'Shame on you' chants greeted guests at the White House Correspondents' Dinner

WASHINGTON (AP) —

War in Gaza President Joe Biden sparked large protests outside a glitzy roast Saturday with journalists, politicians and celebrities but went largely unnoticed by attendees inside, who instead used the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner to make jokes and sharp warnings about Biden's Republican rival, Donald Trump. The Struggle to Reclaim the Presidency of the United States.

An evening usually devoted to presidents, journalists and comedians, taking political slurs and outrageous jabs at each other seemed to illustrate the difficulty of putting aside this year's upcoming presidential election and the problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Biden focused his roast directly but humorously on Trump, calling him “Sleepy Don,” a reference to a nickname Trump had previously given the president.

President Joe Biden applauds at the end of the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Pals Seneta)

President Joe Biden toasts a free press at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Manuel Pals Seneta)

President Joe Biden toasts a free press at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Pals Seneta)

Despite being similar in age, Biden said the two presidential hopefuls have little else in common. “My vice president really supports me,” Biden said. Former Trump Vice President Mike Pence has refused to endorse Trump's re-election bid.

But the president quickly delivered a scathing speech about what he believes is at stake in this election, saying another Trump administration would be even more damaging to America than his first term.

“We have to take this seriously — eight years ago it could have been written as a 'Trump speech,' but not after Jan. 6,” Biden told the audience, referring to Trump's supporters who stormed the Capitol after Biden defeated Trump. 2020 election.

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Trump did not attend Saturday's dinner and will not attend the annual dinner as president. In 2011, he sat in the audience and beamed as then-President Barack Obama grilled Trump about his reality-television celebrity status. Obama's sarcasm was so harsh at the time that many political observers linked it to Trump's decision to run for president in 2016.

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

One of the few references to the roughly 100 journalists killed in Israel's six-month war against Hamas in Gaza came from Kelly O'Donnell, president of the Correspondents' Association. In an evening largely devoted to journalism, O'Donnell cited journalists detained around the world, including Americans Ivan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice, who is believed to have been arrested in Syria. The families of both attended the same dinner as before.

To get into Saturday's dinner, some guests had to rush past hundreds of protesters angry about the mounting humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They denounced Biden for his support of Israel's military campaign and for the cover-up and misrepresentation of the conflict by Western news outlets.

“Shame!” Protesters dressed in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth ran past men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses clutching clutch purses as dinner guests rushed inside.

Demonstrators hold a sign as they spread red paint on the floor during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024.  (AP Photo/Terrence Williams)

Demonstrators hold a sign as they spread red paint on the floor during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Terrence Williams)

Demonstrators lie in the street during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Terrence Williams)

Demonstrators lie in the street during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrence Williams)

“We see you Western media, we see all the horrors you cover up,” people chanted at one point.

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Other protestors lay motionless on the sidewalk, next to flag underwear emblazoned with “Journal.”

“Freedom, free Palestine,” chanted the marchers. At one point inside the Washington Hilton, where the dinner has been held for decades, they cheered when someone lowered a Palestinian flag from an upstairs hotel window.

A demonstrator with red hand and face paint is seen behind a police barricade during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024.  (AP Photo/Terrence Williams)

A demonstrator with red hand and face paint is seen behind a police barricade during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Terrence Williams)

There has been criticism of the Biden administration's support for Israel's military offensive in Gaza spread across American college campuses, students have endured encampments and police sweeps in an attempt to distance their universities from Israel. Counter-protests support Israel's attack and complain of anti-Semitism.

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

Nearly 3,000 people attended Saturday's event. Celebrities include Academy Award winner Davin Joy Randolph, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm and Chris Pine.

Both the president and comedian Colin Jost, who spoke after Biden, took jabs at the age of the two presidential candidates. “I am not saying that both the candidates are old. But you know Jimmy Carter was thinking, 'Maybe I can win this thing,'” Jost said. “He's only 99 years old.”

Law enforcement, including the Secret Service, added street closures and other measures to ensure the “highest level of security and safety for participants,” according to Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

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Organizers of the protest said they aimed to draw attention to the high number 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 they called on their colleagues in Washington to boycott the dinner altogether.

“The fees we are being charged for fulfilling our journalistic obligations are shocking,” the letter said. “We are subjected to Israeli military detention, interrogations and torture, all for the 'crime' of journalistic integrity.”

A demonstrator protests as guests arrive at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Kevin Wolff)

A demonstrator protests as guests arrive at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolff)

Demonstrators protest as attendees arrive at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Kevin Wolff)

Demonstrators protest as attendees arrive at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton, Saturday, April 27, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolff)

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

Nearly 100 journalists covering the war in Gaza have been killed, according to a preliminary investigation released Friday by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Israel has defended its actions by saying they were targeting terrorists.

“Since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, journalists have paid the highest price — their lives — to defend our right to the truth. Every time a journalist dies or is injured, we lose a piece of that truth,” said CPJ Project Director Carlos Martinez de La Serna said in a statement.

Sandra Tamari, executive director of the Atala Justice Project, a U.S.-based Palestinian advocacy group that helped organize the letter from journalists in Gaza, said, “It's shameful that the media is dining and laughing with President Biden while enabling Israel's destruction and starvation of the Palestinians in Gaza.”

Additionally, the Atala Justice Project was launched An email campaign targeting 12 media executives Several news organizations, including the Associated Press, are expected to attend the dinner after signing a letter calling for the protection of journalists in Gaza.

“How can you still go when your colleagues in Gaza ask you not to?” A demonstrator asked the guests walking in. “You are complicit.”

___ Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo, Amir Madani, Fatima Hussain and Tom Strong contributed to this report.

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