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White House Correspondents' Dinner stresses press freedoms in Trump era

Organizers of the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner hit back at President Donald Trump's criticism of the media as he marked 100 days in office. Trump is the first president in 36 years not to attend the event.

Watch video 02:58

The press and the president

"We are not fake news, we are not failing news organizations and we are not the enemy of the people," Jeff Mason, a Reuters correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents' Association told the black-tie gathering on Saturday.

"An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us," Mason added. "We must remain vigilant. The world is watching."

President Barack Obama during his speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2014.

President Barack Obama during his speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2014.

The main purpose of the dinner is honoring journalists for their work and awarding scholarships to students.

Traditionally the US president makes a humorous speech at the event in which he pokes fun at the media, politicians and even himself, and a hired comedian also skewers the president.

Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reminded the crowd of the value of patience and persistence in pursuing a big story. Woodward addressed Trump, saying "Mr. President, the media is not fake news."

Comedian Hasan Minhaj (main photo above) made several jokes at Trump's expense, but also ridiculed some of the media, in particular Fox News, a supporter of the Trump administration and Republican party.

"I think he's in Pennsylvania because he can't take a joke," Minhaj said.

"Welcome to the series finale of the White House Correspondents' Dinner," Minhaj, who plays a correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" program, told the crowd. He also joked about Trump, despite organizers' wishes, saying he did so to honor US constitutional protection of free speech.

"Only in America can a first-generation, Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president."

Many from Hollywood - a community that in general has been opposed to the president - didn't attend and many of the corporate sponsors of the glitziest parties from past seasons also decided to sit this year out.

Hours before the official correspondents’ dinner began, late night television host Samantha Bee’s "Full Frontal" team kicked off an alternative event, "Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner."

Bee said her event was a place where "journalists and non-irritating celebrities from around the world" could mingle, in order to pay homage to a free and functional press.

Watch video 00:30

Trump praises his accomplishments in first 100 days

Dinner sans Trump

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was elsewhere describing his first 100 days in office as an "incredible journey" at a speech in Pennsylvania which he also used to slam the media.

It was a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg chosen over the black-tie gala event in Washington.

"A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling themselves in a hotel ballroom in our nation's capital right now," Trump said.

President Donald Trump speaks at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pa., Saturday, April 29.

President Donald Trump chose a Pennsylvania rally over the dinner in Washington

"Media outlets like CNN and MSNBC are fake news ... and they would love to be with us here tonight, but they're trapped at the [White House Correspondents'] dinner which will be very very boring," Trump added as some members of the audience chanted "CNN sucks."

The president, however, said he was "thrilled to be more than 100 miles from Washington" to discuss the "great journey" of his first 100 days in office.

Trump said some of his achievements were the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and ending offshoring to "bring back American jobs."

Listen to audio 08:48

WorldLink: Trump wows the Rust Belt

Trump also hinted that the US was planning to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. 

"I'll be making a big decision on the Paris accord over the next two weeks, and we'll see what happens," Trump said. 

Earlier, White House press spokesman Sean Spicer denied that the rally was being held in order to take away from the correspondents' dinner.

"I respectfully suggest that it's not just about the Correspondents' Dinner, it's rather an opportunity for him to talk to voters that elected him and what he's been able to accomplish in the first 100 days," Spicer said.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Trump said he had decided against attending as president because he felt he had been treated unfairly by the media, adding: "I would come next year, absolutely."

Watch video 00:54

Trump boycotts dinner with Washington media

jbh/se (dpa, AP)

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