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The White House Correspondents’ Dinner: who’s hosting, how to watch, and what to expect

The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner
The CNN table at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2011
Photo by Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is skipping nerd prom.

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, DC, dubbed “nerd prom,” is on Saturday, April 29, at 9:30 pm at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

In Washington, the event is the media’s annual brush with glamour and celebrity. It has become the political extension of Hollywood, with preparties and afterparties and tables filled with the country’s most powerful politicians and popular film and TV stars. Presidents often enlist top-notch comedians to polish their jokes.

The purpose of the event is to celebrate First Amendment rights and award scholarships to up-and-coming reporters, but every year people tune in to watch a special guest roast the president to his face, and the president roast the press in turn. The idea behind it is to offer a brief respite from tense polarization and reporter-versus-White House dynamics to sit together in a room and enjoy a few laughs.

But it’s going to be different this year; the famously thin-skinned Trump is not attending. Instead, in familiar Trump practice, he will be counterprogramming the event with a campaign rally in Pennsylvania during the dinner. White House staff will also be skipping the event in “solidarity” with the president, WHCA said in a statement.

However, The Daily Show’s senior correspondent Hasan Minhaj, a comic who has been a passionate Trump critic, will still be taking the stage as the evening’s host. There will undoubtedly be some pointed jabs at the Trump administration, which will have wrapped a very chaotic first 100 days in office by the event.

Minhaj, himself a child of Muslim-Indian immigrants, has been on the front lines of Trump satire, naming the president “white ISIS” and calling out his past racist dog whistles. The message of the night, according to White House Correspondents’ Association leadership, however, will be more focused on the importance of a free press.

When, where, and how to watch

When: April 29, 9:30 pm Eastern

Where: Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington, DC

How to watch: The event will be live-streamed on C-SPAN and will also likely be picked up by major news outlets

Trump has a history with the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Trump will be the first president in 36 years to skip the WHCA dinner.

But he has attended in the past. On numerous occasions he has been the subject of roasts at the event, including one by President Obama in 2011, in light of Trump’s “investigation” into Obama’s birthplace.

In the roast, which became a viral hit, Obama joked that he would “go a step further” than releasing his birth certificate and show his birth video — a clip from The Lion King, which he played during the dinner. Obama continued to mockingly compare Trump’s responsibilities — hosting Celebrity Apprentice — with his own.

“No one is prouder to put this birth certificate thing to rest than the Donald,” Obama said. “That’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing, what really happened in Roswell, and where are Biggie and Tupac?”

Trump, who is known for having a difficult time making light of himself, sat unamused in the audience.

This prickly nature resurfaced more recently when he attended the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner last October with Hillary Clinton in what was meant to be a lighthearted evening of self-deprecating jokes about campaigning. But the jokes, in the lead-up to the election, were more cringeworthy than comedic.

Needless to say, being in the room with a host like Minhaj probably wouldn’t play very well with the president.

This is a celebration of political journalism at a particularly unusual time for the field

The White House has been upfront about Trump’s avoidance of the event: He doesn’t have a great relationship with the press.

"This wasn't a president that was elected to spend his time with reporters and celebrities," White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC's This Week. "I think it's kind of naive of us to think that we can all walk into a room for a couple of hours and pretend that some of that tension isn't there.”

To review Trump’s war with the press, since taking office the president and his advisers have used their position in the White House to turn the media into, in strategist Steve Bannon’s words, the “opposition party.”

Trump’s presidential campaign was known for banning media outlets from rallies and campaign events. During the transition and since Trump’s inauguration, members of the White House press pool have been left out of events, misled to incorrect locations, and barred from press gaggles. Trump has called the “FAKE NEWS media” the “enemy of the people,” including the Times, CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC News.

He has gone on countless tirades against media outlets on Twitter, at campaign rallies, in front of the CIA, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the list goes on.

“Many of these groups are part of large media corporations that have their own agenda,” Trump said at CPAC. “And it's not your agenda and it's not the country's agenda, it's their own agenda. They have a professional obligation as members of the press to report honestly, but as you saw throughout the entire campaign and even now, the fake news doesn't tell the truth.”

It has gotten to the point where the WHCA board has had to publicly respond to incidents and discuss process with the president’s press team.

At the same time, journalists have had an incredibly difficult time covering the Trump administration, often falling for his attention-getting stunts and amplifying his misleading claims. It’s a safe bet to assume the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will address this tension.