Prom season is upon us, and the nerdiest one of all is happening soon. But instead of high school kids dancing awkwardly to the sound of slow, romantic jams, a bunch of grown journalists will make jokes and talk about the importance of the First Amendment in one fancy evening.
We're talking, of course, about the White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD), taking place April 29 at the Washington Hilton. This glitzy event is one of the biggest annual parties in Washington, D.C. (It's also the geekiest, hence the nickname "nerd prom.") The lines between the media, the federal government, and Hollywood always get a little blurry on this night. But, due to the current circumstances, this year's soiree is bound to be a bit different.
Ahead, we break down everything you've ever wanted to know about the WHCD.
How did the dinner get started?
According to the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA), the first dinner was held on May 7, 1921 at the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C. About 50 men were in attendance, but President Warren G. Harding didn't go.
The event was basically a celebration of Warding's renewal of regular White House press briefings, which were previously abandoned by President Woodrow Wilson, sending the White House Correspondents' Association into hiatus. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge became the first sitting president to attend the dinner.
People of color were banned from the dinner until the 1950s, and women until 1962. Women were allowed to join the soiree because Helen Thomas, the first female White House reporter, said she would start a boycott unless the rules were changed. Eventually, President John F. Kennedy agreed, and the WHCA let women participate.
What's the deal with the celeb guest list?
There were always celebrities involved with the dinner. For a long time, the event included musical acts, variety shows, and even movies. Some entertainers who once graced the WHCD's stage include Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Irving Berlin.
In 1983, comedian Mark Russell hosted the evening, and after that, a comedy routine by the president and the host became the soiree's most recognized tradition. It also inevitably led to media organizations inviting celebrities as guests, which seemed fitting because President Ronald Reagan (a former movie star) was in office. Since then, the event has resembled a Hollywood awards show more than a dinner for political journalists.
Some celebs who have attended in recent years include Chrissy Teigen, Emma Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Laverne Cox, and the casts of House of Cards, Scandal, and Veep. Even President Trump attended as a guest in 2011, when he was famously roasted by both President Obama and Seth Meyers, who was hosting that year.
Will President Trump attend this year?
Why is he not going?
After the president's tweet, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that the clashes between the administration and the media are the reason why Trump won't attend.
"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," she told ABC News. "You know, one of the things we say in the South, 'If a Girl Scout egged your house, would you buy cookies from her?' I think that this is a pretty similar scenario. There's no reason for him to go in and sit and pretend like this is going to be just another Saturday night."
Has any other president skipped the dinner?
Yes. The last president to not attend was President Reagan in 1981. That makes Trump the first sitting president in 36 years to skip the event.
However, Reagan had a pretty good excuse for his absence: He was recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered during an assassination attempt. He still called in and made some jokes, even referencing the attempt.
"If I could give you just one little bit of advice," he said, "when somebody tells you to get in a car quick, do it."
Before Reagan, two other presidents skipped the dinner: Richard Nixon in 1972 and 1974, and Jimmy Carter in 1978 and 1980.
Is the dinner still going to happen?
Yes. The absence of President Trump won't deter the event. White House Correspondents' Association President Jeff Mason, who is a correspondent for Reuters, issued a statement after Trump's announcement.
"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," he said. "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."
Who will host this year?
"I was not looking for somebody who is going to roast the president in absentia; that’s not fair and that’s not the message we want to get across," Mason, the WHCA president, said during an appearance at MSNBC's Morning Joe last week. "I was looking for somebody who is funny and who is entertaining, because I want the dinner to be entertaining, but who can also speak to the message that the whole dinner is going to speak to: the importance of the free press."
Past hosts include comedians such as Larry Wilmore, Cecily Strong, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Wanda Sykes, and Jimmy Kimmel.
Who else will be there?
Well, legendary reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will present the evening's journalism awards and give brief remarks. You know, the journalists who broke the Watergate scandal and brought down President Richard Nixon, changing the landscape of investigative journalism forever? Yeah, that pair.
And even though many celebs are unlikely to make an appearance this year (presumably because they want to stay away from Trump's Washington) and some notorious parties have been cancelled, a different group of rockstars will be there. The high school journalism students from Kansas who made headlines earlier this month when their investigation into the new school principal found that she faked her credentials and led to her resignation will attend. Pretty badass, right?
If there's one thing we're certain of, it's that this year's dinner will be unlike anything else. So, prepare to get your nerd on next Saturday. It's definitely going to be an evening to remember.