- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2017

President Trump’s quarrelsome relationship with the press intensified over the weekend, as he declared that the biggest lesson of his first 100 days in office was discovering the depth of the news media’s dishonesty.

For the majority of the press corps, the animus was mutual and openly on exhibit at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, an annual Washington affair where the president traditionally presides as guest of honor, but which Mr. Trump boycotted this year.

“We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency. And I am happy to report that this dinner is sold out,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason, a Reuters reporter, proclaimed from the ballroom dais at the Washington Hilton.

The room was packed with journalists. Absent were the Hollywood stars and Cabinet officials that usually lend grandeur to the event.

A common theme in the speeches was the nobility of exercising the press’ First Amendment rights to hold the president accountable and how that mission had become more urgent than ever.

In an interview aired Sunday, President Trump bemoaned that, despite accomplishments ranging from job growth in the U.S. to a renewed emphasis on American leadership abroad, he is the target of daily negative news stories that misrepresent what he has done.

“One of the things that I’ve learned is how dishonest the media is, really. I’ve done things that are, I think, very good. I’ve set great foundations with foreign leaders,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Trump has had a combative relationship with the press since he announced his presidential run. During the campaign, he regularly denounced the news media as the “most dishonest people you’ll ever meet.”

He cited as dishonest the media’s recent coverage of his effort to reopen the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The president said he felt his administration’s effort to renegotiate the trade deal was misrepresented in much of the media as a retreat from campaign promises to withdraw from NAFTA.

Mr. Trump pledged last year that he would either renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw the U.S. from the 24-year-old trade deal.

The interview was taped Saturday night as Mr. Trump marked his 100th day in office with a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he chose to surround himself with thousands of supporters rather than the journalists at the dinner in Washington.

He was the first president to skip the dinner since 1981, when Ronald Reagan stayed home because he was recovering from being shot in an assassination attempt.

At the rally Mr. Trump spent more than 10 minutes of a 50-minute speech taunting the news media.

He proudly noted his absence from the “boring” White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp, spending my evening with all of you, and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people,” he said.

“Media outlets like CNN and MSNBC are fake news, and they’re sitting, and they’re wishing, they’re watching, they’re watching, and they would love to be with us tonight. But they’re trapped at the dinner, which will be very, very boring,” Mr. Trump said to cheers.

When Mr. Trump asked the audience to rate the media’s 100-day performance, the crowd erupted with boos.

“If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, then I think we would all agree that the media deserves a very, very big, fat failing grade,” he said.

At the dinner, Mr. Mason defended the news media against Mr. Trump’s frequent attacks.

“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 organization, and we are not the enemy of the American people,” he said.

About half of the crowd stood to applaud.

The entertainment headliner, Hasan Minhaj of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, delivered a series of jokes at Mr. Trump’s expense. The traditional roasting was more awkward due to the president’s absence.

“We’ve got to address the elephant that’s not in the room. The leader of our country is not here. And that’s because he lives in Moscow. It’s a very long flight,” he said. “As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame delivered keynote speeches about the indispensable role of journalists.

“We’re reporters — not judges, not legislators. What government or citizens or judges do with the information we’ve developed is not part of our process, or our objective,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Our job is to put the best obtainable version of the truth out there, period. Especially now.”

Mr. Woodward directed a message to Mr. Trump: “Mr. President, the media is not fake news.”

He also had a warning for fellow journalists.

“We also need to face the reality that polling numbers show that most Americans disapprove of and distrust the media. This is no time for self-satisfaction or smugness,” said Mr. Woodward. “But as [the late Washington Post executive editor] Ben Bradlee said in 1997, 20 years ago, ‘the more aggressive our search for truth, the more some people are offended by the press.’ So be it.”

He continued to quote Mr. Bradlee: “I take great strength from that now, knowing that, in my experience, the truth does emerge. It takes forever sometimes, but it does emerge, and … any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy.”

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