WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) tempered lighthearted remarks to a gathering of journalists Saturday with a declaration that the nation is in a "period of testing and sacrifice" spearheaded by a "new generation of Americans as brave and decent as any before it."
"As I speak, men and women in uniform are taking great risks and so are many journalists are being faithful to their own sense of duty," the president told the 90th annual White House Correspondents' Association (search) dinner.
Referring to upcoming events honoring the World War II generation, he said those warriors can be certain "that when they are gone we will still have their kind wearing the uniform of the United States of America."
He said the death last month of former professional football player Pat Tillman (search) "brought home the sorrow that comes with every loss and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf."
The president said Tillman "was modest because he knew there were many like him making their own sacrifices."
"They fill the ranks of the armed forces," he continued. "Everyday somewhere they do brave and good things without notice. Their courage is usually seen only by their comrades, by those who long to be free and by the enemy. They are willing to give up their lives and when one is lost a whole world of hopes and possibilities is lost with them. This evening we think of the families who grieve and the families that wait on a loved one's safe return."
Bush, who made a handful of lighter remarks at the begining of his brief remarks, delivered a similarly solemn address to last year's gathering, focusing on journalists killed in war.
He paid tribute again this year to some of those same reporters who died covering the initial stages of the war in Iraq and also singled out Time magazine senior correspondent Michael Weisskopf, who suffered severe shrapnel wounds and lost his hand when he tried to throw away a grenade tossed into a Humvee he was riding in with a Time photographer and two U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Bush said Weisskopf showed "incredible presence of mind and courage that have won our admiration," adding that "this generation of wartime journalists has done fine work and much more and they will be remembered long after the first draft of history is completed."
He was followed by "Tonight" show host Jay Leno, who stuck to humor.
Noting that Bush made $400,000 last year, Leno said "he doesn't do it for the money, he does it for the eight months of vacation each year" — a reference to the president's frequent stays on his Texas ranch.
In a bipartisan barb, Leno said: "If John Kerry is elected, he would be the first president to deliver the State of the Union address and the rebuttal" — a reference to charges that Kerry flip-flops.
The gathering of some 2,500 at the Washington Hilton Hotel brought together journalists and their guests from politics and show business — presidential aspirants Ralph Nader and Howard Dean and actors Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore and Drew Carey among them.
The association also honored winners of its annual journalism awards.
Mike Allen of The Washington Post won the $1,000 Merriman Smith Award for outstanding presidential coverage under deadline pressure for his coverage of Bush's secret Thanksgiving trip to Iraq. Allen was the only newspaper reporter on the trip.
David Sanger of The New York Times won the association's $1,000 Aldo Beckman Award for journalistic excellence for a series of stories he wrote detailing Bush's decision-making process. Sanger won the Smith award last year.
Russell Carollo and Mei-ling Hopgood of the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News shared a $2,500 prize for "Casualties of Peace," a seven-day series that revealed an outbreak of violence against Peace Corps volunteers. They won the Edgar A. Poe Award for reporting of national or regional significance.
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.