The glory days are over for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the annual black-tie bash where journalists congratulate themselves for doing their jobs while indulging in an open bar and rubbing shoulders with the rich, the famous, and the politicians they’re supposed to hold to account.
The event was—how shall I put this—muted last year under the specter of an authoritarian-inclined president who treats the White House press corps like children. Donald Trump didn’t attend the 2017 affair, no doubt saving everyone in the room from some awkwardly on-the-nose jokes about stifling the First Amendment. The journalists-cum-socialites at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker even canceled their respective pre- and postgame parties, a sure sign that times they-are-a-changin’.
And yet, despite Trump’s snub and everything that’s happened since—near-constant lies, “fake news” insults, daily animosity toward the press—the White House Correspondents’ Association offered Trump an olive branch. He was invited again. Still, despite this gesture of goodwill, Trump said on a New York radio show on Friday that he “probably” wouldn’t go to the late-April shindig.
“I sort of feel that the press is so bad,” Trump said. “It’s so fake, it’s so made up. I mean, ‘sources say’ and they have no sources. They’re like novelists. I call them novelists.”
Charming. He seems like just the type of guest you’d want at a gala paying homage to press freedom. White House Correspondents’ Association President and Bloomberg reporter Margaret Talev added in a statement soon afterward that “the White House has informed us that the president does not plan to participate in this year’s dinner but that he will actively encourage members of the executive branch to attend and join us as we celebrate the First Amendment.”
“In keeping with tradition,” Talev added, “Press Secretary Sarah Sanders will also represent the administration at the head table.”
Now that’s what we call a consolation prize. The one person in the administration potentially as humorless as Trump—and whose condescension toward the press makes national news almost as consistently—will be a guest of honor.
Imagine, gentle reader, sitting next to Sanders as jokes are made at her expense—and as people in the room, laughing nervously at the gravity of it all, await her reaction. I’d rather dine in hell.