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Haw, that's Rich: Little to laff about at White House correspondents gala

The Washington press corps' elite happily walked the red carpet Saturday night on C-SPAN.

American Idol evictees Sanjaya Malakar and Chris Sligh were among those keeping a close watch on the powers that be. Other proud members of the Fourth Estate's guest lists included Valerie Bertinelli, Teri Hatcher, Apolo Anton Ohno, Morgan Fairchild, Dennis Hopper, Niecy Nash from Reno 911!, Oprah pal Gayle King, James Denton, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Reggie Bush, Larry David and Sheryl Crow.

What a night, even if this just as easily could have been The People's Choice Awards. But no, the White House Correspondents Association again had done its best to invite loads of people who had no real business being there. That, as it turned out, also included the evening's featured entertainer, yesteryear impressionist Rich Little. Oh gawd, he was more dated than great grandma Gertrude's fruit cake.

Little, 68, came equipped with a deep tan of unknown origin and hair dyed the color of Log Cabin syrup. He was deemed a "safe" choice after last year's humorist, Stephen Colbert, made unusually pointed fun of both the Bush administration and the gathered swells who cover it.

Critics think these events are unseemly, particularly in very sobering times. But WHCA president Steve Scully of C-SPAN, who looks ready to join the Mounties, said it's good to break bread rather than bust chops on at least one night a year.

"Let us be reminded that an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy," he preached at an event that's been televised live by his commercial-free network since 1993. "Nor does an evening of civility mean we are selling out."

Still, if only they could see themselves as others could on live TV.

Award recipient Martha Raddatz of ABC News, a very capable reporter who won one of the night's awards, looked not ready for prom night in a laughable black strapless gown with oversized white polka dots and a pink sash. Katie Couric could be glimpsed at her table in a demonstrably low-cut white dress. Not a good idea when you're otherwise trying so hard to bring a serious sense of purpose to the CBS Evening News.

President Bush told the news media and Sanjaya that he wouldn't be cracking jokes in light of the terrible events at Virginia Tech University.

Seconds earlier he'd been twitted during the night's only funny respite, a taped "Top 10 Favorite George W. Bush Moments" prepared by CBS Late Show host David Letterman. He'd used some of them previously, but No. 2 -- "The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing" -- is always a crowd-pleaser. The President had a 50-50 chance of raising his hands in the correct order, but that mission wasn't accomplished.

Little then bombed with an unrelenting series of cob-webbed impressions.

"You thought Colbert was bad," he said when an Arnold Schwarzenegger bit collapsed on him. Next up were a few mock musings from Andy Rooney, including, "If you overdose on Viagra, how would you get the coffin lid closed?"

Worse yet, Little bridged his closing sendups of six presidents with a horrid little, piano-accompanied song that ended each time with, "Poke a lot of fun at Washington."

Judging from some of the pained reaction shots, many dinner-goers thought they instead were being poked in the eye with sharp sticks.

For the record, Little did both President Bushes, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and for his big finish, Richard Nixon.

"God, I'm having a jowl movement!" his Nixon exclaimed before singing "My Way." A penny for Sanjaya's thoughts.

The night's best entertainment apparently occurred off-camera, when Crow and fellow global warming activist Laurie David confronted Bush guru Karl Rove at his dinner table. They've already blogged about it in self-important detail on huffingtonpost.com, portraying themselves as Thelma and Louise.

Veteran ABC News correspondent Ann Compton, the WCHA's new president, now is tasked with putting together next spring's dinner on behalf of American Idol castoffs and other invited guests.

Maybe they can land a more contemporary comedian next time. It's never too early to ask Phyllis Diller.