White House correspondents' dinner canceled over virus concerns


Washington (AFP)

The White House Correspondents' Association announced Tuesday that due to the coronavirus pandemic it would cancel this year's annual dinner, a once lighthearted staple of the Washington social calendar that has become deeply politicized under US President Donald Trump.

"With great regret, we will have to cancel our planned dinner on Aug. 29," the WHCA said in a statement.

After consulting health authorities, "we've concluded that it is just not possible to put on the kind of dinner that promotes the best in journalism and allows our guests to comfortably and safely enjoy themselves," the statement said.

The dinner has traditionally been an opportunity for the US president to give a generally self-deprecating speech on the past year, followed by a comedian who lets rip at the media and politicians.

But Trump, who has had a mostly antagonistic relationship with journalists since his 2016 presidential campaign, has skipped each gala during his administration, saying they bore him and he prefers campaign rallies.

The annual dinner began in 1921. Every president, both Democratic and Republican, has attended since 1980, with the exception of Ronald Reagan in 1981, when he was recovering from serious injuries from an assassination attempt.

Trump did attend the gala as a guest in 2011, when he was the target of barbed jokes from then-president Barack Obama, who mocked the billionaire's pronounced preference for conspiracy theories.

For years, the real estate mogul had been pushing a theory questioning Obama's birthplace -- and thus the first black president's legitimacy to hold office.