Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2016 Republican nomination for president, has made distrust for the media (and sometimes outright hatred of the media) a cornerstone of his primary campaign. Trump is continuing this strategy, which has proved to be very popular among his supporters, by announcing this past Wednesday that he will be boycotting the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner on April 30 in Washington, D.C. The dinner is usually held on the final Saturday in April.
The White House Correspondents’ Association is a non-profit association of journalists who cover the White House, the president, and the First Family. They began hosting an annual dinner in Washington, D.C. in 1920 that functions as a charity gala to raise money for journalism scholarships for gifted students, with the students lining up on the stage at the dinner to receive their awards from the First Lady. While the history of the dinner includes film showings and musical performances, the most recent incarnation of the event involves a humorous monologue from the president and finishes with a roast-style monologue from a high-profile comedian or comedy writer.
Donald Trump attended the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last spring, but his most memorable moment attending this event was in April 2011, when then-Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers delivered a blistering roast of Trump’s antics during the 2011-2012 primary season while looking him right in the eye, after President Barack Obama had already teased him mercilessly.
Donald Trump was at the time claiming to be considering a run for president in 2012, and was routinely sowing doubt about the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate in phoners to cable news shows like Fox & Friends and on his social media accounts, primarily Twitter. This was designed to encourage the so-called “birther movement,” a bizarre crusade that developed largely on the internet and questioned the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate and backstory, which details his birth in Honolulu, Hawaii in August 1961. The birther movement is widely considered to be inherently racist, as much of it assumes that the president was born in Kenya — his father’s birthplace — and insinuates that the first black president is a foreign usurper of some kind. A related suspicion is that Barack Obama, Sr. isn’t the president’s biological father.
Donald Trump’s encouragement and courting of the birther movement was seen as an attempt to carve out a niche of support within the conservative base in order to solidify his plans to run for president, which he didn’t wind up doing until the current election cycle; he announced his run for the 2016 Republican nomination in June 2015. There is no legitimate evidence that President Obama wasn’t born exactly where he and his family say he was, and Democrats and progressives take serious offense to the birther movement, as do moderates and centrists of all stripes.
President Obama and Seth Meyers centered their roasting of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner around his support of the long-debunked idea that President Obama is lying about his birthplace and/or parentage. The president had released his long-form birth certificate several days beforehand, despite the fact that this is something the state of Hawaii doesn’t normally do, and they had to make an exception. The short-form birth certificate is the official document that is released by the state of Hawaii when such documentation is requested.
Donald Trump’s legendary roasting at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, during which he sat stone-faced in the center of the ballroom, has caused many pundits to suggest that his boycott of the 2016 dinner is due to the fact that he fears a repeat performance based on his antics during the current election cycle, and that he was deeply embarrassed by the one-two punch of President Obama’s and Seth Meyers’s roasting of him five years ago. He did attend the aforementioned 2015 dinner, but that dinner took place before he announced his 2016 bid, and he wasn’t a trending topic at the time, so he had no reason to expect to be roasted.
Donald Trump, for his part, claims that he has had a flurry of invitations from “every single group of media available to mankind.” Members of the White House Correspondents’ Association are entitled to bring guests, who are usually politicians, fellow members of the media, or celebrities, making it a star-studded bash. He says that he is refusing to attend because the media is “dishonest.” He claims that he had a great time at the dinner in 2011 and the press reported that he had “a miserable time,” but it’s worth noting that he barely cracked a smile during either President Obama’s or Seth Meyers’s performances.
Is Donald Trump being truthful about his reasons for skipping the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, or is he afraid of getting roasted again by President Obama and this year’s featured comedian, The Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore?
[Image courtesy of Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images]