Prez ditches journos

First exec noticeably absent from correspondents' dinner

NEW YORK — It just wasn’t the same without him.

Understandably, though, President Clinton chose the possibility of being crushed to death by mobbing masses in Africa rather than subject himself on March 25 to a room full of radio and TV journalists.

Political and broadcast hotshots were out in force for the 54th Annual Radio & Television Correspondents Assn. dinner, held at the Washington Hilton, despite the fact that Bill and Hillary, veepee Al Gore — and even top-billed award presenter Walter Cronkite — played hooky from the traditionally must-be-seen event.

Much Lewinsky talk could be heard among the more than 5,000 guests in the main ballroom, but the event and, especially, paid entertainer Kevin Nealon (of “Saturday Night Live” and “Hiller and Diller” fame) were quite tame compared to the 1996 skewer-job delivered by radio talkshow host Don Imus.

Seemingly not wanting to offend even the cardboard cutouts of the prez and first lady he’d brought as props, Nealon offered only a couple of gentle barbs, like “If I’d known that Clinton was skipping the event, I would have brought my wife” and “But really, if you take away the adultery, who would want to be president?”

Even without the President, it was a night for the newsy A-list to mix and mingle in each other’s hospitality suites until the wee hours of the morning.

“There just wasn’t the usual dose of drama and tension this year,” noticed CNN spokesman Howard Polskin.

Clinton likely figured he could skip one day’s shovelful.

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