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Love, hate and jokes: Obama ribs media at correspondents' dinner

Official Washington waits all year for this moment – the White House correspondents' dinner – where journalists, politicians and celebrities rub elbows and party.

The decades-long ritual also presents a chance for a president to charm the media and the nation.

And President Barack Obama did not abandon the tradition at Saturday night’s dinner. But he delivered both praise and criticism of the media's response to the terrorist attacks in Boston and the explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas.

Addressing journalists and Hollywood elites in attendance alongside comedian Conan O’Brien, the president praised not just law enforcement in Boston and responders in the Texas explosion, but also print and broadcast reporters who took the time to get the story right.

Related: 5 fantastic Correspondents' Dinner moments

“We’ve had some difficult days. But even when the days seem darkest -- we have seen humanity shine at its brightest,” Obama said of policemen and first responders.

“We also saw journalists at their best -- especially those who took the time to wade upstream through the torrent of digital rumors to chase down leads and verify facts, and painstakingly put the pieces together to inform and to educate and to tell stories that demanded to be told."

Obama praised both print journalism in the Boston Globe and NBC News’ Pete Williams for outstanding reporting.

But the commander-in-chief also hurled some biting criticism at the Fourth Estate.

While Fox News may be for conservatives and CNN for liberals, Obama joked that CNN “covered all sides of the story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate” -- after CNN was criticized for incorrectly reporting an arrest in the Boston case.

“I remember when BuzzFeed was just something I did in college around 2 a.m.,” Obama said in a nod to the emerging social media site.

Obama acknowledged that while he’s had an adversarial relationship with the press at times, he does appreciate its contributions.

“The fact is, I really do respect the press,” said Obama. “My job is to be president, your job is to keep me humble. Frankly I think I’m doing my job better.”

Overall, it was a more relaxed Obama on display Saturday evening, walking to the podium to DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” and joking that even billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s hefty $100 million investment against his reelection backfired.

“You could buy an island and call it ‘Nobama’ for that money. Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race,” Obama laughed. “I probably wouldn’t have taken it, but I’d have thought about it.”

As for how the past four years had aged him at 51, Obama joked, “I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be.”

The president had some self-deprecating moments, even looking ahead to who might succeed him in 2016, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“I mean, the guy has not even finished a single term in the Senate and he thinks he’s ready to be president,” said Obama, a reference to his own Senate career. “Kids these days!”

On his adversarial relationship with Republicans in Congress, Obama laughed that if the GOP wanted to expand their minority outreach, they didn’t have to look far.

“Call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they can start with,” the president said, mockingly raising his hand. “Think of me as a trial run.”

O’Brien, the TBS late-night host, followed the president and took some swipes at the media, too.

O’Brien joked that if the dinner was the high school cafeteria, Fox News would have been the “jock,” MSNBC the “nerds,” bloggers were the goths, NPR sat at the “table for kids with peanut allergies" and Al Jazeera was the “weird foreign exchange student no one talks to.”

The comedian singled out one potential 2016 hopeful -- Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. -- mocking the departure of moderates from his party.

“There was some confusion with the seating chart,” O’Brien joked. “For a moment, someone accidentally sat Chris Christie with the Republicans.”

The annual dinner, which draws the city’s top journalists and Hollywood stars, is the pinnacle of a weekend of brunches and parties, but serves a greater purpose for the White House Correspondents’ Association: to fund scholarships for high school students.

WHCA President and Fox News Correspondent Ed Henry said before the speeches that O’Brien had donated his $10,000 honorarium back to the scholarship fund, a first for a performer at the dinner.