Eat The Press

Julia Allison and Henry Kissinger.jpg

ETP photo

Here it is, round two of ETP party-chronicling friend-making men's-room-dwelling Julia Allison's White House Correspondents' Dinner coverage, appropriately star-studded and Sanjaya-riffic. See our separate photo gallery here and join her for all the Washington glamour below, to the extent that that is not an oxymoron. Vamanos, muchachas! (That's in honor of Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo.) Okay, pop your corks, ladies and gents, the Prom is underway!

Few groups dislike each other as much as the Bush administration and the embattled White House press corps – and neither is known for their … uh … robust sense of humor. That's why nothing's quite as amusing as the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which entails getting the two together, adding a couple of token activist celebs, internet billionaires, and hangers-on, sticking them all in black tie and watching their strained attempts to laugh at themselves.

Arianna Michael Cook.JPGThe famed event -- held annually in late April in the Washington Hilton's basement ballroom -- is part Media-Prom, part political schmooze, and part old-fashioned roast.  Or at least, that's the idea -- in reality, the one-night truce between the executive branch and their professional scrutinizers is tenuous at best.  All it takes is one go at the mike by Stephen Colbert and it's clear that what plays well on YouTube can rub a touchy crowd the wrong way.
 
Personally, we like that kind of controversy – keeps things interesting and all that. Unfortunately, the White House Correspondents' Association goals and ours are not always compatible.  We were secretly thrilled when Laurie David and Sheryl Crow told Karl Rove to, in essence, go shove it.  We were even more thrilled because we were sitting four inches away from the back of his head throughout the entire program.  Did we mention things could get touchy? But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Why have a dinner without a slew of adjacent pre-parties, anyway?  CNN, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek all threw their own, although they were largely indistinguishable from each other as the crowds swelled from one room to another in the stuffy Hilton basement.  Squeezing through hordes of black-tied invitees, we wiggled our way into the packed Newsweek reception around 6:30 and quickly spotted HuffPo's own Arianna Huffington,  chatting with mega-producer David Geffen and Newsweek's Lally Weymouth. (See photos of the event here.) There also was Cisco's John Chambers and his wife Elaine; media power couple Jacob Weisberg of Slate and his incredibly gracious wife, Domino EIC Deborah Needleman; Congressman Henry Waxman and his son Michael; and The Hill's Bob Arianna and MoDo hair.JPGCusack and Cox Newspaper political correspondent Scott Shepard.  Skulking about was lanky former Washington Post Reliable Sourcer and NYDN LowDown gossiper - now a freelancer for Vanity Fair & New York magazine, Lloyd Grove, whose favorite refrain was self-deprecatingly insisting that he "no longer has any juice" and wondering if he could even get into the after-parties.  (Note: He got in.)
 
We caught a flash of bright red hair and indeed it was "if-I'd-been-a-secretary- I'd-have-more-luck-with-men" herself, Maureen Dowd.  We approached her with our favorite softball question , confident she'd help a sister out: "Which past WHCD did you enjoy the most?"  MoDo pulled a Malcolm Gladwell on us, claiming that she "couldn't think of anything clever" but we should really "get back to her later."  Then she attempted to escape. Was she going to see Sanjaya at the CNN party, we wanted to know?  No, but just then Arianna came over for a quick pic, so MoDo was off the hook.  For now.
 
We circled around the room again and found a remarkably attractive Jane Fonda surrounded by well-wishers who were not-so -secretly marveling at how damn good she looked.  Later we found ourselves asking "And who are you, handsome?" to a rather distinguished looking man who just happened to be James Kinsey, founder of AOL.  We vowed to stop asking stupid questions after that and found ourselves chatting with actor/radio personality/ETP founder Harry Shearer, who told us that he was the one who filmed that now infamous clip of Edwards feathering his hair.  "I gave it to Tim Noah of Slate.com and it went viral," he explained. He did not, however, take responsibility for the $400 haircut.
 
Sanjayarama.jpgThe person with the most talked-about hair in the building wasn't a politician, though – it was American Idol's perplexing crowd-favorite, the shaggy haired and squeaky-voiced Sanjaya.  Even MoDo admitted that she "felt stupid writing about John Edwards' hair when I could have written about Sanjaya's."  Exactly!  The possible-walking-KFC billboard was, at that very moment, shaking his luxuriant locks over at CNN's table, entourage in tow. The only other guest who came close to rivaling his popularity was towering Law & Order actor Fred Thompson,  about whom well-wishers jockeyed for position all night (and with whom we photo-opped).  Do you think he could win?   Everyone was asking.  We've got a three-word answer to that: Bedtime For Bonzo.
 
After pushing past a throng of photographers shooting besieged World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz (no sight of his well-compensated girlfriend, alas), we made our way through the metal detectors into the actual ballroom, ready for dinner with 3,000 of our closest media and political friends.  We spotted the Drudge Report's Andrew Breitbart (Sanjaya Alert! Two tables away!!)  We sat briefly at the Chicago Sun-Times table, where Arianna chatted with hard-nosed political reporter Lynn Sweet and always-amiable Michael Cooke, former Editor in Chief of the NY Daily News, now happily back as in his old job as EIC of the Sun-Times.  It doesn't appear that he pines for his old rivalry with the Post.

Julia Kornheiser ESPN.JPGOver on the other side of the room, we ran into our testosterone-ladden friends at ESPN – Pardon the Interruption's Tony Kornheiser (bereft of his charismatic co-host Michael Wilbon, off covering bball for ABC) and Around the Horn's sports stud, Tony Reali.  When we asked what they were doing at a (shudder) political event (Kornheiser and Wilbon are at WaPo, but still), they laughed and said "We have no business being here. The entire purpose is to get as drunk as we can as early as we can."  Honesty, at last!  They then pointed out a very blonde Miss America (Lauren Nelson)'s table, at which they had been staring intently for the past hour.  After dinner, they planned to thank the seating chart coordinator for the lovely view.
 
Continuing to work the room, we sat down next to Observer media reporter Michael Calderone at the New Republic table, featuring Mike Crowley and his date, Miss Hawaiian Tropic Georgia Peach Florida Citrus Morgan Ortagus Dobbs, former press secretary to Katherine Harris (yikes! Thankless job!), and counted famous faces:  Terri Hatcher, Kerry Washington, Morgan Fairchild, and Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints'; also MSNBC's Dan Abrams, FoxNews' Redeye host Greg Gutfeld, TIME's Ana Marie Cox, Condi Rice, Rudi Guiliani, Antonin Scalia, and Katie Couric, plus Alberto Gonzales and Roger Ailes.  Everyone's friends at the White House Correspondents' Dinner!
 
Michael Calderone.JPGDecidedly not friends: Global warming tag-team Sheryl Crow & Laurie David and Karl "Emcee" Rove, whom they confronted at his table (the New York Times table, we might note) demanding to know what he intended to do about global warming.  Rove apparently wasn't in the mood to debate (or discuss, or acknowledge), so he settled for the shut down "You're not the boss of me!" (we're paraphrasing) and spent the rest of the evening butt firmly planted to chair. We know this because (half of) our own derriere was firmly planted in the chair directly behind him, which we shared throughout the interminably long program with our new BFF, Hillary Clinton's Press Secretary, Philippe Reines.

Introduced to Reines by CAA super agent and former Clinton administration staffer Michael Kives, he was gracious enough to lend us 50% of his Very Important Seat.  Occasionally we touched the back of Rove’s chair, just to reinforce how close we were. Should we take a photo of the back of his head?  Should we ask him to rap?  Should we tell him we thought Crow had verbally kicked his ass and that we didn't think he was strong enough to be her man?  And by the way, had he seen an Inconvenient Truth?

While we were pondering all of this, we noticed Henry Kissinger, his gaze wandering around the room, and realized that he'd probably seen the exact same Rich Little routine in 1972. Later, we stopped for a photo - power is the ultimate aphrodisiac! - although really, he's five or six years out of our age range.

Bloomberg Party Slippers.jpgAfter Little mercifully finished his painfully antiquated set (Ed. Be nice, he's Canadian), the room cleared quickly, factions  fanning out to their respective after-parties: Capitol File at the Colombian Embassy, Bloomberg just down the street, and Vanity Fair at contributor Christopher Hitchens' Adams Morgan abode (supposedly the most "exclusive" with less than 150 guests, including the NYT's David Carr, Dee Dee Myers, British Ambassador David Manning, Council on Foreign Relations Chief Richard Haass, Justice Scalia, and the NY Observer's always-dapper Spencer Morgan).
 
We only made it to the Bloomberg party, which boasted the fanciest Marie Antoinette-esque port-a-potties we'd seen in our lives, very mirrored and candled and be-scented.  We weren't complaining.  (Back at the dinner we had shamelessly used the men's room to fix our lipstick, because the ladies' was too far away …  er, everyone's friends at the White House Correspondents' Dinner?).
 
Closer to the entrance and away from the elaborate loos, we spotted a very youthful Gayle King with a delicious, ridiculously gorgeous Tyson-Beckford lookalike on her arm, and a happy talkative Michelle Kwan (you're always a gold medalist to us, honey!).  We recognized skinny, redheaded Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from (where else?) his profile, and although we took a photo with him, he informed us that it was to be posted solely on Facebook – no where else.  We were happy to oblige.  We also saw Queens Congressman (and committed bachelor) Anthony Weiner, as well as the handsome (but married!) press secretary for Mitt Romney, Kevin MaddenJulia Petra Nemcova Phillipe.JPGWe talked with MSN's Gregory Chang, and posed with the mischievous Lawrence Bender, Academy Award-winning producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," "Pulp Fiction" and "Good Will Hunting."
 
We finished up the evening at the after-after party over at Michael Feldman's stunning Dupont home. Feldman, a partner at Glover Park Group and advisor to Al Gore, hosted a very small gathering, including DC Channel One anchor Alexander Marquardt, CAA agent Michael Kives, former U2 tour director Ben Schwerin, our favorite seat-sharer and Hillary mouthpiece Philippe Reines and supermodel Petra Nemcova.  Nemcova was incredibly gracious, especially after she switched her painful heels for special "AFTER PARTY" emblazoned slippers courtesy of the Bloomberg fete.
 
Twenty-two business cards, three dozen photos, four glasses of champagne, and two failed attempts to discuss the NYT magazine Farm Bill piece later, we put on our slippers as well, and walked home.  It was five am.  We were finally partied out. Washington was quiet and warm — very warm. Unseasonably warm. Hmm. Someone should really talk to Karl Rove about that.



Top, left to right: Julia Allison, Henry Kissinger; Arianna Huffington, Michael Cooke; Maureen Dowd, Arianna Huffington; Sanjaya Malakar; Julia with Tonys Reali and Kornheiser; Michael Calderone; Bloomberg staffer with slippers; Clinton flack Philippe Reines in a Julia Allison - Petra Nemcova sandwich. This is it, buddy. You've peaked. All photos above courtesy of Julia Allison for ETP except for Sanjaya, courtesy of Rediff. Photo layout and selection by Rachel Sklar.

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