Here’s the first draft of my story for print Variety on tonight’s big dinner in Washington:
At the annual White House Correspondents Assn. dinner tonight, President Obama riffed on his poll numbers, and quipped about the emerging field of potential 2012 rivals. But to many of the thousands gathered at the Washington Hilton, there was one person everyone was waiting to hear become the butt of jokes: Donald Trump, who was in the room.
With the President only this week releasing his long form birth certificate to settle Trump-fueled doubts about his citizenship, Obama joked, “No one is prouder to put this to rest than the Donald. That is because he can begin to focus on issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”
The crowd laughed, while Trump at one point offered a quick wave.
However, he sat in stone silence, with not even a smile, as Seth Meyers, the featured comic at the event, offered a barrage of harsh one-liners, like, “Donald Trump says he is thinking of running for president, which is surprising because I just assumed he was running as a joke.”
Such awkward moments are what the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner is all about.
Once a more intimate gathering of the press corps and the top echelon of the administration, the event instead has become a surreal mixture of Hollywood celebrity, media elite, political punditry and a hefty dose of self promotion. It’s no longer just a Saturday night dinner but a weeklong series of cocktail parties, club dates and other fetes, and the irony that comes when the D.C and Hollywood cultures mix are not as much surprising as they are accepted as the norm.
This year, the event itself seemed to be moving ever closer to the rarefied revelry of the red carpet, paparazzi shouting at Attorney General Eric Holder one minute and “Glee” star Jane Lynch the next. Joan Rivers was even present — she was attending, not doing commentary, but give it time. That job instead was left to a mix of entertainment outlets and otherwise button down political reporters. ABC News’ Rick Klein and Amy Walter, who host the political webcast “Top Line,” covered arrivals, and none other than C-SPAN provided an unabridged stream.
Obama noted the celebrity quotient in the audience, which also included Sean Penn, Jon Hamm, Scarlett Johansson and cast members from “Modern Family.”
The President’s biggest dig, however, was reserved for a celebrity who was not there: Damon, who recent expressed his disappointment in the president’s performance.
“Well, Matt, I just saw ‘The Adjustment Bureau.’ Right back at you buddy,” Obama quipped.
Meyers, delivering a far edgier performance than last year’s emcee Jay Leno, poked fun at the deflated hopes of Obama, telling the President of 2012: “I’ll tell you who could beat you: 2008 Barack Obama. You would have loved him.”
Trump was treated as every bit a celebrity as the other stars in the crowd, as members of the media lined up to chat with him and even the occasional Democrat shook his hand.
Walking in to the event, Trump actually told Politico that he didn’t think Obama would address him. Instead, he was at the center of much of the humor, even if he wasn’t laughing. Meyers said, “Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president.”
The evening has grown to the point where it is possible to never actually run in to a White House correspondent — or even lose sight of the fact that this is, at its heart, a press event. Bristol Palin, mingling at the Time-CNN-People-Fortune pre-party, posed for pictures in a stunning white dress with sequins. But asked what she thought of the night, a handler ran interference and said, “I’m sorry. She’s not doing interviews. This is a social occasion.”
Nevertheless, at an event earlier in the day, Sarah Palin posed for photos at an event full of some of the very same mainstream media she labels “lamestream.”
Her presence, in which she very politely mingled, chatted and posed for photos as she circulated through the crowd, was just one of the surprising moments at the garden brunch hosted by Tammy Haddad and others. Rupert Murdoch chatted with former Obama adviser David Axelrod, in a mix of personalities including Morgan Fairchild, Buzz Aldrin, Rosario Dawson, Matthew Morrison and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
Asked for his take on the whole scene, White House chief of staff William Daley summed it up in one word: “Crazy.”
Part of Obama’s monologue included a parody of the trailer for “The King’s Speech,” which the White House has posted here.
Obama’s monologue is here.