Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj had some good jokes Saturday evening, but the most darkly comic aspect of the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner was a video tribute to the historical “tension” that’s long existed between the president and the news media.
Archival footage of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Richard Nixon discussing their at times testy relationships with journalists was meant to downplay the fraught relationship between President Trump and the press corps. The timing is what made it awkward, screening, as it did, directly after a scathing, hour-long rant in which Trump – at a rally 120 miles away, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – excoriated the “fake news media,” namechecking CNN, MSNBC and, of course, the “failing New York Times” in particular.
Trump – the first president to skip the dinner since Ronald Reagan, who stayed home in 1981 while recovering from an assassination attempt – tweeted sentiments to a similar effect earlier the same day. “Mainstream (FAKE) media refuses to state our long list of achievements, including 28 legislative signings, strong borders & great optimism!”
The president is clearly rankled by how unimpressed the media is with his first 100 days, a stretch that’s been dogged by low poll numbers, a lack of major legislative accomplishments, several high-profile court defeats and a seemingly endless drip of revelations about his campaign’s various ties to the Russian government. His biggest accomplishment to date is keeping the government open – an achievement he nearly torpedoed just by getting involved.
But while Trump was in Harrisburg patting himself on the back for a job well done, the press corps seemed to be holding itself to an equally low bar, as highlighted by White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason. “We have worked very hard to build a constructive relationship with [Trump’s] press team, and there are clear dividends from those efforts,” Mason declared ever so earnestly at Saturday’s dinner. “The press is still in the White House briefing room, and we are still on Air Force One.”
That the status quo has become a cause worth celebrating is a testament to just how abnormal the relationship between this president and the press is, no matter what the WHCA’s video tried to show.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, shortly after Mason felt the need to declare of the press corps: “We are not fake news.”