By: Joe Strupp
As criticism of Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner continued — from comedian Rich Little’s weak performance to ongoing claims of coziness between journalists and politicians — WHCA President Steve Scully agreed the event was not the group’s best night, but defended its tradition and said most had a good time.
“It was a hard dinner to put together because of the events of the week,” Scully, a C-SPAN editor, said Tuesday referring to the Virginia Tech massacre just days before. “That clearly impacted the tone of the evening.”
Scully said he understood why President Bush chose not to speak or joke at length during the dinner, a move that eliminated an opportunity for humor and entertainment from a president who has succeeded in the past at self-deprecating addresses. “He talked to me about what it had been like to go to Blacksburg, Va., and understanding how close it is to the Washington, D.C. area,” Scully said. “He had to do what he felt was right.”
Little, whose performance included several jokes and impersonations that drew little or no laughter, and others considered racy for a black-tie banquet crowd, appeared ill-prepared with little new material and numerous decades-old references. Since Saturday, several critics have slammed the comedian’s performance.
Scully, who drew some criticism weeks ago when he chose Little as the entertainment — following controversy over Stephen Colbert’s biting routine last year — acknowledged he did not go over well, but declined to give his own opinion. “He is and can be a very funny impersonator,” said Scully, who has said he chose Little after watching him on The Late Show with David Letterman. “I think some people liked him and others thought he fell flat.”
The WHCA president added that “I knew going in it was a generational thing. There are some things out of your control. You have no control over what your headliner will do, they do what they do.”
Scully pointed to a funny video Top Ten list presented by David Letterman, showing Bush’s top moments, as a success, as well as the return of White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who made his first public appearance since taking a leave to battle cancer. He also stressed that one of the important aspects of the evening is to raise money for the association, including $20,000 that went to several scholarships. “I think it worked out well,” he said.
As for the increased focus on the “coziness” of journalists and politicians at the dinner, Scully dismissed such complaints, saying “an evening of civility does not mean we are selling out.
“If people want to criticize the dinner, then don’t come,” he added. “But for those people who come, they have a good time.” He said the expanding blogosphere likely had something to do with the increased scrutiny. “I think the blogs are driving it,” he said. “That is good, they have a point of view and it is probably better to have people look at this with a critical eye. As long as everybody knows what it is about, it is an enjoyable night.”