White House Correspondents’ Dinner: Press Integrity and Trump Hostility Front and Center

“We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency,” said WHCA president Jeff Mason

Last Updated: April 29, 2017 @ 7:59 PM

The annual White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner kicked things off Saturday night with a soaring tribute to the value and integrity of the American press in the era of President Donald Trump.

Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, stood in front of a banner that read “Celebrating the First Amendment” as he delivered his opening remarks and, right off the bat, he nodded to the elephant in the room — Donald Trump’s decision not to appear at this year’s event. “We are here to celebrate good journalism,” said Mason. “We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency.”

Mason spoke of the scrutiny press is under of later, saying, “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. We must remain vigilant. The world is watching.”

But he also took pains to emphasize that the press is not hostile to President Trump. “We have worked very hard to build a constructive relationship with his press team, and there are clear dividends from those efforts… In fact, press access under President Trump has been very good,” said Mason.

Read the full opening remarks below.

The tradition of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a long one. Journalists, presidents, cabinet members, lawmakers and [unintelligible] diplomats have shown up for decades, and even though we have vastly different roles, government officials and reporters can come together for one night. Tonight looks a little different, but the values that underpin this dinner have not changed. In fact, I think they’ve been reinforced. We are here to celebrate good journalism; we are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency. And I am happy to report for anyone who’s interested, that this dinner is sold out.

But what we celebrate tonight is bigger than a dinner. This may get a lot of attention every year, but the work journalists do every day is what is important. And as people in this room know, but perhaps some of the American public do not, the White House Correspondents’ Association works every day to stand up for freedom, for press freedom, and advocate for journalists ability do their jobs. We do that with every White House regardless of who’s president and regardless of whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican.

President Trump’s White House is no different. We have worked very hard to build a constructive relationship with his press team, and there are clear dividends from those efforts. The press is still in the White House briefing room, and we are still on Air Force One.

In fact, press access under President Trump has been very good. With all of the tension in the relationship, that aspect is often overlooked. 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. 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.

It is our job to report on facts and 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. We must remain vigilant. The world is watching. Thankfully, we are not alone. The out pouring of support for the WHCA has been heart-warming. I’m having journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein here tonight as an outstanding symbol of that support. Thank you, Bob, Carl, Elsa and Christine for joining us. Just as Woodward and Bernstein inspired hundreds of journalists, we hope the the work the White House press core is doing will inspire the next. As the video so beautifully showed, scholarships matter and having spent some time already with this year’s group of scholars, I can tell you the future of our profession is in good hands.

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