WASHINGTON (AP) – It’s a chance for President Barack Obama to jab at the Washington establishment and perhaps chide his critics.

The White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual black-tie dinner got underway Saturday night with a mix of politicians, celebrities and journalists attending.

The president wasn’t the only one to tell jokes.

Tart-tongued comic Wanda Sykes, who first made a name on TV with stints on “The Chris Rock Show” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was booked as this year’s dinner entertainer.

She has said it’s her job to “poke fun and ridicule,” and even a popular figure such as Obama isn’t off limits.

The $200-per-ticket dinner attracted plenty of VIPs from outside the Beltway.

Among those attending were Eva Longoria Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Christian Slater, Natalie Portman, Sting, Mariska Hargitay, Steven Spielberg and Jon Bon Jovi.

Also there were hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed his jetliner in the Hudson River without loss of life, and Richard Phillips, who was held hostage by Somali pirates after his cargo ship was attacked.

Among the government elite attending were Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Todd Palin, whose wife, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, canceled due to flooding in her state, also was a guest.

Proceeds from the dinner will help feed the hungry and fund journalism scholarships. The association will donate more than $23,000 to the charity So Others Might Eat, including money raised by skipping formal dessert for guests.

First lady Michelle Obama planned to present scholarship awards at the event. To be honored at the dinner are several journalists:

-Sandra Sobieraj Westfall of People magazine and David Greene of National Public Radio, the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure. Westfall won for her election night reporting. Greene won for digging into candidate Obama’s speech that addressed the country’s racial divide.

-Michael Abramowitz, formerly of The Washington Post, the Aldo Beckman award for his coverage of the final days of the Bush administration.

-Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong of the Seattle Times, the Edgar A. Poe Award for excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance, for a series exposing the failure of Washington state hospitals and others to handle the rise of the MRSA staph infection.

The White House Correspondents Association was formed in 1914 as a liaison between the press and the president. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended the dinner.

On the Net:

White House Correspondents’ Association: http://www.whca.net

AP-ES-05-09-09 2131EDT

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