This year’s election cycle has all of us interested in politics reminiscing for times gone by, to say the least. As spring approaches, I’m reminded of fond memories of attending both President George W. Bush’s final White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2008, as well as President Barack Obama’s first the following year, and how much Washington has changed since then – and could potentially, drastically, change even more.
It doesn’t look like I’ll get an invitation to the dinner this year – but do any journalists, either? I’m revisiting my Washington Times article from 2012 covering the dinner – the time I interviewed a dog. Enjoy.
The Washington Times
By Samantha Sault
April 29, 2012
This weekend marked not only the 98th annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which brings nearly 3,000 journalists, politicos and Hollywood stars together for a night of revelry in Washington, to benefit awards and scholarships for current and aspiring journalists.
“Last year at this time, in fact on this very weekend, we finally delivered justice to one of the world’s most notorious individuals,” President Obama said to open his speech at the dinner, seizing the opportunity to boast about the killing of Osama bin Laden to a crowd scattered with potential donors in an election year.
But the crowd laughed, for it was not bin Laden appearing on the screens in the Washington Hilton’s packed ballroom, but Donald Trump, whom Mr. Obama and comedian Seth Meyers lambasted at last year’s dinner for his birther rhetoric. The crowd would continue to chuckle through Mr. Obama’s speech and comedian headliner Jimmy Kimmel’s act, both of whom joked about election-year politics and, of course, the recent Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia.
Since 1920, the dinner has allowed members of the Washington press corps to let their hair down and enjoy laughs with their sources, or, at recent dinners, random celebrities. As Mr. Obama joked offstage on a pretend hot mic before his speech: “I have the nuclear codes. Why am I telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian?” (Miss Kardashian attended the dinner with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren.)
On the red carpet, the paparazzi snapped major star power such as actor Kevin Spacey, who recently portrayed fallen Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in “Casino Jack,” posing with J.R. Martinez, the former “All My Children” actor and U.S. Army soldier. CBS News’ Bob Schieffer escorted actress Claire Danes (“Homeland”), and Eliot Spitzer arrived soon after.
Meanwhile, Hollywood starlets brought high fashion to Washington, such as Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games”) in a blood-orange Antonio Berardi gown with a trendy peplum, and Charlize Theron (“Young Adult”) in an elegant, long-sleeved, black lace Emilio Pucci gown.
“Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara was popular, but the most sought-after celebrity was Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier who starred in “The Artist” and was a guest of The Washington Times. After walking the red carpet in a Beverly Hills Mutt Club tuxedo, the pooch visited The Times’ pre-dinner reception with owner Omar Von Muller and Mr. Von Muller’s wife, Mercy.
“He loves to make all kinds of appearances, and this is a big one for him, so he’s very excited about it,” Mr. Von Muller told The Times. Uggie, who was visiting Washington for the first time, also told The Times that his memoir, ” Uggie: My Story,” will be published in October.
Ed Kelley, editor of The Washington Times, was pleased with the reception and the publication’s guest list.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Mr. Kelley, who was attending his first White House Correspondents’ Association dinner after joining the paper in July 2011. “But we have a good group here tonight at our reception, and we’re looking forward to a lot of fun at the dinner.”
The Times’ guests looked forward to the high-powered mingling and the humorous speeches.
“It’s always good to see the combination of leadership and the media and the glitterati relaxing and enjoying themselves,” said Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the reception.
Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, who traveled from Harrisburg for the event, said he was looking forward to the humor.
Other guests of The Times included former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld; Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican; Moroccan Ambassador Rachad Bouhlal; Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo; Sam Sebastian, Google’s director of sales; and Paxton K. Baker, executive vice president and general manager of Centric, a BET Network, who said he thought it was a great night in Washington because he’s “a big fan of bipartisanship.”
Indeed, after poking fun at himself, Mr. Obama poked fun at both political friends (Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) and foes (presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney), along with the entire U.S. Congress, whom he thanked for taking “a break from their exhausting schedules of not passing any laws to be here tonight.”
Given the election year, however, he did focus his jabs on his likely opponent in the presidential race.
“It’s great to be here this evening in the vast, magnificent Hilton ballroom — or what Mitt Romney would call a little fixer-upper,” Mr. Obama said.
After referring to attendee Newt Gingrich as his “likely opponent,” Mr. Obama continued: “Recently, [Mr. Romney’s] campaign criticized me for slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. In fact, I understand Gov. Romney was so incensed he asked his staff if he could get some equal time on ‘The Merv Griffin Show.’ “
Noting the members of Congress in attendance, Mr. Obama thanked them for taking “a break from their exhausting schedules of not passing any laws to be here tonight.”
He joked about eating dog — “As my stepfather always told me, ‘It’s a boy-eat-dog world out there’ ” — and took a jab at his own administration’s scandal-plagued General Services Administration: “Look at this party. We’ve got men in tuxes, women in gowns, fine wine, first-class entertainment. I was just relieved to learn this was not a GSA conference.”
Mr. Obama closed with a joke at the expense of his Secret Service: “I had a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew.”
After a politics-themed “Unnecessary Censorship” video modeled after his talk show, Mr. Kimmel started with jabs at the president — “cover your ears if that’s physically possible” — and first lady Michelle Obama, who he said is starving her husband with her healthy-eating initiative and meals of “carrots and sticks.”
The election-year rhetoric continued. “Remember when the country rallied around you in hopes of a better tomorrow?” Mr. Kimmel asked Mr. Obama. “That was hilarious. There’s a term for guys like President Obama, probably not two terms …” he continued.
The Republicans weren’t safe, either, with jabs at Mr. Romney tying his dog to the roof of his car and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was in the audience, about whom Mr. Kimmel said: “It just wasn’t Rick’s year. Rick’s year was 1954.”
Despite a few off-color, but overall well-received, jokes, Mr. Kimmel kept his mocking bipartisan with jokes at the expense of everyone from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Rep. Allen West, Florida Republican, to the Secret Service scandal and Lindsay Lohan’s need for a designated driver.
The one joke that made the media-filled room groan was a deliberate jab at print journalism: “What’s black and white and read all over?” asked Mr. Kimmel. “Nothing anymore.”
The Washington Times was proud of star guest Uggie, who got a shoutout from Mr. Kimmel.
“Uggie is amazing. He can roll over on command,” he said. “He’s a Democrat.”
While we don’t know Uggie’s politics, we do know it was likely a night to remember for him and his fellow attendees, who hopefully had a few laughs with friends of all political persuasions before the real election-year blows begin.
© Copyright 2012 The Washington Times, LLC and Samantha Sault