The annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) is typically one of Washington’s hottest events. It’s known as a night where journalists rub shoulders with Hollywood celebrities, athletes and White House administrators. But this year is entirely different.
Breaking with tradition, President Donald Trump will be skipping the soiree, making him the first president to do so in 36 years. His White House staff is also ditching the dinner out of solidarity with the president. This was supposed to be President Trump’s first WHCD, but he’s opted to hold a rally in Pennsylvania the same night.
The WHCD is supposed to be a lighthearted evening for the president and the press, but Trump has been at war with the press since the first days of his campaign, a situation that reached a breaking point when he referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people.”
The dinner, hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), the organization that represents the White House press corps, is billed as a celebration of freedom of the press and the First Amendment.
In the past, the dinner - nicknamed “nerd prom” - was criticized for moving attention away from journalism and becoming instead a star-studded event. But this year, journalism is back in the spotlight.
Here is everything you need -- and wanted to know -- about Saturday's event.
The first dinner was held in 1921 at the Arlington Hotel according to the WHCA, and there were 50 men in attendance. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge became the first presidential attendee. Since then, every president has attended the dinner at least once during his term in office.
The dinner barred guests of color until the 1950s, and women were not allowed to attend until 1962, according to the WHCA. Helen Thomas, the first female White House reporter, threatened to start a boycott against the dinner until the rules changed. Pressure tactics against President John F. Kennedy worked; Kennedy agreed and WHCA capitulated.
In its nearly 100-year history, the dinner has only been cancelled three times, according to a History Channel report: in 1930 following the death of former President William Howard Taft; in 1942 after the country entered World War II; and in 1951 because of the Korean War.
In the 1980s, the dinner saw the beginning of its transformation from a night of Washington insiders to a full-blown celebrity affair. It was customary for media outlets to give tickets to industry elites and Hollywood stars alike. But this year fewer stars will be turning up and several after-parties have been canceled which had previously attracted A-list celebrities to attend.
Perhaps the most well-known of the dinner’s traditions is the comedy routine. The president delivers the initial, joke-filled speech, followed by the keynote roast by a famous comedian. Recent headliners have included Cecily Strong, Jimmy Kimmel and Jay Leno.
However, it wasn’t until comedian Mark Russell headlined in 1983 that comedy became the cornerstone of the evening. In its first half century, the evening's entertainment was musical performances, movies and variety shows. Stars like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Irving Berlin have all graced the stage.
The dinner also serves to honor young and veteran journalists alike with scholarships and awards. The proceeds from the lofty ticket prices for the event go toward funding these accolades.
Other times the president didn’t attend the WHCD
President Trump is not the first president to skip the WHCD.
Although every president since President Coolidge has attended the WHCD at least once during his presidential term, there are other instances of presidents ditching the dinner - sometimes because of strained relations with the press.
President Richard Nixon skipped two correspondents’ dinner in 1974 and 1972 out of his six years in office. President Jimmy Carter also declined attending two out of the four dinners held during his presidency.
Still recovering from a bullet wound he suffered during an assassination attempt, President Ronald Reagan missed the dinner in 1981. But he still phoned in from Camp David, with a good sense of humor.
“I'm sorry that I can't be there in person,” Reagan said.
Reagan joked, “If I could give you just one little bit of advice, when somebody tells you to get in a car quick, do it.”
The 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Comedian Hasan Minhaj, a “senior correspondent” for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” will headline the WHCD.
“Hasan’s smarts, big heart and passion for press freedom make him the perfect fit for our event, which will be focused on the First Amendment and the importance of a robust and independent media," WHCA president and White House correspondent for Reuters Jeff Mason said in a statement.
Acclaimed journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are also slated to speak and present awards.