By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 10, 2009
When President Obama made his debut as the nation's Stand-Up-in-Chief last night -- the star attraction at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner -- no one in his administration was safe from his one-liners.
Not Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: "The minute she got back from Mexico, she pulled me into a hug and said I should go down there myself."
Not Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: "This is a tough holiday for Rahm. He's not used to saying the word 'day' after 'mother.' "
Not even, it turned out, himself: "During the second 100 days, we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first 100 days."
And: "My next 100 days will be so successful, I will complete them in 72 days. And on the 73rd day, I will rest."
The routine brought mostly guffaws from the 2,500 journalists, politicians and celebrities jammed into the Washington Hilton ballroom for the press corps' annual celebration of itself. The president acknowledged perceptions that he's a media darling: "Most of you covered me; all of you voted for me. Apologies to the Fox table."
First lady Michelle Obama also attended, wearing a sleeveless fuchsia gown and a bold necklace. Her husband gibed that she was helping to bridge divides in the nation, including "the right to bare arms."
The correspondents' dinner always seems to convene a galaxy of stars, but last night's festivities were particularly incandescent, bringing back many of the celebrities who lit up Washington during Obama's inaugural events and parties.
The evening's guest list featured (in no particular order): Glenn Close; Robert De Niro; Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck; Natalie Portman; Stevie Wonder; Sting; Taye Diggs; John Cusack; Demi Moore; Alicia Keys; Brad Paisley; Eva Longoria Parker; Forest Whitaker; Jon Hamm; Chris "Ludacris" Bridges; young actors Miranda Cosgrove and Chace Crawford; and, for good measure, directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
In the ballroom, Tom Cruise and his wife, Katie Holmes, obliged photo requests -- even an unusual one from Bloomberg reporter Bill McQuillen, who wanted a picture of himself with Cruise's wife. "You want me to take the picture?" asked Cruise, who then complied.
The mistress of ceremonies for the evening was Wanda Sykes, an actress and comedian who grew up locally and got her start doing stand-up while moonlighting from her day job as a procurement officer at the National Security Agency.
"It's funny to me that [photographers] have never caught you smoking," Sykes told the president, "but they always catch you with your shirt off. I know you're into this transparency thing, but I don't need to see your nipples."
The star power was reminiscent of the Bill Clinton years but with a key difference: Clinton courted Hollywood to augment his pop-culture stature, while Obama doesn't have to.
Perhaps the biggest pre-party of the weekend took place earlier yesterday, when 500 people mobbed a brunch at the home of veteran newswoman Tammy Haddad. There were so many media figures, politicians and celebrities in the mix that famous faces became wallpaper.
One of the more buzzed-about attendees was Todd Palin, standing in for his wife, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), as a guest of Fox News at the dinner. David Corn, a writer for the liberal magazine Mother Jones, was staggered when lawyer John Coale, husband of Fox News's Greta Van Susteren, pulled him over for a chat with Palin. "I was worried he was going to punch me in the face," Corn said. Instead, he and Palin talked about safe topics: 8-year-old daughters and deep-sea fishing. Naturally, Corn twittered about this.
There was no chance of off-the-record at this gathering: The hostess herself, Haddad, had just launched a blog devoted to reporting the weekend's events 24-7, including "exclusive live coverage" of her brunch.
For media types, the dinner -- staged since 1920 -- has become a major schmooze-fest. Outside the Beltway, this stokes public perception of journalists sucking up to the power elite they cover. But the celebrity onslaught, which has become its own yearly tradition, may temper that critique somewhat: The journalists are more likely to be swooning over the star they've invited than the politicians they know so well.
Obama, for his part, played it all for laughs: "I must confess I really didn't want to be here tonight. But I had to come. That's one more problem I inherited from George Bush." The crowd roared.
Staff writers Amy Argetsinger and Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.