By: Tomas Penfold Perez
Something unusual is about to take place at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) that hasn’t happened in 36 years: the President isn’t coming. SAD! President Donald Trump decided to skip town because, well to put it mildly, he doesn’t like the media. Instead, President Trump is slated to “hold a BIG rally in Pennsylvania” on Saturday, April 29, the 100th day of his presidency.
The history of the annual event dates back prior to the inception of the first dinner; in fact, the pioneers who advocated for meetings and press conferences with the President date back to the 1890s, where several journalists stood outside the gates of President Benjamin Harrison’s White House to question him and his visitors as they left the ground. Despite having their request denied by President Harrison and his successors, journalists in Washington and those around the country stood firm in their belief in arguing that there should be a relationship between the White House and the press, a relationship far more intimate than gathering murmurs from White House staff around the capital.
The White House Correspondents’ Association was founded in 1913 as a response. President Woodrow Wilson, who often ended his press conferences abruptly early, announced in 1913 that he would attend regularly scheduled press conferences initiated by the newly formed association.
It was not until its inception in 1921 that the tradition of celebrating journalism came into fruition as 50 members of the White House Correspondents’ Association garnered enough support and enthusiasm to commence a dinner that would evolve into a longstanding tradition in American politics. The annual dinner has seen generations of presidents flock to the podium to deliver what has been traditionally inferred to as a comedy-routine speech where the incumbent makes fun of journalists, his political opponents and most importantly, himself.
Here are some memorable moments and fun (not-alternative) facts about the “Nerd Prom”:
- In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge became the first president ever to attend one of these dinners.
- The last president to not attend the dinner was Ronald Reagan in 1981 as he was recovering from being shot in an assassination attempt.
- The last president to outright skip the event was Jimmy Carter, who did so twice — in 1980 and 1978. Richard Nixon also skipped it twice — in 1974 and 1972.
- The dinner has been canceled only a handful of times. The first one occurred in 1930, when former president and recently retired Chief Justice William Howard Taft died on the morning of the WHCA dinner. The dinner was canceled again in 1942 after America’s entry into World War II. The last time the event was canceled was in 1951—at the request of President Harry Truman—due to the “uncertainty of world events” during the Korean War.
- Although today the dinner is hosted by comedians and known as a moment to roast the president, it originated with straight-up entertainers as the attraction. In 1983, comedian Mark Russell hosted the evening, and after that, a comedy routine by the president and the host became the soiree's most recognized tradition.
- This year’s host is comedian Hasan Minhaj. Here are 11 things you should know about the senior political correspondent on The Daily Show.
- Richard Nixon personally requested a Disneyland band one year.
- People of color were banned from the dinner until the 1950s, and women until 1962. Women were allowed to join the soiree because Helen Thomas (see main picture), the first female White House reporter, said she would start a boycott unless the rules were changed.
- First Lady Laura Bush interrupted President George Bush’s speech, calling the President an “easy and early sleeper” who couldn’t be bothered to stay up late enough to “end tyranny.”
- A literal mic drop. Thanks Obama!