Donald Trump on Saturday capped a week of tumultuous relations with the press by saying he will not attend this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner, which is scheduled for 29 April.
“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”
The news came as relations between the Trump administration and the news media, which he has called “the enemy of the American people”, have sunk to new lows. On Friday, leading outlets including the New York Times, CNN and the Guardian were excluded from a briefing by press secretary Sean Spicer while friendlier conservative organisations were admitted.
Editors of excluded organisations expressed anger, although White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) president Jeff Mason, of Reuters, attempted to calm troubled waters.
In a statement on Saturday, Mason said the WHCA “looks forward to having its annual dinner” and added: “The WHCA takes note of President Donald Trump’s announcement on Twitter that he does not plan to attend the dinner, which 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.
“We look forward to shining a spotlight at the dinner on some of the best political journalism of the past year and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession.”
Trump has recently reacted angrily to a series of reports citing anonymous sources in the White House, law enforcement and intelligence agencies about chaos in his administration, alleged contacts between campaign staff and Russian agents, and White House attempts to rebut such reports.
The difficult relationship between Trump – whose senior adviser Steve Bannon, formerly chief of the rightwing website Breitbart News, has repeatedly called the press “the opposition party” – and the media has already contributed to a number of withdrawals from the correspondents’ dinner and related events.
This week Bloomberg followed Vanity Fair and the New Yorker in saying it would not host a party tied to the dinner. The New York Times has not attended the event since 2008; the Guardian will not attend this year. This week, Buzzfeed reported that another favourite target of Trump’s, CNN, was considering pulling out as well.
Trump followed a familiar path on Friday night, when he wrote on Twitter: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!”
Many observers have linked Trump’s run for the presidency with events at the 2011 correspondents’ dinner, in which Barack Obama ridiculed the businessman, who was in attendance, over his championing of the so-called “birther” movement.
The dinner is a traditionally lighthearted affair, celebrities mixing with journalists at tables and comedians “roasting” the president of the day, as Stephen Colbert did to George W Bush in an infamous speech from 2006. The president traditionally speaks as well.
The first dinner was held in 1921 and Calvin Coolidge was the first president to attend, in 1924. Since then every president has attended the dinner at least once.
Ronald Reagan did not attend in 1981 – after being shot – and Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon did not always sit down for dinner. Obama attended all eight events while he was in office.
According to the History Channel the dinner has been cancelled three times: following the death of former president William Howard Taft, in 1930, after the US entry into the second world war in 1942, and in 1951, during the Korean war.
In January, Trump skipped the Alfalfa Club dinner, another key event in the social calendar of a city in which the president is happy to pose as an outsider.
Rob Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told the Guardian on Saturday Trump should “act as a champion of press freedom” around the world, rather than attacking the media in a way that could “send a signal to other countries that it is OK to verbally abuse journalists and undermine their credibility”.
In a statement, Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning said the exclusion of news outlets from Friday’s briefing was “deeply troubling and divisive” and added: “Holding power to account is an essential part of the democratic process, and that’s exactly what the Guardian will continue to do.”