Amid the glitz and glamour, humor and levity normally surrounding the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama injected a somber tone to the annual soiree as he invoked the memories of those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing and West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion earlier this month and praised not only the work of the first responders in each of those tragedies but also the journalists dedicated to covering them.
“These have been some very hard days for too many of our citizens. Even as we gather here tonight our thoughts are not far from the people of Boston and the people of West, Texas. There are families who are in the Midwest who are coping with some terrible floods, so we’ve had some difficult days but even when the days seem darkest, we have seen humanity shine at its brightest,” the president said at the Washington Hilton Hotel Saturday. “We’ve seen first responders and national guardsmen who dashed into danger, law enforcement officers who lived their oath to serve and to protect, and every day Americans who are opening their homes and their hearts to perfect strangers.
“We also saw journalists at their best, especially those who took the time to wade upstream through the torrent of digital rumors, to chase down leads and verify facts and painstakingly put the pieces together to inform and to educate and to tell stories that demanded to be told.”
The president doled out particular praise for newspapers like the Boston Globe, who provided detailed information to the public as its city coped with a major terrorist attack.
“If anyone wonders for example if newspapers are a thing of the past, all you need to do is to pick up or log on to papers like the Boston Globe,” the president said to applause. “When their communities and wider world needed them most, they were there, making sense of events that might at first blush seem beyond our comprehension and that’s what great journalism is, and that’s what great journalists do.”
But while the president, who was accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, presented a serious tone for a portion of his speech, he also took some time to poke fun at himself, even highlighting some of the criticisms and perceptions some hold of him.
“Look I get it, these days I look in the mirror and I have to admit I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,” Obama said to laughter.
“I’m also hard at work on plans for the Obama library and some have suggested we put it in my birthplace but I’d rather keep it in the United States,” Obama joked.
Pointing out his flap when he called California Attorney General Kamala Harris the “best looking attorney general,” the president joked, “As you might imagine I got in trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?”
The president also addressed his recent “charm offensive” with members of Congress as he tries to reach across the aisle to Republicans.
“My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what’s going on in congress. It turns out absolutely nothing,” he said.
And he took aim at a potential Republican 2016 hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, who’s short time in the Senate resembled that of President Obama when he first entered elected office.
“One senator who has reached across the aisle recently is Marco Rubio but I don’t know about 2016, I mean the guy has not even finished a single term in the senate and he thinks he’s ready to be president,” the president said sarcastically. “Kids these days.”
The evening’s festivities offered journalists and politicians the opportunity to hobnob with celebrities who descend upon Washington, D.C. for the annual dinner, which is hosted by the White House Correspondents Association and features a presentation of scholarships to journalism students and awards to esteemed colleagues in the industry.
Late night talk show host Conan O’Brien entertained the guests, but even he wasn’t free of the president’s comedic aim.
When the president discussed the WHCA’s decision to select O’Brien as the evening’s entertainment, he said they were “faced with that aged old dilemma, do you offer it to him now or wait 5 years and then give it to Jimmy Fallon?”