President Obama joked about bangs at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday night, in case you haven’t heard. Bangs, as in hair hanging over your forehead like a curtain. His hair.
It came near the beginning of his very funny turn at the podium. Mr. Obama remarked that the presidency can take its toll on anyone, and he realizes he’ll need a burst of energy and some new approaches to energize his second term. He and his aides have talked about that, he said.
“We were willing to try anything. So we borrowed one of Michelle’s tricks,” said Obama.
Then he showed the audience a photo of himself and the First Lady side by side, both with bangs. It looked great on her. On him it looked like a fringed dish rag.
“I thought this looked pretty good, but no bounce,” said Obama to huge laughs from the crowd.
Overall, Obama was pretty much en fuego. That’s the norm now for presidents – they get professional comedy help with their WHCA speeches and as a result their lines are every bit as good as those of the hired entertainment, in this case Conan O’Brien.
Obama took a stab at a certain news networks recent missteps, for instance, “I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, 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.”
He went on to poke at other networks and then said, “The fact is I really do respect the press. I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be president; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
Ouch. Touché, Mr. President, touché.
What’s going on here is that White House staffs realize that a dinner famously described as Washington’s “nerd prom” is not really that. It’s a gathering of celebrities and power brokers which is televised, and is thus another opportunity for the orchestrated light media appearances at which Obama does so well. It’s like appearing on “The View” or slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon.
In return, the White House Correspondents Association profits from his appearance. We’re not questioning its nonprofit status, as it spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on journalism scholarships every year. We’re just saying the dinner is a huge cash cow.
Look at the latest Form 990 IRS report from the WHCA that’s available, from 2011. Gross receipts from the dinner that year were about $621,000. Expenses were about $435,000, according to our reading of the document. Even political science majors can do that math.
Comedian Seth Meyers was the keynote speaker that year, and the Form 990 lists $10,000 spent on entertainment. Frankly, Obama’s speech last night was pretty funny. Our suggestion to the WHCA: do away with the paid guys, and lengthen the president’s speech. He does it for free! That way the dinner can clear even more.