President Trump has canceled the White House holiday party for the media, making the decades-old tradition a victim of his increasingly contentious relationship with major news organizations.
The annual Christmas-season gathering was a significant perk for those covering the White House, as well as other Washington reporters, anchors and commentators, and New York media executives would regularly fly in for the occasion. At its peak, the invitation-only soirees grew so large that there were two back-to-back events, one for broadcast outlets and one for print organizations.
Journalists who attended the events, which featured a catered buffet of lamb chops, crab claws and elaborate desserts, got to roam the decorated mansion with a spouse or other family member, a friend or a colleague, adding to the invitation’s allure.
But the biggest fringe-benefit was the picture-taking sessions, in which the president and first lady would patiently pose with guests and briefly chat with them in front of a Christmas tree, with the White House sending out the photos – copies of which were invariably sent home to mom. This would take a couple of hours, with long lines snaking across the building’s first floor. Bill Clinton even posed for pictures with journalists days after he was impeached.
The White House made no announcement that it was dropping the press party. The president and first lady threw such a gathering last December but did not pose for pictures. Trump made a brief appearance with his wife and offered a few welcoming remarks.
Top White House officials, especially the communications staff, routinely circulated at these media parties and often talked shop. Last year, chief of staff John Kelly held forth with reporters for at least 15 minutes, making informal remarks that turned into a mini-press conference.
The decision is hardly shocking, given Trump’s constant attacks on “fake news” and the overwhelmingly negative coverage of him and his administration. In recent weeks, the White House pulled the credentials of CNN’s Jim Acosta after he refused to give up the microphone at a news conference and restored his pass only after the network filed a lawsuit.
Trump has also twice refused to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, a tony media awards dinner attended by every president since Richard Nixon.
While dropping the media party, the White House is in the midst of a full panoply of other parties this holiday season. Selected media people generally favorable to Trump, including a few Fox News hosts, have made those guest lists.
When Democrats have been in the White House, more liberal commentators have gotten invitations, while more conservative pundits have shown up during Republican administrations.
Some critics questioned whether those who cover or comment on the White House should engage in such socializing, but few turned down the invitations. Many Trump supporters who view his coverage as unfairly harsh will undoubtedly welcome the president’s decision to exclude the media establishment, at least for this year.