Two days after comedian Wanda Sykes quipped during the White House Correspondents Association dinner that Rush Limbaugh was likely the 20th hijacker on 9/11 (only he was so strung out on Oxycontin he missed the plane), the White House publicly distanced itself from the remarks.
"There are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection rather than comedy," said spokesman Robert Gibbs. "I don't think there is any doubt that 9/11 is one of them."
This next-day backtrack is fast becoming a standard of the White House correspondents dinner ritual (helped along, of course, by reporters eager to stir up some controversy).
Before her performance on Saturday, Sykes told "Extra's" AJ Calloway that she had been warned to keep it clean.
"They told me not to say the F word or the N word," she said. "I'm offended they even told me that. What do they think? I'm some ignorant a**. Like I'm going to go in there, 'What's up n*****. Like what the f*** they think I'm going to do?"
It's worth noting just how tawdry and offensive some of these dinners were in the past. A reader sends over a Washington Post write -up of Nixon's March 14, 1970, Gridiron dinner, in which racial sensitivities were left decidedly at the door.
"Things got no better at the Gridiron that night. Absolutely determined that a good time would be had by all, and equally determined to bring down the house, Richard Nixon appeared as the final act. The curtain pulled back to reveal the president and Vice President Spiro Agnew seated at two modest black pianos (Dwight Chapin at the White House had requested grand pianos or at least baby grands but the Statler Hilton could only manage uprights). This was the first time a chief executive had appeared on the Gridiron stage, and Nixon opened by asking: "What about this 'southern strategy' we hear so often?" "Yes suh, Mr. President," Agnew replied, "Ah agree with you completely on yoah southern strategy." The dialect, as Roger Wilkins observed, got the biggest boffo.
After more banter with the "darky" Agnew, Nixon opened the piano duet with Franklin Roosevelt's favorite song ("Home on the Range"), then Harry Truman's ("Missouri Waltz"), then Lyndon Johnson's ("The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You"). Agnew, drowned him out a few bars into each with a manic Dixie on his piano, and the Gridiron crew got louder and louder. "The crowd ate" it up," Wilkins observed. "They roared." Nixon ended with his own favorite songs, "God Bless America" and "Auld Lang Syne," and here Agnew played it straight."