Last week I declared that I didn’t want to write about the media and President Donald Trump anymore because 1) those of us in newsbiz spend far too much time publicly focusing on ourselves when there are so many other important issues to dissect and 2) we/I can’t possibly appear to be fair when we discuss matters so close to our hearts — and wallets.
So, what will I write about? The media and President Trump. What else? All of which proves that I am as reliable as a Donald Trump tweet. Not only that but — brace yourselves — I wholeheartedly agree with a decision he’s made. He announced on Twitter: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”
First of all, that may be one of the most gracious Trump tweets ever. Unless he’s being sarcastic. Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine a more obvious choice than the one he made. To attack news organizations as aggressively and as relentlessly as he has, it would have been ludicrous for him to show up at the big country-come-to-town dinner where journalists celebrate themselves. It has become a huge dress-up parody — the Nerd Prom, so-called because it is put on as a show of glamour by a group of nature’s most unglamorous creatures. In fact, to achieve any glamour at all, the scruffy media types import a flock of Hollywood stars, jocks and other celebrities. Worst of all, the working reporters invite the various officials they cover, making nice with those they’re supposed to be making nasty with.
It’s awkward and pompous and an embarrassment. The White House Correspondents’ Association always contends that it is put on to celebrate the First Amendment — freedom of the press and all that jazz — but, as I said, it’s a celebration of themselves. I should confess here that I went to these dinners and the surrounding parties that took up entire weekends, but no more. It’s silly and phony, even in a community where the operating premise is phoniness.
More than a few major media companies are pulling out or cutting back. Comedian Samantha Bee is holding an alternative event. Don’t expect President Trump to show up at that one, either.
He and his administration accessories are too busy dreaming up ways to thwart those who cover him from covering him. Or at least covering him independently and effectively. Anytime anyone does a story that displeases him (which is just about every story but the most sycophantic), he goes on a rampage about “fake news” or “dishonest reporters” trying to distract from the merits of the story. It’s his time-tested way of deflecting scandal and accountability.
His other shtick is to go on tirades about leaks and anonymous sources, although he has always been a serial leaker when it comes to promoting himself. Furthermore, these days, his people go “on background” constantly. “Background” is shorthand for “providing information to reporters without being identified by name.” From my perspective, it was always a deal with the devil I was willing to make to get information. But perhaps POTUS is correct. Maybe we should all decide not to discuss anything unless it’s on the record and there’s a name attached to the quotes or facts that are provided. That would be more honest. It also would stifle coverage of anything but government announcements or other forms of propaganda that officeholders and other politicians would have you believe. So let’s forget about purity. Trump always has. Now it’s expedient to relentlessly brutalize the media. And he does.
So it’s easy to see why he won’t show up at the self-important Correspondents’ dinner. It’s dopey. Besides, he’d be Donald in the lion’s den — or, as wimpy as we have been during his assaults, the kitten’s den.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.