Solemnity mixed with laughter at the 2007 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
Less than a week after the April 16 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the estimated 3,000 dinner attendees tried to find a balance of cheer, stargazing and respect for the tragedy.
The dinner honored Amie Steele, editor of Virginia Tech’s school paper that continued to update and put out information even as the shooting unfolded on the campus. The editor led a rousing cheer of “Let’s go Hokies” that everyone shouted with enthusiasm.
Steele said afterward that being invited to the dinner meant a lot to her and the school. “It’s been absolutely amazing,” she said. “It’s been a tough week trying to represent the student body,” and she said she hoped that she had done her fellow students justice.
Out of respect for the grieving families of the 32 shooting victims, President Bush said he would not follow the tradition of cracking jokes and kept his speech short. He thanked the journalists for their hard work covering the Blacksburg calamity, but “decided not to be funny.”
But, he added, “I think a society that can poke fun at its leaders is a strong society and a confident society,” and encouraged everyone to enjoy the evening. “We’ve got to learn to laugh in this town.”
The audience got more than a few laughs at the president’s expense when a video of “Top Ten George W. Bush Moments” from David Letterman was shown. Laughter erupted particularly at TV clips of Bush attempting to leave a news conference through locked doors and a camera that caught him spitting as he crossed the White House lawn.
“I felt we needed to strike the right pitch—recognize the events of the week and also have fun,” commented Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “It’s been a tough week and everyone needed a good laugh.”
Rich Little, a comedian who rose to fame in the 1970s with his Richard Nixon impression, had the tough task of bringing levity to the proceeding with impersonations of presidents, celebrities and politicians.
Little succeeded in bringing the house some good, wholesome laughs, according to Bob Schieffer of CBS. He had been skeptical anyone could top Steve Bridges, who brought the house down at last year’s dinner with his dead on impersonation of the president.
“I thought [Little] was great,” Schieffer said. “Generally old-fashioned kind of humor but funny.”
Of course, nothing could stop the other sport of the evening: stargazing.
This year’s celebrity du jour was Sanjaya Malakar, the American Idol contestant with lovely locks. His schedule suddenly opened up after he got voted off of the show earlier in the week. His Shirley Temple curls did not disappoint his fans, who flocked around him to score a picture with the singer. Unfortunately many were rebuffed by the eight-person detail surrounding the celebrity.
Sporting less security, other notable celebrities who attended were Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, Academy Award winner Jane Fonda, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor and current GOP presidential aspirant Rudy Giuliani, Teri Hatcher of ABC’s Desperate Housewives, HBO’s Bill Paxton of Big Love, and Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was starstruck. “I’m having a great time. I’m sitting with Apolo Ohno on one side and Reggie Bush on the other.”
And in the spirit of the evening’s goal of putting politics and agendas aside, TV newsmen George Stephanopoulus and Charlie Gibson didn’t seem to mind that their presence on either side of her didn’t merit any mention by Rice.