A March 25 Style article about the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner incorrectly said John McEnroe was a guest of Alan Greenspan. He and Greenspan were both guests of CNBC Washington bureau chief Alan Murray. (Published 03/26/04)
The Donald, alas, was not in the mood to fire anyone last night at the Hilton Washington, site of the 60th annual Radio & Television Correspondents' Association dinner. Donald Trump, a guest of conservative talker Bill O'Reilly and Fox, brought his famous hair and his infamous finger (the one he points with when he bellows "You're fired!" at the end of each episode of his popular reality show "The Apprentice"), but he wasn't aiming it at anyone.
"I wouldn't fire anybody in this room," Trump said. "They're all a bunch of hardworking people trying to do well."
Trump's answer was politic on a night when most of the buzz at the predinner parties was about the hearings being held by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. What do you think of Clarke -- as in Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism expert who is criticizing the Bush administration -- was a frequent question and there were lots of different opinions.
"I've got some problems with Clarke," O'Reilly said at the Fox party. "We found out today that he's got contradictory statements he made. It looks like a personal deal to me."
Downstairs at the CNN bash, retired Gen. Wesley Clark took another stance.
"I worked with Richard Clarke in the mid-'90s and I was very impressed with his competence and his determination and his nonpartisanship," Clark said. "I think he's very credible and I think he's raised serious issues for the American people. I don't think it's fair to be attacking Dick Clarke's motives. . . . The facts are out there in the book. It's up to the administration to deal with the facts or not."
On this night, though, it appeared that the administration -- at least its leader -- was in the mood to have a little fun. And mostly at its own expense.
President Bush opened his 10-minute remarks to the gathering with a reference to what he referred to as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "favorite show" on television. Those anticipating an "Apprentice" punch line -- the Donald, after all, was only a few yards away -- guessed wrong.
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Bush said, generating a roomful of laughter. "My Cabinet could take some pointers from watching that show. In fact, I'm going to have the Fab Five do a makeover on [Attorney General John] Ashcroft."
From there, Bush went on to poke at his own malapropisms before unveiling a slide show titled "White House Election Year Album" that had the crowd chuckling. Yes, there were a few jabs at the Democrats, including a couple of shots taken at Democratic challenger John Kerry. Bush described a picture of himself doing what looked like the shuffle in the Oval Office in front of Condoleezza Rice as "here I'm trying to explain John Kerry's foreign policy to Condi." He also faked a phone conversation between Kerry and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. "Hey, John," he said. "Kim Jong Il here. Just wanted to let you know, you're my guy."
Mostly, though, he put up dorky-looking pictures of himself. A recurring joke involved photos of the president in awkward positions -- bent over as if he's looking under a table, leaning to look out a window -- accompanied by remarks such as "Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere!" and "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?"
Two awards were presented at the dinner, the Joan S. Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based national affairs/public policy broadcasting, and the David Bloom Award for excellence in enterprise reporting, which was established last year in memory of the NBC News correspondent who died while embedded with the troops in Iraq. The Bloom Award went to ABC News's "Nightline"; the Barone Award was split this year with "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," winning for a single edition, and CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, winning for his body of work.
Martin didn't hesitate to point out that his reporting did not always sit well with the administration. Turning to Bush, he said, "I doubt, Mr. President, that all the stories which we submitted for this award would be on your short list of favorites."
And there were definitely Bush detractors in attendance. Al Franken -- who is about to launch his own talk show on the new liberal radio network Air America -- came to the staunch defense of Clarke before the dinner. "There's no doubt in my mind at all that what he's saying is true," Franken said. Asked whom he'd fire if he were made the Donald for the day, Franken responded: "President Bush!"
Tennis star John McEnroe also was there, a guest of Alan Greenspan, who, apparently, he'd never met before.
McEnroe admitted that he was not much of a political expert but found himself growing more and more interested as he aged. "I feel like now, all of a sudden, I'm growing up for the first time. I think it's an interesting time" to be in Washington.
And of course he didn't mind putting forth his opinions. Asked if he could fire anyone in the world he wanted, McEnroe smiled, hesitated, then leaned for a whisper.
"The president," he said. Then he pulled away, put his fingers to his lips and said, "Ssssshhhhh!"
Actor Ron Silver was at Trump's table, along with a bevy of senators, including Jim Bunning, Mary Landrieu, Richard Shelby and Lincoln Chafee. But what about the love? The most popular boss in America couldn't even get the time of day from his buddy in the next chair.
"I don't have a lot of time to watch those dopey shows," said O'Reilly, when asked what he thought of "The Apprentice." "I spend enough time with my own dopey show."