The (Fun) House Correspondents Association

No way that Conan is going to be able to follow the President. That was my thought at the White House Correspondent’s Association (WHCA) dinner Saturday night. the opening act had killed. The President was in rare stand-up form. But Conan delivered, and the combination had the heady mix of journalists, politicos, and Hollywood imports rolling in the aisles. Actually, there were no aisles and no room to roll between tables packed as tightly as the mints in the complementary tin of ABC News/Yahoo!/Univision Noticias mints.

It was hard to tell which was the professional comedian. Both took shots at CNN over its early and then erroneous report that a suspect in the Boston bombing was in custody.

“Speaking of dinner, tonight’s entrees were halibut and filet mignon. Or as John King reported, ,lasagna and cous-cous,’” said O’Brien. But he had already been beaten to that punch line by the President. “I know CNN has taken some knocks lately,” the President had said only a few minutes earlier, “but the fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate.”

Both also took aim at Fox News.

“The History Channel is not here,” said the President. “I guess they were embarrassed about the whole Obama-is-a-devil thing. Of course, that never kept Fox News from showing up. They actually thought the comparison was not fair — to Satan. (Laughter and applause.

And this from Conan: “If the President laughs, everyone laughs. If the Fox News table laughs, a little girl just fell off her bike.”

Each also took fairly gentle shots at each other as well. Conant joked that the only thing whiter than the President’s hair was his cabinet, while the President zinged him over the new heir apparent to Leno: “I understand that when the Correspondents’ Association was considering Conan for this gig, they were faced with that age-old dilemma: Do you offer it to him now, or wait for five years and then give it to Jimmy Fallon?”

While Fox News’ Ed Henry, this year’s WHCA President, has been signaling he wanted to ratcheted down the focus on Hollywood wattage and refocus a little on the scholarships and awards to journalists that are also a part of the dinner, his suggestion that the new class of Young Journalists scholarship winners were the dinner’s “real VIPs” was lost amid the buzz of folks ogling, snapping and flesh-pressing–again those tables were really

tightly packed–with more stars, as MGM once said, than there are in the Heavens.

At the CNN/Time Warner pre-party, for example, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Tony Romo were in one bunch, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus was at one end of the room being snapped by a dozens of digital cameras (do cameras “snap” anymore?) while Jessica Pare (Megan on Mad Men) was on the other end drawing admitting glances in a killer black dress.

In between, Barry Diller and Jeff Zucker were moving through the crowd (Les Moonves was a couple floors up at the CBS pre-party).

Steven Spielberg spent some time at the  metal detector, accompanied by Jeffrey Katzenberg.

There were plenty of “our stars” as well, including a Democratic majority of FCC commissioners led by exiting chairman Julius Genachowski, who combined both D.C. and Hollywood star power–his wife, who is Rachel Goslins,

executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a documentary producer and former child actress.

Another combination of D.C. and Hollywood–OK, more like New York–was Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) who wedged himself behind the author as he tried to negotiate the sliver of space between tables.

I started to keep a list of who was there, Barbra and Jim Brolin, Steven and Daniel Day-, but eventually it just made more sense to keep a list of who wasn’t. It was a short list.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.