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EDITORIAL: Obama’s ‘Laugh In’

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It was President Obama's idea to give Queen Elizabeth II an iPod last month at Buckingham Palace.

During the gala's keynote address, comedian Wanda Sykes asked: "And whose idea was it to give the queen an iPod?" Clearly not wanting to be blamed for the blooper, first lady Michelle Obama responded by shaking her head and pointing an insistent finger at her husband. The president siled in acknowledgment.

This gift selection was criticized widely on both sides of the pond because it lacked the usual dignity of a presidential gift. It also suggested a pattern of superficial gestures toward our closest ally. The president bestowed a pile of DVDs on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during his visit to Washington in March.

The bigger story is how Mr. Obama abandoned traditional presidential etiquette to take pot shots at his predecessor. He quipped that the obligation to attend the press gala was "just one more problem that I've inherited from George W. Bush." About the previous vice president, he said: "Dick Cheney was supposed to be here, but he is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled, 'How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People.' " Mr. Obama lowered the level with potty humor about Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner being used as a fire hydrant.

The president laughed along when Miss Sykes ranted that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh isn't "saying anything differently than Osama bin Laden is saying," that Mr. Limbaugh "needs a good waterboarding" and that she hopes "his kidneys fail." That was only a warm-up. "I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was just so strung out on Oxycontin he missed his flight," she cracked, also to Mr. Obama's amusement. Yesterday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tried step back from jokes about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by telling the press pool "I think there are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection rather than comedy."

The annual White House Correspondents Association dinner provides journalists an opportunity to dress up, schmooze with the president and mingle with Hollywood stars who fly in for the evening. It also affords an inside look at what the media think about the president they cover. "Most of you covered me, all of you voted for me," Mr. Obama joked to roars of laughter and smiling nods. The truth behind the joke is that the press corps' adulation of the president compromises its mission to seek the truth without fear or favor. And that's not funny.

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