Bush Should Forget The White House Correspondents’ Association Annual Dinner

The White House press corps last week found itself embroiled in controversy — a controversy over its efforts to avoid controversy at an event whose guests include President Bush.

Stung by criticism that comedian Stephen Colbert went too far last year in his remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner, the group announced last week that it had lined up a different kind of entertainer for its next dinner on April 21: impersonator Rich Little.

…But “edgy” Little isn’t. Even in his heyday, he didn’t do biting topical satire or searing political humor. As a performer, he’s more “Ed Sullivan” than “Daily Show.”

Which is why, according to Little, he was hired in the first place. “One of the reasons they picked me is because I’m not controversial,” he said yesterday from his home in Las Vegas. “They did get some flak about the guy they had last year. I don’t think they wanted someone political or controversial again.”

Yet after Colbert made waves — he compared the Bush administration to the Hindenburg disaster, among other things — some wondered whether choosing Little indicated that the rough, tough White House press corps was going soft, ensuring that its honored guests from the White House would suffer not even the slightest slight.

That’s more or less how MSNBC host Keith Olbermann read it; he nominated the entire correspondents’ association as his “Worst Person in the World” on his program last week.

…Nevertheless, Little’s published comments put the WHCA on the defensive. The group’s president, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, issued a statement saying: “The White House Correspondents’ Association never dictates or censors the content of a press dinner entertainer’s act . . . My advice to [Little’s agency] when we booked [him] in December was to follow the time-honored Washington motto [of] the Gridiron Dinner: ‘Singe, but never burn.’ ”

On the other hand, Scully said in an interview, the group does want to avoid “an Imus moment,” a reference to radio talk-show host Don Imus’s monologue at the 1996 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner, in which Imus rankled some of the assembled with off-color cracks about President Clinton’s extramarital behavior.

“I loved Colbert and thought he was outstanding,” Scully said, “but some people don’t get his brand of humor. Do you want to invite someone to a party and make them into a political pinata? That’s not the purpose of the dinner. It’s for [journalists] and their sources and contacts to have an enjoyable evening. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

You have the President of the United States showing up at an event where he’ll be mocked for the amusement of the jackals in the press. These are the people who are undercutting the war on terrorism, rooting for Republicans to fail, and doing everything they can to push the Democrats in 2008 and bury the GOP. So, why bother with the White House Correspondents’ dinner and these other gag dinners that the White House attends?

These events are relics from an age where liberals had a little more class and politicians and journalists didn’t have such an adversarial relationship. Today? There is no upside to doing one of these events for a Republican administration. The press is still going to try to claw Bush’s eyes out, whether he goes or not. So, let someone else play human dartboard for the night in order to regale the mainstream media.

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