The White House may be finding itself in the same company as an Oscar producer.

They’re about to throw an award ceremony in the midst of a national crisis.

The occasion is tomorrow night’s Gershwin Prize, to be awarded to Paul McCartney in the East Room followed by the former Beatle’s concert. No on questioned the merit of the event when it was announced on May 24, but that was before a wave of criticism from the right and the left that the administration’s response to the BP oil spill was listless. Over the weekend, columnists weighed in, offering all sorts of advice on how Spock should spring into action. And from Arianna Huffington, there was this dig: “This is not the time for a White House singalong.”

Time and again, Hollywood’s signature award show has found itself in the crosshairs of a national emergency. When President Reagan was shot in 1981, the show was postponed. When the war in Iraq was launched in 2003, the red carpet was rolled up. Disasters have forced the more superfluous aspects of the ceremony to be toned down.

At the very least, Obama will have to make some kind of gesture at the event — if McCartney doesn’t himself.

A month ago, which is really like a year in Beltway time, a looming question over the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner was whether President Obama should go forward with an event known for its levity while a looming crisis was unfolding in the Gulf. But the pressure on the White House appeared to be alleviated once they announced that Obama would visit the Gulf the day after the dinner.

That evening at the Washington Hilton, I asked a number of politicos, strategists and journalists whether Obama should have canceled, and the answer was the same: Naw, he’ll be going tomorrow. Then I asked a Republican consultant, who shook his head, as you would expect, and said that Obama would get a pass by the media once he made the visit to the Louisiana coast. But that wouldn’t be the end of it.

The leak would continue, and, more than any other situation so far, would plague Obama and drag down his presidency. Rather than posturing, his statement may be amazingly prescient. Perceptions are changing.

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