President Barack Obama used effusive praise and gentle humor in an attempt to smooth over his recently strained relationship with members of the “mainstream media” during the 128th annual Gridiron Club Dinner on Saturday evening in Washington, D.C.
“I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication -- and a sense of purpose -- that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle,” the Democratic White House occupant told approximately 650 invitation-only members of the press during the function at which TV coverage was not allowed.
Ironic that a dinner put on by the press would suppress video coverage. But then again, this was the liberal press getting together with Barack Obama, perhaps the leg thrills might have become a little more than that.
“In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong,” the president continued, “but it's more important than ever to get it right.”
“This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world,” the president said without mentioning any of the scandals that have hindered his administration, such as the “fast and furious” program that put guns in the hands of criminals in Mexican drug cartels and his slow and suspicious response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Instead, he stated that reporters “have risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told … how something that happens or doesn’t happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.”
These are extraordinary times … [and while] we’ll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press -- a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin -- is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.
However, Obama did make several references to the sequester, the latest fiscal crisis of his administration, by claiming that if his comedy fell flat, it's because his joke writers “have been placed on furlough.”
The sequester drew another observation from Obama: “Of course, there’s one thing in Washington that didn’t get cut -- the length of this dinner. Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.”
Another current issue the president addressed was the comment top economic advisor Gene Sperling made to Bob Woodward that the long-time Washington Post reporter "would regret" writing about the terms of the 2011 budget deal that led to the sequester.
It’s been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets [for not attending the dinner]. Who knew Gene could be so intimidating?
“I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively,” he added, “[but] we’re all friends again.”
The president wasn't the only person who referred to Sperling's remark.
While welcoming the attendees, Gridiron President Charles Lewis of Hearst Newspapers noted that the organization had promised to keep the evening short, “especially because Gene Sperling said that a late night is something we’d all regret.”
A list of the people in attendance reads like a “who's who” of liberal reporters, including Jim Lehrer of PBS, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, "ABC World News" anchor Diane Sawyer, MSNBC host Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer from CNN.
Obama also joked about several other subjects, such as the ambitions of 70-year-old Vice President Joe Biden:
Just the other day, I had to take Joe aside and say, ‘Joe, you are way too young to be the pope. You can’t do it. You got to mature a little bit.’
And during a pause in his remarks, the president took a long, slow sip of water and said: “That, Marco Rubio, is how you take a sip of water.”
Obama also mocked criticism that he takes too much time off from his job.
We face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisers working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn’t going to fill itself out. And don’t worry -- there is an entire team in the Situation Room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.
So was the president successful in winning back his liberal critics in the press? Neil Munro, White House correspondent for the Daily Caller, stated that there’s “little danger” of much media criticism during the next several months.
As proof, he pointed to the lyrics of a skit dealing with the sequester, which left no doubt regarding who the participants blame for the financial scandal:
You’d think a sound solution here would be a real no-brainer
They play a game of chicken just to see who’s more insane-er
The culprits, their identities could not be plainer
Nancy, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid and Speaker Boehner
Oh, mandatory legislative budget sequestration.
Obama concluded his remarks by referring to a mistake he made on March 1, when he confused elements from Star Trek and Star Wars while claiming he couldn't use a "Jedi mind meld" to bring Congress back into session.
And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters -- Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise -- may the Force be with you.
The Gridiron Club and Foundation contributes to college scholarships and journalistic organizations across the nation. Except for Grover Cleveland, every president since the organization was founded has addressed its annual event.