- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

President Bush got the most laughs once again Saturday night at the 93rd White House Correspondents Association Dinner — but with neither self-deprecating jokes nor witty humor.

Before Mr. Bush took the podium at the Washington Hilton, CBS late-night host David Letterman made a video appearance with the 10 funniest presidential moments of the past year.

The taped vignettes showing Mr. Bush stumbling — over words and his own feet — delighted the nearly 3,000 journalists and their guests.

The president opened his brief remarks with the usual formalities about how he and first lady Laura Bush always look forward to the annual gathering. “A society that can poke fun at itself is a confident society and a free society,” Mr. Bush said.

But in light of last week’s massacre at Virginia Tech, the president said he “decided not to be funny,” noting that many of the editors and reporters in the ballroom had spent the week reporting from the Blacksburg, Va., campus.

Instead, Mr. Bush left the jokes up to the evening’s featured entertainer, impersonator Rich Little.

Who? Exactly.

Mr. Little, 68, had his heyday decades ago, when many of the reporters in the room were still in grade school. The comedian, who last performed at the dinner in 1984, managed to poke fun at himself and drew scattered laughter with some jokes.

“They said to me in 1984, ‘Rich, you do a good job. We will have you back,’ ” he deadpanned.

Unlike some of the raunchy entertainers at previous dinners, Mr. Little played it safe, avoiding current political issues and relying on old-school impersonations of presidents from Richard Nixon to Mr. Bush to woo the crowd.

And a tough crowd it was.

On more than one occasion, Mr. Little asked, “Did you people get this?” After one joke bombed, he said, “And you thought Colbert was bad,” referring to Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, who at last year’s dinner offended the president, members of his administration and many journalists with crass jokes better suited to a college crowd.

Mr. Little warmed up with a few clunkers about Canadians followed by impersonations of John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Carson and Andy Rooney before digging into the presidents.

“Take a moment and look,” Mr. Little said. “Is the president laughing? Is he coming toward me?”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting congressional delegate and a guest of The Washington Times, said she was entertained.

“I go to a lot of dinners and listen to speeches. Here I listen to jokes,” Mrs. Norton said, adding that she appreciated Mr. Little’s old-school humor but realized that “some of these kids weren’t even born when Nixon was around.” The annual dinner draws an unusual mix of journalists and the very people they spend their careers holding accountable, namely the president and Cabinet members and politicians in general.

The biggest star of the night among the invited celebrities was Hollywood’s flavor of the week, recently dropped “American Idol” contestant Sanjaya Malakar. Sanjaya, a guest of People magazine, spent the pre-dinner hours preening before cameras wielded both by professional photographers and curious guests.

Other celebs spotted Saturday night include actors and actresses Teri Hatcher, Morgan Fairchild, John Cusack and James Denton (Mike from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives”); musicians Sheryl Crow, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw; supermodel Petra Nemcova; figure skater Michelle Kwan; and former New York Giant Tiki Barber.

At The Washington Times’ pre-dinner reception, Justice Antonin Scalia rubbed elbows with former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Baltimore Orioles’ Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson, Richmond Mayor Douglas Wilder, Korean Ambassador Tae Sik Lee, Jaushieh Joseph Wu of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, diplomatic hostess Esther Coopersmith and Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness .

Mr. Scalia joked that he always looks forward to one thing about the dinner: “The food. We come for the food,” he said, hastening to add, “You know I’m joking. My wife’s a better cook than that.”

When asked about this year’s celebrity roster, Mr. Scalia said he had “no idea who Sanjaya is.”

The White House Correspondents Association distributed student scholarships and various journalism awards, including a $5,000 check to the Virginia Tech student newspaper to help its coverage in the aftermath of the massacre.

“It meant a lot to the whole student body,” said Amie Steele, editor of the Collegiate Times.

She then asked half the crowd to chant “Let’s go” and the other half to chant “Hokies” to demonstrate support for the university community. The crowd performed the cheer pretty well.

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