Variety editorial

Ribald, celebrity-encrusted press club dinners are an old tradition in Washington. For years events like the Gridiron Dinner have seen politicians breaking bread with entertainers and journalists. They’ve managed to set ideology aside, put on nothing-sacred skits and poke rude fun at themselves — and nobody has batted an eye.

But in the wake of last Thursday’s Radio City Music Hall benefit for the Edwards/Kerry ticket, entertainers have been put on notice: If their jokes cut too close for comfort or their language is too raunchy, the backlash will be fierce.

At the Radio City Music Hall event, Whoopi Goldberg and Chevy Chase delivered monologues mercilessly lambasting the president. Singer John Mellencamp called him a “cheap thug.” The humor was blue — not red, white and blue.

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman responded by calling the benefit a “star-studded hatefest” and demanded the Kerry campaign release a video of the show. TV and Internet news outlets gave it wide play.

Lost in the media storm is the concept that mockery and name-calling can work both ways — and in fact is sometimes healthy. George Bush Sr. called Michael Moore a “slimeball” without having seen his film. George W. Bush recently offered a film of himself humorously hunting under White House chairs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Latenight comics mock the administration without being labeled “hatefests.” Humor and satire have always acknowledged the common ground between people of opposing political views — even in a tense political year.

The Gridiron Dinner has long been a safe zone in which entertainers and politicians can laugh at themselves — uncensored and unvetted. The stage at Radio City Music Hall should be safe from censors, too.

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