Double Team: O Goes on Offense, O'Brien Plays Defense at Correspondents' Dinner
Saturday night’s White House Correspondents Dinner, an annual event that features ultra-wealthy journalists hobnobbing with the tuxedo-clad politicians they are supposed to hold accountable, featured a swaggering President Obama lobbing verbal hand grenades at Republicans, Sheldon Adelson, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh – and featured Conan O’Brien blowing verbal kisses at the president. While 90 million Americans remain outside the workforce and 47 million remain on foodstamps, the politicians and the media that keep them in power toasted and roasted each other with aplomb.
Not one to invoke self-deprecating humor, President Obama was on the offensive all night long. Entering to DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” Obama immediately disclaimed any possibility of jokes about himself: “My advisors were a little worried about the new rap entrance music. They are a little more traditional. They suggested that I should start with some jokes at my own expense. Just take myself down a peg. I was like, ‘Guys, after four and a half years, how many pegs are there left?’”
Then Obama opened with a crack about Rush Limbaugh. But that was just his opening salvo. After dropping some typically defensive humor about his past -- “I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,” Obama joked, later adding a birther reference – he turned to every Republican who has ever challenged his infallibility.
“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress,” he said. “‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” The line got a huge laugh from the assembled lapdog media.
Then he turned to his other rivals in Congress. He said he wanted to begin a new “charm offensive” by going to “a Texas BBQ with Ted Cruz, a Kentucky bluegrass concert with Rand Paul, and a book burning with Michele Bachmann.” He came back to Cruz later for special mention: “Groucho Marx once said — and, Senator Cruz, that’s Groucho Marx, not Karl.”
Next, he turned his guns on private citizens who give money to people not named Obama. Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson took some solid shots: “Did you know that Sheldon Adelson spent $100 million of his own money last year on negative ads? You’ve got to really dislike me to spend that kind of money. I mean, that’s Oprah money …. Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race.”
Obama saved some ribbing for the media. Of course, that ribbing came with some patented charmlessness from the arrogant president: “My job is to be president. Your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
His heaviest blows were aimed at Fox News; he joked that after History Channel’s massively popular miniseries The Bible cast an actor as Satan that many thought resembled Obama, “Fox News thought the comparison was not fair – to Satan.” But he also poked at NBC (he said that his recent basketball showing, in which he went 2 for 22 from the floor, prompted NBC execs to ask, “What’s your secret?”), MSNBC (David Axelrod working for MSNBC, he said, was “a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod), CNN (“Fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story – just in case one of them happens to be accurate”). He seemed rather upset at Maureen Dowd for daring to question him (“Maureen Dowd said I could solve all of my problems if I was just more like Michael Douglas in The American President. I know Michael’s here tonight. Michael, what’s your secret? Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy?”
Then, demonstrating the deep and abiding modesty that characterizes him, Obama lectured the media on doing their jobs, stating that if the media are “only focused on profits or ratings or polls, then we’re contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now.”
But he didn’t have to worry about the media contributing to cynicism about his administration. They were too busy sycophantically guffawing along with him. President Obama may have poked fun at Conan O’Brien, laughing at Conan’s selection: “It’s the age-old dilemma: do you offer it to him now? Or wait five years and give it to Jimmy Fallon?” But O’Brien had no such ribbing in store for the president at this sycophantic farce.
Demonstrating the fearless comedic chops that landed him at TBS instead of NBC, O’Brien ripped Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) for “struggling to get along” with President Obama. He launched into Bob Woodward, the legendary journalist who had the temerity to call out the White House’s bully tactics. This, in O’Brien’s view, was treason: “The print media still has a big star in Bob Woodward. Earlier the waiter asked if he wanted regular or decaf. And he said, ‘Stop threatening me.’” As for Obama, O’Brien feebly joked that he might be “cold and aloof.”
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner under the Obama presidency remains an annual reminder that the White House correspondents are indeed largely correspondents owned by the White House. No wonder the media quickly labeled the event a stunning success, giving both Obama and O’Brien high marks. The contemptuous president leveling his guns at political opponents as the media laughs and cheers along will be the crystallizing image from this event.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).
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