Meatloaf in a recent episode.
“And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night,” Obama said, mocking Trump. “Well handled, sir. Well handled.”
The jokes started a narrative that Trump had launched his presidential campaign because of the jokes at his expense, though The Washington Post’s Roxanne Roberts, who sat next to Trump at the 2011 dinner, has largely shot down that theory.
As president, Trump has stayed away from the dinner, which nonetheless provoked a huge controversy last year after comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a searing set that mocked the press, congressional Republicans and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who attended in Trump’s place.
The fallout led to changes at the dinner itself, which will feature biographer Ron Chernow as the keynote speaker in lieu of a comedic act.
The White House was unmoved by the shift in tone, as Trump directed other administration officials not to attend.
Trump will still loom large over Saturday evening’s proceedings. His consistent attacks on the media have raised concerns among First Amendment and press freedom watchdogs, and his rally could lead to split screen coverage of the festivities in D.C.
The president’s campaign rallies are typically rife with jabs at the media. Trump often references “fake news,” whipping his supporters into a frenzy while pointing at reporters in the back of the venue.
The press has served as a useful political foil for Trump, who has rallied his base by portraying himself as an outsider unwelcome by the Washington establishment, and a victim of unfair coverage and punditry.