By Marissa Newhall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009
As the media royalty rolled in to last night's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner, there was something missing. Absent was that certain buzz in the air -- that muted yet constant drone of every Washington journalist updating a Twitterfeed at the same time.
Indeed, the pre-dinner crowd was more wine glass than BlackBerry, thanks to seven open bars. Lots of black dresses, very few recognizable faces. Wait, there's Bruce Greenwood! And Tate Donovan! And even better: recently dethroned Miss California Carrie Prejean! That hair, that rhinestone belt, that tan.
This was Prejean's first Washington media dinner; she was looking forward to "just relaxing," she confided. What's next for her? "Not sure. Just taking it one day at a time." We could be transfixed by her smile all night, but there's the dinner bell.
This year's RTCA affair -- not to be confused with that other splashy springtime media dinner -- changed things up a bit. There's been a venue change (to the Washington Convention Center, from the Hilton Washington). And while past years' entertainment leaned heavily on politics and current events (in 2007, the infamous Karl "MC Rove" Rove; last year, the comedic stylings of Mitt Romney), this year skewed Web-centric. The anchor was author and "Daily Show" regular John Hodgman -- the bespectacled "I'm a PC" guy from all those YouTube-friendly Apple commercials -- plus video presentations from the Onion News Network.
Given the slate of entertainers, were the dinner's organizers catering to the Twittering class? "I never thought of it that way, not at all," RTCA chair Heather Dahl said. "Maybe subconsciously."
Providing balance was Sweet Honey in the Rock, a blues/gospel/jazz improv quintet favored highly by first lady Michelle Obama, who did not attend. (Neither did Vice President Biden, if you're scoring along at home.)
The big get, President Obama, did attend. He, however, insisted on making yet another joke at White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's expense. (Mr. President, America deserves better.)
"By now, I'm sure you've all seen the pictures of Rahm on that camel" in Egypt, Obama said. "I admit, I was a little nervous about the whole situation. I said at the time: 'This is a wild animal known to bite, kick and spit. And who knows what the camel could do?' "
Obama also took some shots at the audience. He said he was tossing and turning in bed a few nights ago, trying to think of jokes to tell at the dinner, when he "rolled over and asked Brian Williams" for input. He also said that despite the White House's best efforts, they "have not been able to generate the bandwidth necessary to turn Larry Summers into a hologram."
Hodgman used the lectern to dissect a nerds-vs.-jocks controversy ("the culture war of our time") and examine the president's nerd credentials: "He is facile with a 'Star Trek' reference . . . and writes books when he doesn't have to." Hodgman also embarked on a "Dune" tangent that was met with laughter from approximately five people, whom he acknowledged warmly.
JibJab, known for its viral political-satire-set-to-music videos, debuted its first take on the Obama administration: the president as a large-eared superhero, wearing Spandex and fighting pirates with his bare hands.
In a video salute to the RTCA, Onion fake-news anchor Brandon Armstrong (really an actor) praised recent accomplishments in TV news: "We tripled the number of LCD monitors behind us, and now there's a map you can touch with your hand." (Cue footage of CNN's Wolf Blitzer and John King.) Armstrong added, "I'm also told that radio still exists, which is charming."
A subsequent fake-news segment explained that, while enjoying dinner, RCTA journos missed a huge scoop: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had traded the country's gold reserves for cash using Cash4Gold.com.