Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents Association, said Saturday at the WHCA dinner that press access under President Donald Trump has been very good, but the rhetoric presented by the president about the media is "dangerous to a healthy Republic."
"With all of the tension in the relationship, that aspect is often overlooked," Mason said of the press access. "We have had several press conferences, repeated opportunities to see and report on the president's meetings, and with at least one notable and lamentable exception, good access to briefings with press staff and senior administration officials."
He continued: "Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do. Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy. Undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy Republic."
Trump skipped out on the dinner, one of D.C.'s biggest social events of the year traditionally attended by the president. Trump instead held a rally in Pennsylvania where he took digs at the media.
"A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation's capital right now," Trump told the crowd. "They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents' dinner -- without the president. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington's swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people."
Mason said it is journalists' job to "hold leaders accountable. That is who we are. We are not fake news."
"We are not failing news organizations. And we are not the enemy of the American people. The WHCA is proud to stand up for all of our members. An attack on any of us, is an attack on all of us. At previous dinners, we have rightly talked about the threats to press freedoms abroad. Tonight we must recognize that there are threats to press freedoms here in the United States."
Added the legendary Washington Post reporter: "The effort today to get this best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith. Mr. President, the media is not fake news."
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