WASHINGTON — President Obama once again threw out cutting zingers at this year’s White House Correspondents Assn. dinner, skewering cable news, the Republican presidential field and even Hillary Clinton’s just started presidential campaign.
And in a nod to his takedown of Donald Trump in 2011, he noted Trump’s presence at this dinner. “And Donald Trump is here. Still.”
After welcoming the cast of ABC’s “Blackish” comedy, he warned: “(But) being ‘Blackish’ only makes you popular for so long.”
One of his biggest laughs came when he noted that people ask him, “Mr. Obama, do you have a bucket list? Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.”
His quip about Hillary Clinton came when he noted that some Americans were going through tough times. “I have one friend who was making millions of dollars a year and now she is living out of a van in Iowa.”
He also added a twist to his delivery, bringing on “Luther, the anger translator,” aka Keegan-Michael Key, to shed light on his true feelings about media coverage of the job he is doing.
One of his biggest laughs came when he talked about his close relationship with Vice President Joseph Biden. “We’ve gotten so close that in some places in Indiana they won’t serve us pizza anymore.”
The event has gained a reputation for being “Washington’s wildest week,” as a new documentary, “Nerd Prom,” dubbed it, for the unusual mix of celebrity, media figures and government officials. In fact, the White House Correspondents Assn. has grappled with the fact that so much of what goes on during the weekend has little to do with their mission, freedom of the press and access to the president.
This year, a number of reporters wore “Free Jason” lapel pins, and in her remarks at the event, the president of the WHCA, Christi Parsons, cited the case of Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, under arrest in Iran since July 22 and being held on charges related to his reporting.
Jane Fonda, Bradley Cooper and Laverne Cox were among the show biz figures attending, with the celebrity quotient noticeably muted from past years, when it was hard to keep track of all of the A-listers and tabloid darlings who populated the event. Still, there was a red carpet at the Washington Hilton, with political reporters like Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin interviewing, E! style, the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and potential presidential contender Martin O’Malley.
As usual, the pre-parties at the Washington Hilton offered unexpected moments. At the Yahoo-ABC News party, Justice Antonin Scalia sipped a martini and posed for photos near Katie Couric. Asked whether this was his first dinner, Scalia said that he’d been several times before, including as a guest of Fox News, but took a break. The trouble was that one of the featured comics told too many dirty and offensive jokes, he said. He couldn’t remember who the comic was, though, “I waited five years. It was safe to come back,” he quipped.
At the CBS News-The Atlantic party, Bob Schieffer, recently retired as host of “Face the Nation,” brought along Tea Leoni, star of “Madam Secretary.” Leoni’s co-star, Tim Daly, escorted former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Trump worked the press line, even as most attendees were being told to get through security into the cavernous ballroom in the basement of the Hilton.
“This is an opportunity to see these political figures like human beings,” said singer JC Chasez, at his fourth dinner. “It feels like, at least from the outside looking in, that this is the one moment where everybody seems to let their guard down a little bit, put things off one the issues a little bit. They are just willing to be happy and have a little bit of fun. If you can poke fun at yourself, it is a good thing.”
At the Washington Post pre-party was an Oculus display of a virtual reality White House. While it had its share of takers willing to test the demonstration, the focus was still on celebrity.
Bryan Singer flew in from Montreal with “X-Men: Apocalypse” co-stars Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan. The movie starts production on Monday.
“By night, we enjoy the festivities,” said Singer, in for his third dinner. “By day, we are actually working on our final touches.”
He offered his take on the co-mingling of D.C. and showbiz.
“Both are part of the media by the very nature of their jobs, and we don’t get to cross mingle very often,” he said. “It is an opportunity for people on our side of the media, entertainment, to be able to interface with those in politics and government. It’s just a very rare moment.”