Celebrating the first 100 days of his administration, United States President Donald Trump on Sunday attacked the media for misleading the people with ‘fake news’ as he skipped the ‘very boring’ annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner to become the first president in over 30 years to skip the gala.
"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 with a much, much larger crowd and much, much better people. The media deserves a very big, fat, failing grade," Trump said sarcastically over the media’s coverage of his achievements during his first 100 days in office.
He said a large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in the nation’s capital right now, referring to the annual black-tie dinner at a luxurious hotel which was sold out to more than 2,600 guests, comprising who’s who of nation’s political players, and top journalists along with celebrities and diplomats.
"They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner without the President," 70-year-old Trump told his cheering supporters at a campaign-style rally at Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, a state which played a critical role in his electoral victory last November.
He told supporters that he was keeping ‘one promise after another’, dismissing criticism as ‘fake news’ by ‘out of touch’ journalists.
This is for the first time in decades that a serving US president decided against attending the annual event of journalists who cover him round-the-clock.
None of the White House staff were present on the occasion in support of the President’s decision.
The last president to miss the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was Ronald Reagan back in 1981, and that was because he was recovering from an assassination attempt.
In his address, Trump said his rally to celebrate the completion of his first 100 days in office drew a much larger crowd and better people too.
"They would love to be with us right here tonight. They’re trapped at the dinner, which will be very, very boring,” Trump said, but indicated that he would be present at the Correspondents’ Dinner next year.
Next year’s dinner might be ‘more exciting’, he said, adding, “But we have a good chance showing up here again next year.”
The last time Trump attended the dinner was in 2011, when he was a New York real estate mogul and reality-TV star who had just jumped into politics by getting involved in the ‘birther’ movement, calling for President Barack Obama to release his birth certificate.
Trump ended up being the butt of the jokes that night from comedian Seth Meyers and Obama himself.
In his speech, Trump slammed newspapers like New York Times and The Washington Post.
Tension between the President and news organisations has been a hallmark of his early administration.
Several media organisations withdrew from the dinner in protest of Trump’s treatment of the media before Trump decided he would not attend.
Vanity Fair and Bloomberg, which usually co-host an exclusive, star-studded after-party, have cancelled that gala.
More than 100 miles away from Harrisburg, journalists led by White House Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason slammed the US President for attacking the media.
"We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the President about who we are and what we do,” Mason said.
"Freedom of the press is a building block of our democracy. Undermining that by seeking to de-legitimise journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic,” he said to a standing ovation.
Mason’s speech was quickly followed by Indian-American stand-up comedian Hasan Minhaj.
"The leader of our country is not here, and that’s because he lives in Moscow,” Minhaj said amidst laughter from the audience.
"It's a very long flight, it’s a Saturday. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke,” said the Indian-American, whose parents are from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh.
We're not 'fake news', says WHCA president
Under Donald Trump, access to the press in the White House has been ‘very good’, the head of the White House Correspondents Association said, but asserted that the media is not ‘fake news’, a term frequently used by the US president to slam the media.
Acknowledging that there were apprehensions on the fate of the media under a Trump administration, WHCA president Jeff Mason said reporters are still on Air Force One and they are still inside the White House.
"We have worked very hard to build a constructive relationship with his [President Trump’s] press team. 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," he said.
Citing several press conferences and pooled events at the White House daily, Mason said, ‘press access under President Trump has been very good’.
"It is our job to report on facts and to hold leaders accountable. That is who we are. We are not ‘fake news’,” said Mason, who represents Reuters at the White House.
"We are not failing news organisations. And we are not the enemy of the American people," he said as he received standing ovation from a 2,600-strong audience.
IMAGE: US President Donald Trump appears on stage at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Saturday. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters