Reuters White House Correspondent and WHCA President Jeff Mason kicks off the 2017 annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner with remarks on the role of press freedom in the U.S. and abroad, and supporting the next generation of journalists.
The tradition of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner is a long one. Journalists, presidents, cabinet members, lawmakers and diplomats have shown up for decades and demonstrated that 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 have been reinforced. We are here to celebrate good journalism. We are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency. I am happy to report for anyone who is interested that this dinner is sold out.
But what we celebrate is more than a dinner. It may get a lot of attention every year, but the work journalists do every day is what is important. And as the people in this room know, but perhaps some in the American public do not — the WHCA works every day to stand up for press freedom and advocate for journalists’ ability to do their job. We do that with every White House, regardless of who is president, and regardless of whether he is a Democrat or Republican.
President Trump’s White House is no different. We have worked very hard to build a constructive relationship with his 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.
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 noticeable 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 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 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 outpouring of support for the WHCA has been heartwarming. Having journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein here tonight is an outstanding symbol of that support. Thank you Bob, Carl, Elsa and Christine for joining us.
Just as Woodward and Bernstein inspired generations of our journalists, we hope the work that the press corps is doing will inspire our successors. We are delighted to support the next generation of journalists, with our scholarship program, which we are raising money for tonight. As the video so beautifully showed, scholarships matter. Having spent some time already with this group of this year’s scholars, the profession is in good hands.