United States President Donald Trump on Saturday attacked the media during an evening rally in Pennsylvania to mark his 100th day in office. To cheers, he accused broadcasters and newspapers of running “fake news” and said that if their job was to be honest and tell the truth, then they deserved “a big, fat failing grade”, The Independent reported. He also made it a point to say he was skipping the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, held on the same day.

“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 and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people, right?” he said.

Trump became the first US president to skip the event since an injured Ronald Reagan gave it a miss in 1981. However, the White House Correspondents’ Association did not mince words while hitting back at Trump. “We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do,” association president Jeff Mason told a ballroom of journalists, who gave him a standing ovation, The Washington Post reported. “We are not fake news. We are not failing news organisations. And we are not the enemy of the American people.”

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of Watergate fame said good journalism was more crucial to a free society than ever in a climate of increasing hostility between the White House and the press. “Richard Nixon tried to make the conduct of the press more the issue in Watergate instead of the conduct of the president and his men,” Bernstein said. “We tried to avoid the noise and let the reporting speak.”

Woodward directed his message directly to the absent Trump. “Mr President, the media is not fake news,” he said. “Let’s take that off the table as we proceed. Whatever the climate, whether the media is revered or reviled, we should and must persist, and I believe we will. Any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy.”

On Friday, Trump had said his first 100 days on the job had been “just about the most successful” in the country’s history. In his weekly radio and web address to the nation, Trump said his administration had delivered on its campaign promise of “bringing back jobs”.

“I truly believe that the first 100 days of my administration have been just about the most successful in our country’s history,” Trump had said. “Since my inauguration, economic confidence has soared – reaching higher than any time in nine years. Perhaps the greatest change of all is the renewal of the American Spirit. As long as we have faith in each other, and trust in God, then the sun will always shine on our very Glorious Republic.”