What was once one of the hottest events of the year in Washington, D.C. appears to be quickly turning into a must-miss affair as news outlets, celebrity guests, and even the president bow out. While the White House Correspondents' Dinners of recent years saw Hollywood stars begin to overshadow and crowd out the very reporters the dinner was meant to honor, this year's dinner may see a renewed focus on journalists as an increasing number of would be high-profile guests show little interest in attending. But as much of the buzz surrounding the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner seems to die out, many are wondering just who gets invited to the White House Correspondents' Dinner anyway?
One of the dinner's most important and controversial guests of the White House Correspondents' Dinner has always been the president. But President Donald Trump, who has had a contentious and at times downright hostile relationship with the press since he announced his presidential campaign in 2015, said in late February that he would not be attending the event. "I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year," Trump tweeted. "Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!"
Trump will be the first president to not attend the dinner since 1981, when then-President Ronald Reagan was forced to skip the event as he was still recovering from being shot in an assassination attempt. While he was unable to appear in person, Reagan did call into the event and tell a few jokes over the telephone.
Not long after Trump returned his RSVP with a firm "No," the Trump administration announced that no member of the White House staff would attend this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner in a show of "solidarity" with the president. "The staff is standing in solidarity with the president, who has been treated unfairly," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement released last month. "We hope, including the president, that things improve and we can attend next year."
According to the The New York Times, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), which hosts the dinner each year, has said they were disappointed by the Trump administration's decision to boycott the event but that invitations for Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House aides would still stand should they change their mind.
Only members of the WHCA or their respective organizations are able to purchase tickets, meaning even the most popular celebrities have to be asked if they'd like to attend as the guest of a news outlet. This year, however, many celebrities are taking a hard pass. According to US Magazine, the casts of political dramas like Scandal, Veep, and House of Cards have opted not to attend this year's event despite being regular attendees of Obama-era White House Correspondents' Dinners.
After mulling over the idea of skipping the event entirely, CNN announced it would attend but without its traditional bevy of celebrities, government officials, or political figures. Instead, the news outlet has invited journalism students to attend this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner as its guests. Similarly, the Huffington Post has reportedly invited six high school students from Kansas who broke an investigative story questioning the credentials of their incoming principal.
While the guest list of this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner may look a bit different, its purpose and focus is much the same: celebrating the First Amendment and awarding scholarships to the next generation of journalists.