Dick Cheney took aim at the press corps Wednesday night...literally.
Subbing for President Bush--on his way to Cancun for a meeting--at the Radio & Television Correspondents Association dinner in Washington Wednesday night was the "president of the Senate," as he was introduced. "A man who also happens to be vice president of the United States."
Before launching into the expected self-deprecating humor, Cheney saluted network journalists the late Peter Jennings, Bob Woodruff and the late David Bloom, all the subjects of awards or tributes, saying they "represented the very best of your profession" and that we were "much better off as a nation for the tremendous contribution they have made over the years."
Cheney quickly moved the event from serious to comic: "I was a little startled by the size and the diversity of the crowd tonight. When I agreed to do this, I was told, 'Hey, don't worry about it, they'll all be from Fox.'"
He said that he felt comfortable nonetheless. "The light could be better," he said, pausing, then delivering the shot, "But I can still see the whites of your eyes [tumultuous laughter]".
He said that, when White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan advised him to actually show up and deliver the remarks, Cheney replied, "Why not just post them...on the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (the paper given the story about Cheney's hunting accident)."
Cheney took a gentle shot at Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who was on the dais and who has been criticized for supporting funding of an expensive bridge in his home state that only served a handful of residents. "It was Scott [McClellan's] thinking that, by coming here, I could improve my relations with the press corps," Cheney said. "You know, do a little bridge building. I must go to work on this 'bridge to nowhere.'"
Cheney ran a humorous slide show lampooning, among other things, the NSA spying flap and talk that he was being frozen out at the White House. Saying he had a picture of his "senior advisor for wiretapping," he showed a picture of Henry Kissinger. As he talked about a meeting he was supposed to have with the president, slide after slide showed Cheney alone.
"I really spend a lot of time every day with the most powerful man in Washington," Cheney said, as a slide of Karl Rove appeared to loud laughs. "So powerful, in fact, that he inserted that line in my remarks," Cheney added.
Cheney said he had gotten some good advice from his wife, a scholar and author. Citing her children's book, A Is For Abigail, he said he had been trying to write a children's book himself, but he said his wife "didn't care much for my first draft of B Is for Bunker Buster.'" (groan).
Cheney said McClellan told him to rethink his whole approach to the news media. "Here's how I've been getting ready for the press corps," said Cheney, as a slide appeared showing him aiming what looked like a high-powered rifle with a scope.
Cheney was an arm-up act of sorts for comedian/impressionist Frank Caliendo, who did a wicked Bush impression, lampooning the president's linguistic eccentricities.
Caliendo managed to skillfully navigate the shoals of taste, cracking Cheney up with shots at his boss without leaving an uncomfortable feeling in the room. According to a woman who identified herself to Caliendo after the performance as a Donald Rumsfeld staffer, the defense secretary was also amused. "I wish we could get you to come to the Pentagon," she gushed to Caliendo.