Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from President Joe Biden’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., on April 30. A transcript of the full speech, including his opening jokes, is available at whitehouse.gov/briefing-room.
We’re in a time when what we so long have taken for granted is facing the gravest of threats. And I’m being deadly earnest.
Oversear [sic] — overseas, the liberal world order that laid the foundation for global peace, stability, and prosperity since World War II is genuinely, seriously under assault.
And at home, a poison is running through our democracy of all — all of this taking place with disinformation massively on the rise, where the truth is buried by lies and the lies live on as truth.
What’s clear — and I mean this from the bottom of my heart — (is) that you, the free press, matter more than you ever did in the last century. No, I really mean it.
I’ve always believed that good journalism holds up a mirror to ourselves to reflect on the good, the bad, and the true. Tonight, I want to congratulate the awardees and the scholarship winners who carry on that sacred tradition.
We’ve all seen the courage of the Ukrainian people because of the courage of American reporters in this room and your colleagues across the world who are on the ground, taking their lives in their own hands.
So many of you telling the stories and taking the photos and recording the videos of what’s happening there, the unvarnished truth shown — showing the — the destruction and the devastation and, yes, the war crimes.
Tonight, we also honor the legacy of two historic reporters, and that is Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne. I’m glad you saw that tonight. I didn’t know you were doing that. These are the first Black women to be White House reporters who shattered convention to cover a segregated nation.
We honor journalists killed, missing, imprisoned, detained, and tortured; covering war, exposing corruption, and holding leaders accountable.
We honor members of the press, both national and local, covering a once-in-a-century pandemic where we lost a million Americans, a generation reckoning on race, and the existential threat of climate change.
The free press is not the enemy of the people — far from it. At your best, you’re guardians of the truth.
President Kennedy once said, and I quote, “Without debate, without criticism, no administration, no country can succeed, and no republic can survive.”
The First Amendment grants a free press extraordinary protection, but with it comes, as many of you know, a very heavy obligation: to seek the truth as best you can — not to inflame or entertain, but to illuminate and educate.
I know it’s tough. And I’m not being solicitous. The industry is changing significantly.
There’s incredible pressure on you all to deliver heat instead of shed light, because the technology is changing so much, the system is changing. But it matters. No kidding. It matters. The truth matters.
American democracy is not a reality show. It’s not a reality show. It’s reality itself. And the reality is that we are a great country.
Our future is bright. It’s not guaranteed, because democracy is never guaranteed. It has to be earned. It has to be defended. It has to be protected.
As you’ve heard me say many times: There’s not a damn thing this country can’t do when we stand united and do it together. And I know we can do anything we want to do that’s right.
I’ve been around a long time, as has been pointed out many times tonight. But I give you my word as a Biden: I’ve never been more optimistic about America than I am today. I really mean it.
At times of enormous change, it presents enormous opportunities. For despite all the crises, all the partisanship, all the shouting and the showmanship, I really know this and you know it too: We are a great nation because we’re basically a good people.
And here in America, good journalism, good satire about our leaders, about our society is quintessentially an American thing. It demonstrates the power of our example.
And I, honest to God, believe it reveals our soul — the soul of our nation. And that’s what I’d like to toast tonight, if I may.