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Obama And O'Brien Take Jabs At Politics And Media (Highlights)

President Obama joined members of the media in making fun of themselves and each other, as Washington's players in politics and journalism gathered for the 2013 White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday.

The most elaborate skit was an extended video in which director Stephen Spielberg, who also attended the dinner, explained his plan to follow up Lincoln with a new film, Obama — using actor Daniel Day-Lewis, famous for his ability to transform himself into a role.

Obama then spoke on-camera as Day-Lewis, saying, "The cosmetics were challenging. I mean, you wouldn't believe how long it takes to put these ears on in the morning."

And comedian Tracy Morgan then came on to discuss how Day-Lewis helped him hone his performance as Vice President Joe Biden.

Following the president, the event's headline speaker was . As usual, the dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel offered a broad sampling of wry one-liners. Here's a rundown of notable moments:

  • "How do you like my new entrance music?" he asked the crowd after the traditional "Hail to the Chief" abruptly cut to DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win." "Rush Limbaugh warned you about this," the president said. "Second term, baby. We're changing things around here a little bit."
  • As Obama bragged that he'd joined first lady Michelle Obama in getting on magazine covers, large video screens showed a mocked-up cover photo, of the president playing golf with Vice President Biden. The magazine's title: Senior Leisure.
  • Saying that he's noticed his advancing age, the president declared, "These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I'm not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be."
  • On the criticism he received for calling California's Kamala Harris "the best-looking attorney general in the country," Obama said, "As you might imagine, I got trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?"
  • Recalling his poor shooting on the basketball court during Easter — just two hits and 20 misses — Obama said he got a call from NBC executives, who asked, "What's your secret?"
  • Obama also jabbed CNN, saying that he admires "their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate."
  • The president said that while the History Channel wasn't there, possibly out of regret over using an Obama-like character to portray the devil, "Of course, that never kept Fox News from showing up."
  • "I remember when Buzzfeed was just something I did in college around 2 a.m.," Obama said, noting how the media landscape has changed. "It's true," he added as the audience laughed.
  • In another joke with a visual aid, Obama said that to liven things up for his second term, "we borrowed one of Michelle's tricks" — and the auditorium's large screens suddenly showed candid photos of the president, with photoshopped bangs added to his forehead.
  • "Some folks still don't think I spend enough time with Congress," Obama complained. ""Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?' they ask. Really? Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?"
  • President Obama used another photoshopped image to show a mock "Blame Bush Library" that he plans to build next to the newly opened Bush Library. Obama added that he's planning his own presidential library, "And some have suggested that we put it in my birthplace, but I'd rather keep it in the United States."
  • On Super PACs: "Did you know that Sheldon Adelson spent $100 million of his own money on negative ads? You've got to really dislike me to spend that kind of money. I mean, that's Oprah money. You could buy an island and call it Nobama for that kind of money," the president said. "Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race. I probably wouldn't have taken it — but I'd have thought about it."
  • Noting Maureen Dowd's suggestion that Obama could solve his problems by emulating Michael Douglas' character in The American President. Obama asked Douglas, who was in the room, "Michael, what's your secret, man? Could it be that you were an actor, in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy? Might that have something to do with it?"
  • Before saying "I love Conan," the president said that when the Correspondents' Association was discussing O'Brien as a speaker, 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?"
  • In his portion of the night's program, O'Brien said, "Like the president, I too, recently got in some hot water by talking about a public official's good looks. It was the time I wouldn't shut up about that stone cold fox, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood."
  • O'Brien also told President Obama he was curious about something: "Why are you still sending everyone five emails a day asking for more money? You won!" O'Brien then asked, "Do you have a gambling problem we don't know about? Did you put it all on Gonzaga?" — referring to the notorious upset early in the 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament that ruined many bettors' brackets.
  • "Who doesn't love C-SPAN? Seriously," O'Brien said. "C-SPAN: It's an entire channel shot with the backup camera on a Ford Explorer."
  • "Here's a fun fact about tonight's food," O'Brien said. "Everything you ate tonight was personally shot by Wayne LaPierre. Don't worry, it was during a home invasion."
  • "Last year, Tom Brokaw criticized this event for having too many superstars and A-list celebrities," the talk show host said. When I told Tom I would be attending this year, he said, 'That's more like it.'"
  • "No offense, Mr. President... but as a late-night comedian, I was kind of pulling for the rich guy whose horse danced in the Olympics."
  • O'Brien compared the media present to a high school cafeteria: "Fox is the jocks; MSNBC is the nerds; bloggers are the goths; NPR is the table for kids with peanut allergies; Al Jazeera is the weird foreign exchange student nobody talks to — and print media, I didn't forget you: You're the poor kid who died sophomore year in a car crash. Cheer up, we dedicate the yearbook to you."
  • Turning to the attacks in Boston, O'Brien said: "It's been said recently that you don't mess with Boston. As someone who grew up there, I'd like to echo that sentiment. It's really pretty simple. If you're going to pick on a city, don't choose one where nine out of ten people are related to a cop. Don't do it; it's stupid."
  • The dinner also had its serious moments, particularly as it followed tragic events such as the April 15 bombing attack on the Boston Marathon, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and ruinous flooding in the Midwest.

    "These have been some very hard days, on too many of our citizens," President Obama said. He praised the work of rescue personnel and and investigators who answered the need for help in those and other incidents, and he said they set an example for the rest of America, including politicians and the media.

    Obama also acknowledged Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who was at the head table for the dinner, as well as its military service members and veterans.

    "If we're only focused on profits, or ratings, or polls, then we're contributing to the cynicism that so many people feel right now," Obama said. "Those of us in this room tonight, we are incredibly lucky. And the fact is, we can do better, all of us."

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    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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