Chants of ‘shame on you’ greet guests at White House correspondents’ dinner shadowed by war in Gaza

WASHINGTON — The war in Gaza spurred large protests outside a glitzy roast with President Joe Biden, journalists, politicians and celebrities Saturday but went all but unmentioned by participants inside, with Biden instead using the annual White House correspondents dinner to make both jokes and grim warnings about Republican rival Donald Trump’s fight to reclaim the U.S. presidency.

Biden Correspondents Dinner

President Joe Biden, right, and host Colin Jost attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday in Washington. 

An evening normally devoted to presidents, journalists and comedians taking outrageous pokes at political scandals and each other often seemed this year to illustrate the difficulty of putting aside the coming presidential election and the troubles in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Biden opened his roast with a direct but joking focus on Trump, calling him “sleepy Don,” in reference to a nickname Trump had given the president previously.

Despite being similar in age, Biden said, the two presidential hopefuls have little else in common. “My vice president actually endorses me,” Biden said. Former Trump Vice President Mike Pence has refused to endorse Trump’s reelection bid.

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But the president quickly segued to a grim speech about what he believes is at stake this election, saying that another Trump administration would be even more harmful to America than his first term.

“We have to take this serious — eight years ago we could have written it off as ‘Trump talk’ but not after January 6,” Biden told the audience, referring to the supporters of Trump who stormed the Capitol after Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.

Trump did not attend Saturday’s dinner and never attended the annual banquet as president. In 2011, he sat in the audience, and glowered through a roasting by then-President Barack Obama of Trump’s reality-television celebrity status. Obama’s sarcasm then was so scalding that many political watchers linked it to Trump’s subsequent decision to run for president in 2016.

Biden’s speech, which lasted around 10 minutes, made no mention of the ongoing war or the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

One of the few mentions came from Kelly O’Donnell, president of the correspondents’ association, who briefly noted some 100 journalists killed in Israel’s 6-month-old war against Hamas in Gaza. In an evening dedicated in large part to journalism, O’Donnell cited journalists who have been detained across the world, including Americans Evan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice, who is believed to be held in Syria. Families of both men were in attendance as they have been at previous dinners.

Correspondents dinner

Demonstrators lay in the street during a pro-Palestinian protest over the Israel-Hamas war before the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on Saturday in Washington. 

To get inside Saturday’s dinner, some guests had to hurry through hundreds of protesters outraged over the mounting humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They condemned Biden for his support of Israel’s military campaign and Western news outlets for what they said was undercoverage and misrepresentation of the conflict.

Gaza only got one mention at an annual gathering of hundreds of reporters, after the deadliest year for journalists in a decade.

“Shame on you!” protesters draped in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth shouted, running after men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses holding clutch purses as guests hurried inside for the dinner.

“Western media we see you, and all the horrors that you hide,” crowds chanted at one point.

Other protesters lay sprawled motionless on the pavement, next to mock-ups of flak vests with “press” insignia.

Ralliers cried “Free, free Palestine.” They cheered when at one point someone inside the Washington Hilton — where the dinner has been held for decades — unfurled a Palestinian flag from a top-floor hotel window.

Criticism of the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has spread through American college campuses, with students pitching encampments and withstanding police sweeps in an effort to force their universities to divest from Israel. Counterprotests back Israel’s offensive and complain of antisemitism.

Biden’s motorcade Saturday took an alternate route from the White House to the Washington Hilton than in previous years, largely avoiding the crowds of demonstrators.

Saturday’s event drew nearly 3,000 people. Celebrities included Academy Award winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm and Chris Pine.

Both the president and comedian Colin Jost, who spoke after Biden, made jabs at the age of both the candidates for president. “I’m not saying both candidates are old. But you know Jimmy Carter is out there thinking, ‘maybe I can win this thing,’” Jost said. “He’s only 99.”

Biden Correspondents Dinner Protest

A demonstrator with red paint on their hand and face is seen behind a police barricade during a pro-Palestinian protest over the Israel-Hamas war at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday in Washington. 

Law enforcement, including the Secret Service, instituted extra street closures and other measures to ensure what Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said would be the “highest levels of safety and security for attendees.”

Protest organizers said they aimed to bring attention to the high numbers of Palestinian and other Arab journalists killed by Israel’s military since the war began in October.

More than two dozen journalists in Gaza wrote a letter last week calling on their colleagues in Washington to boycott the dinner altogether.

“The toll exacted on us for merely fulfilling our journalistic duties is staggering,” the letter stated. “We are subjected to detentions, interrogations and torture by the Israeli military, all for the ‘crime’ of journalistic integrity.”

One organizer complained that the White House Correspondents’ Association — which represents the hundreds of journalists who cover the president — largely has been silent since the first weeks of the war about the killings of Palestinian journalists. WHCA did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a preliminary investigation released Friday by the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 100 journalists have been killed covering the war in Gaza. Israel has defended its actions, saying it has been targeting militants.

“Since the Israel-Gaza war began, journalists have been paying the highest price — their lives — to defend our right to the truth. Each time a journalist dies or is injured, we lose a fragment of that truth,” CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna said in a statement.

National test scores reveal US students losing proficiency in history and civics

National test scores reveal US students losing proficiency in history and civics

National test scores reveal US students losing proficiency in history and civics

American youth aren’t making the grade in civics or history following a trend of declining achievement in math and reading, according to recent data from the largest assessment of student aptitude.

Online learning platform[1] used data from The Nation’s Report Card[2] to explore declining test scores for history and civics subjects in the U.S.

In 2022, The Nation’s Report Card found that the average eighth-grade U.S. history score decreased by nine points[3] compared to 2014 and five points compared to 2018. The average civics score backslid two points from 2018—marking the first instance in the assessment’s history.

Statistically, only 13% of eighth graders[4] performed at or above the proficient level in U.S. history and only 22% in civics, per the report.

Lower test scores are part of a global trend, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but education experts say there are additional reasons for the civics and history slide.

Civics students learn theory, politics, and the practical study of citizenship and government, focusing on the present and future. History studies the past and how people interacted with one another.

Since the 1900s, the decline of “churches and other religious congregations, unions, metropolitan daily newspapers, and political parties as vehicles for grassroots participation that are sustained beyond specific campaigns” is to blame for the weakening of civic knowledge and interest in the U.S., according to a 2017 report[5] published by the National Conference on Citizenship.

The report also found that 3 in 5 rural youth and almost 1 in 3 suburban and urban young people in America see their communities as civic deserts, or lacking places to meet and discuss ideas.

The declining scores coincide with more state laws limiting how teachers can discuss race and history in the classroom. The 2023 State of the American Teacher survey found that 65% of school teachers[6] reported limiting social and political discussions in class for fear of upsetting parents.

What’s more, state requirements for civic education are minimal, often reduced to a single semester in high school.

Civics slides for the first time

Civics slides for the first time

The Nation’s Report Card—the civics assessment[7] for the National Assessment of Educational Progress—tracks the skills, attitudes, and knowledge needed to uphold constitutional democracy. Students are tested on knowledge, civic dispositions, and intellectual and participatory skills.

Organized into five categories, the civic knowledge section questions students on the fundamentals of civic life, the American political system, constitutional principles, international relations, and the roles of citizens in democracy.

The intellectual skills component covers three skills—identification and description, explanation and analysis, and evaluation and defense of positions—that allow people to “apply civic knowledge” in mind and deed.

Civic dispositions, the final component, assesses the student’s ability to understand the importance of personal and public character traits for maintaining and upholding American democracy.

‘America’s changing place in the world’

'America's changing place in the world'

Students are typically assessed on time periods, themes, and “ways of knowing and thinking about the country’s history,” according to the NAEP report.

The digital test questioned students on four themes: change and continuity in American democracy; the gathering and interactions of peoples, cultures, and ideas; economic and technological changes and their relation to society, ideas, and the environment; and America’s changing role in the world.

Academic performance in U.S. history has two primary metrics: scale scores and NAEP achievement levels. Scale scores reflect students’ performance on the U.S. history assessment, with results aggregated and reported across various student demographics for districts, states, and the nation.

NAEP achievement levels—basic, proficient, and advanced—serve as benchmarks for the knowledge and skills students are expected to attain.

Disparities remain; reasons aren’t the same

Disparities remain; reasons aren't the same

Socioeconomic issues such as underfunded schools, family income, and education levels may partly explain the reason for lower civic and history test scores among Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous public school students. However, such a position is subject to the “chicken and egg” fallacy.

According to a 2021 research paper[8] from The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, “research continues to show that children from marginalized communities remain less likely to be served well by civic and political institutions.”

The paper states that growing up marginalized and neglected by the American system creates and fortifies inequality, and this inequality is evident even on the first day of kindergarten. Taken as a total, children of color outnumber white public school students[9]. For children to fully participate in democracy and civic engagement, they must feel connected to the system in their everyday lives—and in the classroom.

Story editing by Shannon Luders-Manuel. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Ania Antecka.

This story originally appeared on[10] and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.


  1. ^ (
  2. ^ The Nation’s Report Card (
  3. ^ decreased by nine points (
  4. ^ 13% of eighth graders (
  5. ^ 2017 report (
  6. ^ 65% of school teachers (
  7. ^ the civics assessment (
  8. ^ 2021 research paper (
  9. ^ outnumber white public school students (
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