- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

It may not have been studded with stars or greeted with the same feverish anticipation as the White House Correspondents’ Association soiree last month, but this year’s 65th annual Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner did not come up short on laughs.

“The jokes weren’t as good five weeks ago, but neither is the guest list,” quipped President Obama, the evening’s guest of honor, making reference to Friday night’s Washington Convention Center event, seen by many as the ugly stepsister of the more glamorous dinner for White House correspondents, attended by A-listers from Hollywood.

In a rare turn, the president left the dinner early, but not before delivering some clever one-liners, poking fun at himself and the hundreds of broadcasters and politicians assembled.

“This was supposed to be my date night. I had planned to take Michelle out for Thai food in Bangkok,” he said.

The president explained that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not in attendance because of the broken elbow she suffered on her way to the White House last week. He kidded that perhaps Richard C. Holbrooke, his special representative to the Middle East, had sprayed WD-40 on the sidewalk, causing her slip.

Mr. Obama intimated that he had been up tossing and turning, trying to think of new jokes to tell, and in the middle of the night finally turned to NBC’s Brian Williams and asked his opinion.

This was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the looming presence of Mr. Williams in the Obama family quarters while filming “Inside the Obama White House” for NBC.

“He’s very good at this sort of thing. I guess that’s why he got elected,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said to The Washington Times on his way out of the dinner, praising the president’s ease in front of a sometimes critical crowd.

The snickering continued with the entertainer of the evening, John Hodgman, a regular on “The Daily Show.” Mr. Hodgman rhapsodized about having a “Star Trek” fan in the Oval Office, and, at one point, Mr. Hodgman and Mr. Obama exchanged the mysterious Vulcan salute, famously used by Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on the popular 1960s science-fiction show.

On a more serious note, Mr. Obama extended a sincere overture of good will and gratitude to the broadcast press, saying, “I appreciate the work that you do.”

The association presented special awards to broadcast journalists and honored those who had died in the past year.

Orla Guerin of the BBC and Mike Viqueira of NBC were honored for their contributions to the field.

The late Tim Russert of NBC, Bill Headline of CNN and former Fox News anchor and White House press secretary Tony Snow were given posthumous tributes, and Heather Dahl, the president of the association, dedicated the dinner to their legacy.

Mr. Viqueira told The Washington Times that his award was especially moving for him, because Mr. Russert had hired him to work at NBC News.

Although the stars did not turn out as brightly, networks did make some effort to add razzle and dazzle to their tables.

James Haven, the brother of actress Angelina Jolie, was seated at the Fox table.

Carrie Prejean, the embattled former Miss California, was escorted into the dinner by Fox News correspondent Major Garrett, who proudly told The Washington Times that he was Miss Prejean’s “trophy date.”

Miss Prejean, looking like “Wheel of Fortune” co-host Vanna White circa 1988, in high hair and high heels and with a thigh-high slit up her dress, brushed off rumors that she is being courted by Fox to be an on-air personality. “I’m just here to have a good time,” she said.

The good times really started rolling after the dinner, at the after-party hosted by MSNBC at the Washington Historical Society, across the street from the Convention Center.

“I don’t drink. I don’t need to drink,” deadpanned the ever-effusive MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, when asked by The Washington Times why he was not partaking of the free-flowing cocktails being served by his colleague Rachel Maddow, the guest bartender for the evening.

Even though the celebrities were scarce, Mr. Obama’s inner circle was given the star treatment by high-powered journalists, who always relish the opportunity to socialize with sources of information.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod was in deep conversation with CBS correspondent Lara Logan, but The Washington Times managed to extricate him from Miss Logan’s grip long enough to ask about Mr. Obama’s fascination with “Star Trek.”

Did the president become a Trekkie recently?

“No, I think he was born a Trekkie. Have you seen his ears?” joked Mr. Axelrod.

Senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett and White House spokesman Bill Burton also confirmed Mr. Obama’s affinity with all things Trekkie at the party.

As for Ms. Jarrett, she said, “I’m done,” when asked if she will be gracing the covers of any more magazines.

Ms. Jarrett, along with White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, glammed it up for Capitol File Magazine’s recent summer issue.

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