Society / April 29, 2024

The White House Press Corps Should Be Ashamed of Itself

Partying with the president who has stood by as Israel slaughters journalists in Palestine is repulsive.

Mariam Barghouti
Members of the media and guests walk past protesters posing as slain Gaza journalists outside of the Washington Hilton ahead of the White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 27, 2024.

Members of the media and guests walk past protesters posing as slain Gaza journalists outside of the Washington Hilton ahead of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 27, 2024.

(Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This past Saturday, some of America’s leading journalists gathered to let their hair down and hear President Biden tell jokes at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD).

“This is one night, where we celebrate, we laugh—hopefully at ourselves—we take a breath and a beat before we get back to work,” NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell said before ushering Biden to the stage. Biden concluded his remarks with some words on the importance of journalism. “You make it possible for ordinary citizens to question authority…without fear or intimidation,” he said. “That’s what makes this nation strong.”

Left unmentioned was what was happening just outside the Washington Hilton, where the gala was taking place: a protest highlighting Israel’s unprecedented killing of journalists in Gaza and criticizing US journalists for having a glitzy party with the president whose support of Israel has helped fuel those killings. (On Friday, April 26, just before the WHCD, two more journalists, brothers Ibrahim and Ayman Gherbawi, were killed in Gaza.)

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the climate for journalists in Gaza is the most lethal in modern history. At the end of 2023, the group reported that “more journalists were killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year.” Twenty twenty-four has been similarly harrowing: Of the 19 journalists CPJ has reported killed across the world so far this year, all but one were from Gaza.

Yet, save for a brief mention by O’Donnell—who said, “Since October, about 100 journalists have been killed, most of those deaths in Gaza,” while pointedly not saying how those journalists had died or who had killed them—the people who have paid such a high price for their commitment to reporting in Gaza were almost invisible at the gala. This is despite the fact that some of these reporters’ own peers have been killed or harmed. On October 13, for instance, days after Israel’s official declaration of war on Gaza, a video journalist for Reuters was killed by a missile fired from Israel as they covered the developing war at the southern front of the Lebanese border and another six journalists were injured, including an American reporter, Dylan Collins. According to independent investigations, the attack on the journalists was deliberate and constituted a war crime.

It’s not as though the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), which oversees the dinner, is unaware that there is a war happening. In fact, of the five awards handed out at the WHCD, three were for reporting on the war—or, more precisely, for reporting on the US and Israel. (The winners were Axios’s Barak Ravid, The New York Times’ Peter Baker, and NPR’s Tamara Keith.)

Current Issue

Cover of May 2024 Issue

The dissonance could not be more stark. While the WHCD, and President Biden, honored reporting that focused on emphasizing the bond between the US and Israel, Palestinian journalists who are exposing crimes committed by both the United States and Israel—and who are paying an incalculable price for that reporting—were virtually erased.

Whether White House journalists want to face it or not, the truth is simple: journalists in Gaza are facing fear, intimidation, and execution for their work, and the Biden administration is part of the reason why. As a consequence, this year’s dinner did not honor journalism—rather, it was a celebration by and for those who have aided and abetted crimes against humanity.

While Biden feasts with reporters, Palestinian journalists are being intentionally bombed, starved, and denied protection.

“I know I should be covering [the war], but I’m scared for myself and my family,” A., a journalist from Gaza told me back in December of last year. A. (whose identity I am keeping hidden due to the situation in Gaza) remained trapped in Rafah until April 22, when he was finally able to escape. He had been reporting anonymously because he was afraid of the direct threats he consistently received from the Israeli military and Shabak (Israel’s intelligence unit). He is now continuing to report anonymously; his family remains trapped in Gaza.

At the same time, in the West Bank, at least 56 journalists have been arrested by the Israeli military and 45, including four women who remain held captive at the time of this article, along with at least another 9,500 Palestinians arrested since October 7. These journalists are facing brutal conditions at the hands of Israeli forces and authorities. At least 16 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli captivity, with two killed in the span of 48 hours after their kidnapping.

Local journalists have no protection or safety neither as reporters nor as Palestinian civilians. (This was foreshadowed by the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh in May 2022 as she covered Israel’s attack on the Jenin refugee camp.) And, horrifyingly, neither do their families. Most emblematic of this is Wael Dahdouh, bureau chief of Al-Jazeera’s Gaza office, who lost the majority of his immediate family in a single targeted air strike on his home on October 25. Likewise, Al-Jazeera correspondent Anas El-Sharif’s home was bombed days after he received threats to halt his coverage of the ongoing crimes happening in Gaza. His father died; Anas buried him and returned to reporting on the same day.

That is what things are like for journalists in Gaza. That is why participation in this dinner was more akin to a collective cosigning of a death sentence against Palestinian journalists—many of whom were likely killed by American weapons paid for by American tax dollars. It’s why what is happening in Gaza is not merely about a military committing mass killings—it is also about the complicity of international media in perpetuating it.

When Palestinian journalists say they are risking their lives to bring the world the stories, they are not exaggerating. (Just two days after the killing of Dahdouh’s family, on October 27, the Israeli military informed the international news organizations AFP and Reuters that they would not be able to guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in Gaza.) But the significance of Israel’s massacring of journalists is not just in the rate of killing but also in the way this affects the information people get around the world.

Meanwhile, civilian documentation and testimony is also being obstructed by corporations that collaborate with Israeli policymakers. This includes systemic censorship of content from Palestine by social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 

Although this is a trend that Palestinians are familiar with, Israel further worked to ensure blockage of Palestinian voices and documentation in mainstream media outlets. What information and analysis is allowed to go out, is strategically designed to serve the Israeli military’s operations of genocide.

The Nation Weekly

Fridays. A weekly digest of the best of our coverage.
By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You may unsubscribe or adjust your preferences at any time. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

Violence against Palestinian journalists must be seen as part of the strategies that serve to conceal the Israeli occupation of Palestine more generally. Israel used these tactics immediately after October 7 to target Palestinian journalists working with mainstream media organizations, particularly those with audiences in the USA, and Europe. Israeli policymakers, including Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, repeated wild allegations that these journalists were somehow implicated in the attack. Israel has also turned international reporters into partners by allowing them to embed with soldiers headed into Gaza. The journalists have complied, even as Israel refuses to let them report independently.

Even if international correspondents did manage to enter the strip, who is to ensure they will uphold their journalistic oath amid the pressures? This month, the Israeli Knesset approved a third reading of a new law dubbed “Al-Jazeera Law” that targets not just Palestinian journalists but also international media organizations which are seen as a risk to Israeli national security.

Elite American journalists could be using their power to pressure Israel about any of this. Instead, they are content to party.

O’Donnell made a pivotal point in her speech. “We preserve the historical record,” she said. “We believe that independent professional journalists on hand to document the events of a presidency are stewards of something precious, more enduring than any news cycle or trending topic.”

But the event she presided over makes a mockery of those lofty words. Functions like the WHCD lend manufactured legitimacy to a discursive war against Palestinians. We have reached the point where the world and reporters with integrity can recognize the WHCD as a celebration of persecution rather than of free access to information. 

Yet, despite all these lethal obstacles, Palestinian journalists remain steadfast on the front lines. The future of journalism is rising out of the ashes of those being buried alive as they insist on upholding their journalistic oath. All while being starved and losing loved ones, Palestinian journalists are confronting international efforts of censorship in the face ofnslaughter and a gruesome negation of their entire existence. 

They—we—do this without expectation for any reward except the upholding of our journalistic oath and the right for global audiences to know what is being done in their name.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Mariam Barghouti

Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian American writer based in Ramallah.

More from The Nation

Pro-Palestine banner in soccer stands

In Ireland, “Nothing but Love” for the Palestinian Women’s Soccer Team In Ireland, “Nothing but Love” for the Palestinian Women’s Soccer Team

The Palestinian National Women’s Football Team defeated the Bohemian Football Club 2-1 in front of a sell-out crowd in Dublin. It was much more than a win for Palestine.

Dave Zirin

Protesters outside a New College of Florida Board of Trustees meeting last year

Inside New College of Florida’s Counter-Commencement Inside New College of Florida’s Counter-Commencement

As Ron DeSantis and Chris Rufo plunge ahead with the school’s transformation into a right-wing clown college, the students have become the adults in the room. 

Jeb Lund

Symbolic coffins are laid out as Health Workers for Palestine march from St Thomas' Hospital to a rally at Downing Street in support of healthcare professionals in Gaza on February 10, 2024, in London, England.

The US Medical Establishment Is Making One of Its Worst Mistakes—Again The US Medical Establishment Is Making One of Its Worst Mistakes—Again

By ignoring the horrors in Gaza, our healthcare elites are adding to a shameful historical record of denialism.

Eric Reinhart and Mary T. Bassett

Welcome to the Age of Psychedelic Inequality

Welcome to the Age of Psychedelic Inequality Welcome to the Age of Psychedelic Inequality

Psychedelic-assisted therapies have been hailed as the wave of the future. They’re also becoming big business. What if most people can’t afford them?

Feature / Alissa Quart

High school classroom

4-Day School Weeks Are a Raw Deal for Kids—and Their Parents 4-Day School Weeks Are a Raw Deal for Kids—and Their Parents

The money-saving measure happening in districts throughout the country leaves too many kids without anything to do—or in some cases, anything to eat.

Left Coast / Sasha Abramsky

Drawing the 1968 Columbia Protests

Drawing the 1968 Columbia Protests Drawing the 1968 Columbia Protests

I sketched the student protests at Columbia University nearly 60 years ago. Here is what I saw.

OppArt / Burton Silverman