White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason fired back against President Donald Trump’s anti-media rhetoric during his introductory speech at the association’s annual dinner Saturday.
“We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do,” Mason, the White House correspondent for Reuters, said. “Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy. Undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic.”
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Trump became the first president in decades to skip the event, upstaging it with a rally of his own in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that he used to bash the media and lay out what he viewed as his accomplishments during his first 100 days.
During his speech, Trump criticized the media as “a disaster” and said the dinner would be “very, very boring” and harshly criticized CNN, MSNBC and The New York Times as the audience booed loudly.
Although he said press access to the Trump administration has been”very good,’ Mason used Trump’s own words to fight back against some of the president’s more aggressive anti-press statements.
“We are not fake news, we are not failing news organizations and we are not the enemy of the American people,” Mason said to a standing ovation.
Watergate icons Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein also addressed the attendees, raising similar concerns as Mason.
“Mr. President, the media is not fake news,” Woodward said.
The dinner, hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association, typically features recognition of journalism scholarship and award-winners as well as a comedian host and a speech from the president.
Trump is the first president to miss the event since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was recovering from gunshot wounds from an assassination attempt. Jimmy Carter skipped the dinner twice during his four-year term and Richard Nixon passed on the event three times out of his six opportunities to attend as president.
The event also lacked another past staple: celebrities. The 2016 dinner, Barack Obama’s last, featured actors Will Smith, Connie Britton, Kerry Washington, Emma Watson, Rachel McAdams, quarterback Tony Romo and model Kendall Jenner, among others. Trump himself attended the 2011 dinner, where he was roasted by Obama and host Seth Meyers.
This year, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, civil rights leader Al Sharpton and Stranger Things actor Matthew Modine were among the more famous faces in attendance.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj, a senior correspondent on the “Daily Show with Trevor Noah”, is set to headline the event.
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