Media Notes by Howard Kurtz

Funny Girl

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005; 8:54 AM

Laura Bush certainly picked the right audience for her comedic debut.

If you're going to be funny and make fun of the president, do it in front of a couple thousand reporters.

I knew the first lady had done well at the White House correspondents dinner (even if some of the jokes were a little canned for my taste.) What I wasn't prepared for was the explosion of coverage casting her as, if not the next Jon Stewart, at least the administration's newest rock star.

Laura has long been more popular than her husband, which is why she spoke at the convention and played a key campaign role and sometimes shows up on Leno. And journalists, it turns out, are easy to seduce if you throw away the talking points and show you have a sense of humor. Nancy Reagan famously did this in 1982, mocking her f ashionista image with a 'Second Hand Rose' routine that brought her more sympathetic coverage.

Since first ladies are inherently less partisan figures, the press doesn't hesitate to build them up. Barbara Bush got her dog to write a book. Hillary was the subject of incredibly puffy profiles before getting hammered over Whitewater and the vast right-wing conspiracy. Laura has been portrayed as a friendly librarian, but didn't have a sharply defined image until now.

In Washington, though, even being funny is controversial, so some commentators have been ripping the Laura Bush routine--a flap that drew the attention of the newest NYT columnist, John Tierney:

"Her timing had the audience howling, and the edgier lines had them gasping. Jokes about pent-up sexual frustration from a prim librarian? With her born-again husband sitting there and enjoying it? And cameras recording it for Republican preachers who are determined to get sex out of schools and off television?

"For the mainly Democratic audience - this was a crowd of Washington journalists and luminaries from Hollywood and Manhattan - it was an evening of cognitive dissonance. How to reconcile this charming image on stage with the Bush they love to bash?

"Mrs. Bush's performance, and her husband's reaction, wasn't a shock to the reporters who cover the White House. For years they have tried to convince their friends outside Washington that Mr. Bush is actually not a close-minded dolt, and Mrs. Bush is no Stepford Wife or Church Lady. Yes, they're Texans who go to church and preach family values, but they're not yahoos or religious zealots.

"The coverage of Mrs. Bush's comic debut may change some minds, but for devout Bush-bashers, it's much easier to stay the course. If you live in a blue-state stronghold, a coastal city where you can go 24 hours without meeting any Republicans, it's consoling to think of the red staters as an alien bunch of strait-laced Bible thumpers.

"Otherwise, how do you explain why they're Republican?"

The colorfully named News Corpse says the media should take a deep breath:

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