President Barack Obama poked fun at himself, his political opponents, the news media and even his wife’s hairstyle late on Saturday at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
The dinner, where around 3,000 guests dine in a massive hotel ballroom, is greeted with near hysteria in Washington, normally a strait-laced town where celebrity is calculated in degrees of political power rather than box office pulling power.
In recent years, the dinner has been transformed from a chance for journalists and their bosses to meet with government officials into a full-bore celebrity party, with A-listers imported from Hollywood — a “nerd prom” as some call it.
“These days I look in the mirror and have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist that I used to be,” Obama said in one of his choice jokes, mocking that belief among a radical conservative fringe of Americans.
He then showed a montage of pictures showing him in a haircut with bangs like his wife Michelle wore on inauguration day.
Targets of Obama’s humor included billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who spent $100 million backing Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates in the 2012 race; conservative radio provocateur Rush Limbaugh; the three major cable news networks; and several conservative Republican politicos.
The humor was mostly made up of inside jokes for news junkies, though the president ended with a clip in which Hollywood director Steven Spielberg announced a new movie — “Obama,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The president then appeared acting as if he were Day-Lewis preparing for the role.
Among stars sighted were South Korean rapper Psy, singer Barbra Streisand, Hollywood actors Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper, Michael J. Fox, Kevin Spacey, Nicole Kidman, Ian Mckellen and Michael Douglas, and movie directors Spielberg and George Lucas.
Obama ended on a serious note, making reference to the people of Boston affected by the marathon bombings, those in Texas affected by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion, and victims of flooding in the midwestern United States.
The night’s featured comedian was Conan O’Brien, who mocked US politicians and the media but also had choice words for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
“In the past we’ve had really scary enemies like Saddam Hussein and Hitler,” said O’Brien. “Now our nemesis is a pouty teenage boy who dresses like Rosie O’Donnell at the Emmys.”
Kim “doesn’t understand that we aren’t afraid of him. What that guy doesn’t get is that we already have an unstable peninsula that will ultimately bring down America. It’s called Florida.”
The reference was to the constant electoral headaches coming from the southern US state.
For the first time, celebrity cable news network E! covered the Oscars-style red carpet entrance to the party at the Washington Hilton hotel live as the stars rolled up.
Not everyone was impressed with the news media-Washington power elite lovefest.
“#1 legacy of tonite’s #nerdprom: Merriam-Webster just added a 4th definition for ‘incestuous,’” wrote political pundit Larry Sabato in a Twitter message.
The event “was pathetic,” wrote former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, also on Twitter. “The rest of America is out there working our asses off while these DC assclowns throw themselves a #nerdprom.”
Famed NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw caused a stir last year when he slammed the dinner’s growing glitz, and declined his invitation this year.
White House Correspondents Association president Ed Henry of Fox News took steps to try to damp down the Hollywood influence, cutting back on tables for news organizations that rarely cover the White House.
Henry also noted that the dinner raises funds for journalism scholarships.