WHCA Chief Says He Did Not Tell Comedian to Back Off Bush and Iraq

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By: Joe Strupp

Earlier this week word emerged that impersonator Rich Little would be the star performer at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington in April. Organizers admitted they wanted a somewhat more “safe” choice after last year’s subversive routine by Stephen Colbert, which took direct satiric aim at the Iraq war and President Bush (who sat nearby).

But how safe? The Las Vegas Review-Journal now reports that Little claimed he did not plan to even mention Iraq or to attack the president, implying that these were the wishes of the inviters. But Steve Scully, president of the White House Correspondents Association, told E&P Friday that the organization never asked Little to avoid subjects like Iraq or back off criticism of President Bush.

The Las Vegas paper had reported that Little said organizers of the event made it clear they don’t want a repeat of last year’s controversial appearance by Colbert. “They got a lot of letters,” Little said. “I won’t even mention the word Iraq….They don’t want anyone knocking the president. He’s really over the coals right now, and he’s worried about his legacy.”

But Scully, a senior produce at C-SPAN, replied: “I cannot be more clear that we never mentioned Iraq, we never gave him any guidelines. The only thing we told him is that we want to follow the policy of the Gridiron Dinner, which is ‘singe, don?t burn’.”

Scully, who said he had placed a call today to Little’s agent, Michael Pick, planned to clarify that the dinner’s organizers placed no restrictions on the comedian.

He said the same simple request had been given in the past to Jay Leno, Cedric the Entertainer and last year’s host, Colbert. Scully pointed out that Little was chosen, in part, because the dinner will include a look at presidential humor, something Little is known for dating back to his impersonations of Richard Nixon.

“When I called Rich Little, I said ‘I want your brand of humor,'” Scully
told E&P. “It is a political audience, here are people who live and eat politics so someone who does George Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Nixon, is someone we wanted.”

Scully has said that the choice of Little, who practices a milder former of humor than Colbert, had nothing to do with any controversy surrounding Colbert’s performance last year. “Colbert had a couple of zingers toward President Bush, and a couple toward the press corps,” Scully recalled. “Stephen Colbert is very sophisticated and if you’ve not seen his show you may not get it.” With Little, he added, “you don’t have to explain his humor.”

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Related:

One Year After Colbert Flap: Are WH Correspondents Playing It Safe?

‘Truthiness’ Prevails: Colbert’s Speech at Correspondents’ Dinner Was E&P’s Most Popular Story of 2006

E&P Nightly Video: After Colbert Controversy, White House Correspondents Demand Little

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