Party of the Damned
Monday, April 28, 2008; 11:13 AM
As the Bush presidency staggers to an end, it's hard to say who has less to brag about: the president or the journalists who cover him. So it's fitting that the last White House Correspondents' Association dinner of the Bush era -- the ultimate celebration of chumminess between the most powerful people in the world and those who are supposed to hold them accountable -- was a dispiriting, mostly humorless affair.
President Bush phoned in his appearance, uttering a few topical one-liners but leaning primarily on greatest-hits footage from previous performances -- and wrapping up with a cartoonish but crowd-pleasing "conducting" of the Marine band.
Comedian Craig Ferguson essentially apologized in advance for his understated headlining performance -- a far cry from the withering diatribe delivered by Stephen Colbert two years ago.
"I spoke to a lot of journalists, about how I should speak up here," Ferguson said near the outset. "And everyone -- all the journalists said: 'Craig, your duty is speak truth to power. That's what you do: You hold the truth up for everyone to see. . . . And I am sorry, I don't see it that way. That is your job. I am a late night television show guy."
Ferguson, who seemed happiest making fun of Canadians and Belgians, took a few gentle shots at his audience. "I want to talk tonight about the respect I have for the American media," he said. "It is your task to watch the government, to make sure they do not exceed their power. Well done on that, by the way, the last eight years."
He joked about what sort of work Bush could do after leaving office. "You could look for a job with more vacation time." He said that Vice President Cheney "is already moving out of his residence. It takes longer than you think to pack up an entire dungeon."
But the only time he really showed teeth was to attack the no-show New York Times. "The New York Times unfortunately did not buy a table," he said. "They felt that this event 'undercuts the credibility of the press.'
"It's funny, you see, I thought that Jayson Blair and Judy Miller took care of that. What? . . . Did I go too far? Now let me try this: Shut the hell up, New York Times, you sanctimonious whining jerks!"
In the audience at the dinner and at its endless pre- and post-parties, a fin-de-siecle degeneracy was on full display. Throngs surrounded aging professional floozy Pamela Anderson, a guest of Bloomberg, who happily posed for countless photos in a dress that exposed the preponderance of her two most outstanding achievements. Key members of the White House's torture-management team-- Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state Colin Powell -- along with leading torture apologists -- Attorney General Michael Mukasey, CIA Director Michael Hayden, former White House spokesman Tony Snow and current spokeswoman Dana Perino -- were fawned over as honored guests.
In one of his few winning lines, Bush made this astute observation: "Pamela Anderson and Mitt Romney in the same room? Isn't that one of the signs of the apocalypse?" At the end of his speech, the man who waged war against the press received a standing ovation from the conquered.
Watch it yourself if you dare. Here is video of the red carpet arrivals and the entire dinner. Here is the Bush performance and the Ferguson performance. Here is footage of the swampy hell that was the Bloomberg after-party.
Michael Scherer writes for Time that Bush "rose to offer C-SPAN viewers another reason to doubt political journalists' ability to be anything but cowardly suck-ups to presidential pomp. In recent years, this event has been known mainly for the fantastic performance in 2006 of Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Central host, who addressed the crowd with a withering critique of both the failures of President Bush and the media. . . .