A Public Relations Perspective towards Trump’s Absence at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

BY: GILLIAN ZUCKER

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Photo credit: EPA/Astrid Reckon. Investigative journalists Bob Woodward (left), and Carl Bernstein appear at the White House Correspondents’ dinner with its President, Jeff Mason of Reuters. 

Fake news. It’s a term and overarching concept that’s been circulating the public discourse, brought back to the surface by current U.S. President Donald Trump to influence public view of the credibility of our nation’s media sources.

Trump’s distrust and distaste towards our industry led him to break a presidential tradition and had the whole nation talking. On Saturday, April 29, Trump became the first President since 1981 to skip the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, fondly coined “Nerd Prom” for D.C.-area journalists and media professionals. While guests dined and listened to legendary investigative journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who cracked the Watergate case, celebrate the First Amendment and the values of the free press in speeches, President Trump held a rally in Pennsylvania celebrating his first 100 days in office.

At the rally, Trump made his feelings towards those in the media known once again to his supporters by stating, “If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, the media deserves a very big fat failing grade.” At the dinner, the media seemed to respond to Trump through the words of the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and a Reuters journalist, Jeff Mason, by saying, “We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency. And I am happy to report that this dinner is sold out.”

Of course, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and the simultaneous Trump rally received natural publicity from online earned media: The Daily Show comedian Hasan Minhaj’s segment of the dinner became a top-searched YouTube video, Trump’s words at his rally were found on every newspaper headline and social media newsfeed, and memes from the night made their way around the Internet.

In addition, around the time that Trump initially announced he wouldn’t attend the dinner, comedian Samantha Bee took the perfect opportunity to plan and execute her own “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” event. From a public relations perspective, Bee strategically positioned her event as a celebration of journalism and its objectivity. Bee and her fellow comedians, such as the legendary Will Ferrell, poked fun at Democrats and Republicans alike with hilarious skits parodying political coverage throughout the year to every little detail of the celebration, such as the “Nasty Woman” cocktail. Overall, her event was a success, even earning higher TV ratings than the actual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Through her anti-Nerd Prom party, Bee took a stand and became part of the rallying cry with the press at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that “fake news” isn’t part of the field of journalism. Instead, to move forward together as a nation, we need to celebrate the truth and finding objectivity in a world of alternative facts, seeing the media as part of the journey towards educating and making a difference in the public dialogue.

 

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By: Gillian Zucker, a spirited Blue Hen sophomore pursuing a degree in Interpersonal Communication and minoring in advertising and writing. Gillian will be serving as PRSSA-UD’S Co-Program Director in the spring of 2018 (when she is back from studying abroad in London!) and currently works with the mascots (Baby Blue and YoUDee), performs community service with her sorority, Gamma Sigma Sigma, and also interns at the University of Delaware Career Services Center working on social media and marketing projects.

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