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Obama Urges Journalists to Hold Candidates Accountable

  • VOA News

President Barack Obama speaks during the awards dinner for Syracuse University’s Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, in Washington, Monday, March 28, 2016.

President Barack Obama speaks during the awards dinner for Syracuse University’s Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, in Washington, Monday, March 28, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged journalists to "dig deeper and to demand more" in a speech Monday night highlighting the importance of free press in America.

Obama said the top question he gets when talking to world leaders is what is happening with U.S. politics. He said the presidential campaign has brought "divisive and often vulgar rhetoric" that corrodes democracy and society.

"When our elected officials and our political campaign become entirely untethered from reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn't matter what's true and what's not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations," the president said.

The result, according to Obama, is that "baseless assertions go unchallenged."

He acknowledged the financial pressures that have led news organizations to cut resources and staff, but urged them to allow reporters to dig deep into issues that are not "flashy" but merit attention.

"A well-informed electorate depends on you," Obama told journalists. "And our democracy depends on a well-informed electorate."

He made a veiled reference to Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has used constant media appearances to promote his campaign without having to spend money on ads.

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in the atrium of the Old Post Office Pavilion, in Washington, soon to be a Trump International Hotel, March 21, 2016.

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in the atrium of the Old Post Office Pavilion, in Washington, soon to be a Trump International Hotel, March 21, 2016.

Obama said the electorate "would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can't keep."

He also discussed the joint press conference he held last week in Havana with Cuban President Raul Castro, saying it was a remarkable opportunity for Cubans to watch leaders face tough questions.

"I don't know exactly what it will mean for Cuba's future," Obama said. "I think it made a big difference to the Cuban people. And I can't think of a better example of why a free press is so vital to freedom."

Obama was the keynote speaker at the award ceremony for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. The award is named in honor of Robin Toner, the first woman to be named national political correspondent for the New York Times. This year it was given to Alec MacGillis of the investigative outlet ProPublica for his stories on campaign finance, lobbying and other influences on politics and governance.

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