The world may little note nor long remember whether Donald Trump shows up at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
But it’s a very big deal in the Beltway media community.
It’s a bit of an olive branch, in my view, for the president to be attending this year’s Gridiron Dinner. But it takes place outside of public view. There are no cameras, no pictures, and journalists put on skits that take mild jabs rather than hiring a professional comedian who is certain to skewer the president.
There was plenty of chatter after the Daily Mail reported that Trump will also be attending the annual Washington Hilton gala put on by the White House Correspondents Association. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders says no decision has been made.
He’s gotten a bit more used to the barrage of negative coverage he draws as president. Trump was really stunned and angry about it in his first few months, and he did more than just blow off the dinner. By counterprogramming–denouncing the media in a Pennsylvania speech on the night of the Correspondents Dinner–he was giving journalists a finger in the eye by preempting their big night. He saw no reason he should hobnob with people who he viewed as hostile and be ridiculed by a comedian.
Trump ripped the media as a “disgrace” and declared: “The Washington media is part of the problem Their priorities are not my priorities and they’re not your priorities.” He also lambasted his least favorite cable channels, telling the crowd that “CNN and MSNBC are fake news.”
Meanwhile, organizations like Vanity Fair and the New Yorker canceled their prom weekend parties, and few celebrities attended the dinner. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein spoke in defense of the press, with Woodward, while acknowledging mistakes in the news business, announcing: “Mr. President, the media is not fake news.”
Trump’s opinion of the mainstream media isn’t much higher than it was then, but he allows more access than he did in those days, not through formal news conferences but by constantly stopping to answer questions.
For all of Trump’s animosity toward the press, there’s a deeper level on which he wants to win them over. He holds off-the-record meetings with anchors like Chuck Todd. He keeps giving interviews to the “failing” New York Times. And he knows there would be drama surrounding his appearance this year after he pointedly blew off the dinner last year.
And that would translate into big ratings. Huge.
I suspect that Trump wants to beat the media on their own turf. He could sit up on that dais, skewer the press in his speech, and grin or grimace through the comedian’s jokes.
Remember, this is a man who sat at the 2011 dinner and had to take it while Barack Obama ridiculed him over the birther conspiracy.
I suspect that Trump wants to return as president and create a very different reality show.