President Obama in his speech to the RTCA got right to the heart of Washington’s journalist dinner rivalry, saying he was on hand to “Tell jokes that weren’t funny enough for me to use when we did this five weeks ago,” at the White House Correspondents’ dinner (known as the Senior Prom to the RTCA’s Junior Prom.) Then again, he said, twisting the knife deeper: “The jokes may not be as good but neither is the guest list.”
And later: “I think your programming is more relevant than ever before — at least that’s the impression that I get when I read the blogs.”
In his appearance before the Radio and TV correspondents at the Washington D.C. Convention Center, the President was unaccompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama on the orange and yellow rose-rimmed dais and he left at 9:20, before dinner was served. His short stay prompted some last-minute frantic juggling of the entertainment lineup, according to insiders. VP Biden wasn’t there, either, despite apparently erroneous earlier reports that he would attend. A spokeswoman said that he had a scheduling conflict.
Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, right after the speech, noted the President’s “sharp elbowed humor;” a few tweets from the dinner suggested that his humor was “underappreciated” by the audience. He cracked himself up several times, however.
The biggest laughs of the night came when he joked about embattled California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger competing on “I’m a Celebrity….Get Me Out of Here,” then added: “That’s how I feel about tonight.” The dinner, he said, was causing him to miss “date night” with Michelle, and his plans to go for Thai food-pause-“in Bangkok.”
A joke about being in bed with NBC’s Brian Williams, whom he called a terrible house guest, was followed by a list of new TV programs that the success of “Inside the White House” had inspired, the funniest of which was TLC’s “Jon & Kate plus Peter Orszag.”
There was also a mild jab at NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd for having the style of a TV correspondent and “the facial hair of a radio correspondent.” To MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, he said: “We both have partners named Joe who used to be in Congress and don’t know when to stop talking.” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he noted, was “the only other man in America with his own situation room,” and it was cooler than the President’s, which he said, was unable “to generate the bandwidth to turn Larry Summers into a hologram.”
Random jokes poked fun at his own Administration, including Richard Holbrooke, whom he alleged sprayed WD-40 that caused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s elbow-breaking fall. He announced a “new” plan to rescue the auto business, telling dinner guests to look under their seat, a la Oprah, because everyone was getting a car company. Fox, he said, would get AIG.
Looking relieved that his speech was over, the President ended his remarks with a serious tribute to the work of the press, noting “I am here tonight because I appreciate the role you do.” He got the traditional standing ovation at the beginning and end.