At the eye of the storm: Reuters' White House correspondent
Saturday 25 February 2017
Reuters' White House correspondent Jeff Mason (photo with former President Barack Obama) is at the centre of a maelstrom over the Trump administration’s treatment of the press.
It’s happening as movers and shakers of the American media, politics, business and entertainment worlds prepare for a highlight of the Washington social calendar - the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) annual dinner.
This year’s black tie event at the Washington Hilton is booked for Saturday 29 April. Doubts whether it should go ahead have been cast because of President Trump’s war of words with the media.
Mason is caught up in the controversy because he is the association’s president and host of the bash - when politicians, business leaders and entertainment celebrities are invited to grace the tables of US media outlets.
It’s known as the “nerd prom” and it’s the hottest ticket in town. By tradition, the highlight of the evening is when the president gets roasted.
But with Trump’s running battle against the press, which he terms “the opposition party” and “enemy of the people”, there have been calls either to cancel the dinner or to go ahead without him or anyone from his administration. Other ideas publicly aired: invite actor Alec Baldwin and other Trump impersonators in his place.
Former Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer, responding to a tweet that said: “Maybe think about dis-inviting the White House from your annual dinner,” wrote: “Or just cancel the dinner altogether as I've been advocating for weeks.”
Glocer also tweeted: “POTUS [President of the United States] doth protest too much, but since he doth read too little he won't get the joke. Keep the focus on Russian ties.”
That was in response to another Trump broadside at the media. The president tweeted: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn't tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!”
Mason acknowledged that the WHCA had received some queries about the 2017 dinner, which will be the first since the new administration took office last month.
“This year, as we do every year, we will celebrate the First Amendment and the role an independent press plays in a healthy republic. We will also reward some of the finest political reporting of the past year while using our scholarship program to highlight and support up-and-coming journalists who are the future of our profession,” Mason wrote.
“In the meantime, the WHCA will pursue its core mission of advocating for journalists’ ability to ask questions of government officials, push for transparency from the presidency, and help Americans hold the powerful to account. This is a responsibility that we have taken seriously for more than 100 years and will continue to uphold.”
The WHCA, founded in 1914, operates independently of the White House and the White House credentialing process.
POSTSCRIPT Later on Saturday President Trump announced on Twitter: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!"
Jeff Mason said in a statement: ”The WHCA takes note of President Donald Trump's announcement on Twitter that he does not plan to attend the dinner, which has been and will continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic.
"We look forward to shining a spotlight at the dinner on some of the best political journalism of the past year and recognizing the promising students who represent the next generation of our profession.”