At a Glitzy Washington Gala, Hailing the Stand-Up in Chief

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

President Barack Obama speaks with Tom Curley, center, president of The Associated Press, and New York Times photojournalist Doug Mills, left, as he arrives for the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, Saturday, May 9, 2009.

The annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association took on an edgier quality last night: it could have been held on the edge of the Hollywood Hills.

A once-cachet Washington tradition, the annual dinner may have completed its final transformation this year into a crushing gathering of several thousand, increasingly less a celebration of journalism than a parade of Hollywood and television celebrity. Photo positions for paparazzi dotted the Washington Hilton space where the dinner has been held for decades; midway through the evening, in the center of the room, a cluster of a half dozen tables became a traffic jam of Hollywood rubbernecking, as guests glommed around Sting, Kevin Bacon, Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Forest Whitaker, Natalie Portman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Donatella Versace, among others, who were attending as guests of various news outlets. When the dinner ended, many of those in attendance then fanned out over the city for additional celebrations, though at a time of unprecedented economic difficulty for most news organizations, it is hard to say of what, exactly. (Read the Twitter coverage of the White House Correspondents' dinner, a.k.a. #nerdprom)

The President, who by tradition attends and delivers comical remarks at the dinner each year, won the crowd over early. "Most of you covered me." After a beat, he added, "All of you voted for me." Noting that Sunday is Mother's Day, Obama reported that it was a tough holiday for his sometimes profane chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. "He's not used to saying the word 'day' after 'mother.'" (See an eight-year retrospective at the attempts at comedy at the White House Correspondents' dinner.)

Obama also made fun of RNC chairman Michael Steele for seeking a bailout for the GOP and noted that former vice president Dick Cheney was not in attendance, busying writing his memoirs which Obama said would be titled, "How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People." He mocked the reporters' recent obsession with his first 100 days by announcing that he was immediately building a presidential library in honor his first 100 days. "My next 100 days will be so successful, I will complete them in 72 days. And on the 73rd day, I will rest."

Obama said that in his next 100 days he will learn to give a speech without a teleprompter — something he has been criticized by some for relying too heavily on — while his vice president Joe Biden, who has made a string of ill-advised comments lately — will learn to use one.

The President said he was taking credit for "revitalizing the Democrats... bringing in fresh young faces like Arlen Specter." He suggested that his Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, had urged Specter to make his recent jump from the Republican to the Democratic party with the advice, "If you can't beat em, join em."

Obama's less successful riffs — a few of his jokes fell flat — were overlooked because the room is traditionally forgiving of its top guest and because the professional comic who typically follows the president — this year it was Wanda Sykes — can almost always be counted on to go much further overboard. Sykes came through in that department. While delivering a number of one liners that the crowd applauded, she included several — including one about Rush Limbaugh's drug problems and another about the fashion habits of previous first ladies — that would have been better to have scratched from her script.