White House correspondents: Don't knock Bush

The press corps orders up a kinder, gentler dinner for the president.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 19, 2007 1:34PM (EST)

Call it the belt-and-suspenders approach to presidential humor: The White House Correspondents' Association, already having taken pains to avoid another Stephen Colbert moment by choosing Rich Little for this year's annual dinner, has also made it clear to the 69-year-old "master impersonator" that he's to make nice with George W. Bush when he performs at the event.

"They don't want anyone knocking the president," Little tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "He's really over the coals right now, and he's worried about his legacy."

We're sure that he is. We're just not sure why the White House Correspondents' Association should be.

Little says that the group got "a lot of letters" after Colbert's performance last year and doesn't want a repeat this year. So Little says that he'll do what he usually does -- impersonations of the past six presidents. That works for us: We're imagining a dramatic reading of George H.W. Bush's 1998 explanation for why he didn't try to take over Iraq after the first Gulf War. "While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf ... Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

Only one problem: Little says he "won't even mention the word 'Iraq'" when he performs at the dinner in April.

But we can live with that, too. Little could just offer up an impersonation of Bush showing that slide show he showed at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner back in 2004. You remember that one -- the one in which Bush showed pictures of himself searching under the White House sofa for the WMD he never found. The president made lots of funny jokes then about the missing weapons, but we don't remember him saying the word "Iraq."

The president seemed to find it all pretty hilarious then. We're sure he'd enjoy a sendup of it now. And if he doesn't? Too bad. It's like he said the other day: The year ahead is going to demand some sacrifice.

Update: WHCA President Steve Scully is now denying -- sort of -- that his group told Little to lay off of Bush. "I cannot be more clear that we never mentioned Iraq, we never gave him any guidelines," Scully tells Editor and Publisher. "The only thing we told him is that we want to follow the policy of the Gridiron Dinner, which is 'singe, don't burn.'"


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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