WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama poked fun at himself, his political opponents and the news media at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday, an annual event where the US leader takes good-natured jabs at his adversaries.
Obama joked about how he his re-election would give him the chance to carry out a radical agenda. But he had aged in the job. “These days I look in the mirror and have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist that I used to be,” he said, mocking that belief among a radical conservative fringe of Americans.
He then showed a montage of pictures showing him in a haircut with bangs like his wife Michelle had on inauguration day.
Some of the targets of Obama’s jokes included billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who spent a fortune backing Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates in the 2012 race; the three major cable news networks; and several Republican members of Congress.
Obama ended on a serious note, praising the role of the media as well as the first responders at the Boston marathon bombings and the deadly Texas fertilizer explosion.
The annual dinner, where around 3,000 guests chow down in a massive hotel ballroom, is greeted with near hysteria in Washington, normally a strait-laced town where celebrity is calculated in degrees of political power rather than pulling power at the box office.
In recent years, the dinner has been transformed from an event where journalists and their editors and corporate bosses broke bread with government officials into a full bore celebrity party.
A long list of pre- and -after parties sponsored by media giants such as Bloomberg and MSNBC, vie to attract the biggest names, and big television and web outlets stack their tables with celebrities.
Among stars sighted were South Korean rapper Psy, singer Barbra Streisand, Hollywood actors Bradley Cooper, Michael J. Fox, Kevin Spacey and Michael Douglas, and movie directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
The featured comedian at the event was Conan O’Brien, who ended his presentation with a montage of photos that included cartoon characters of who would play top Washington personalities if a movie were ever made.
For the first time, celebrity cable news network E! was covering the Oscars-style red carpet entrance to the party at the Washington Hilton hotel live as the stars rolled up.
But the Hollywood-meets-Washington power clutch is now fueling a backlash from some who believe that the spectacle of the fourth estate partying with Hollywood elite and top power players is an unflattering one.
Famed NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw caused a stir last year when he hit out against the growing glitziness of the dinner and declined his invitation this year.
“The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan,” Brokaw told Politico.
“She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”
This year’s White House Correspondents Association president Ed Henry of Fox News has taken steps to try to damp down the Hollywood influence, reserving tables for news organizations that cover the White House, and cutting back on firms which rarely do so.
Henry also points out that the dinner raises tens of thousands of dollars to provide journalism scholarships for needy students.
The highlight of the dinner is the jokey address from the president, who often uses his own political starpower to outdo the comedian that is annually hired to roast the press, and sometimes the commander-in-chief back.
Sometimes, the president has to show restraint. In 2011, Obama laughed along with a joke about Osama bin Laden, in the knowledge that a top secret raid to kill the Al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan was hours from beginning.