"And as excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the President's side, and the Vice President's side," Colbert said.
At other dinners, the entertainment played it safe.
Rich Little, the Carson-era comedian known for his impressions of Presidents Nixon and Reagan, was booked in 2007 as the tame follow-up to Colbert.
He lived up to that expectation, with a routine that seemed more appropriate for 1987.
"And you thought Colbert was bad," Little said after one comedic clunker.
This year comedian Wanda Sykes is the featured entertainment and may prove to be more edgy than her predecessors. Sykes is not known for playing it safe in her stand-up routines – and the White House Correspondents' Association does not hold veto power over the material.
In a surprise appearance, former First lady Laura Bush did a stand up routine at the 2005 dinner – and stole the show.
"I am married to the president of the United States and here is our typical evening. Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I am watching Desperate Housewives. With Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentleman, I am a desperate housewife," she said to thunderous laughter and applause.
Michelle Obama is not expected to yuk it up but she will present the association's annual journalism scholarships. Sixteen college students will be awarded $132,000.
Despite some tough economic times for the media, with layoffs and newspapers shutting down, the recession does not seem to be putting a damper on the party.
The dinner, the largest black tie event in town, is sold out – all 2,800 seats at $200 a pop. There is a long waiting list in case there are any late cancellations.
The New York Times will boycott the event for the second year in a row, citing concerns that the dinner gives the impression that reporters are cozying up to administration officials.
Some news organizations are scaling back their usual game plan for the dinner, buying fewer tickets but still taking part.
This year, acknowledging the tough economic times, the association is skipping the dessert course and donating the $13,140 saved to So Others Might Eat, a Washington, D.C., charity that provides meals and services to the poor. The association is also contributing an additional $10,000 to SOME.
-- ABC News' Bret Hovell contributed to this report.