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Caught in the Salahi Wine Storm

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There had been talk at the TV Critics Association tour this season about gate crashers, with tourists sneaking into the ballroom where press conferences are going on, or people breaking into the parties full of stars.

But what did we have here? The veritable King and Queen of party crashing, holding court at the NBC Universal party at a parking lot rooftop at the Beverly Hilton Friday night.

I had spent considerable time with Tereq Salahi near the bar for the party; he was going on about polo and an upcoming match in Greenwich. You almost wouldn't know he and his gregarious wife Michaele Salahi were once at the apex of one week's biggest story last fall - a supposed gate crashing at the White House that showed the lapses in security there, leading to a Congressional hearing, criminal investigation and reshuffling of security personnel.

"We did nothing wrong," Salahi said, hoisting a glass of red wine.

Nobody ever brings a printed invitation to a big state dinner -- or even a network press tour party, he pointed out. "I could be crashing the party tonight!" he laughed.

But hours later, in the hotel bar poolside, a table of the cast members exploded such that Salahi, in pure reality show form, flung his red wine at the face of a woman; she threw water back at him. And those of us in adjoining tables were left to stare, wonder, and dry ourselves off from the crossfire.

Who throws wine at one another to settle problems?

Well, just about every reality series like this. It's practically a given at Real Housewives tiffs that some liquid will fly, be it Orange County, New York, Atlanta or New Jersey (where upending tables is also a trademark).

But can't they somehow differentiate real life from reality TV? When the vino came splattering our way, my first words were "The cameras aren't even rolling!" For whose benefit was this? Bloggers? (If so, thank you!).

The brunt of most of the wine was Lynda Erkiletian, the head of a Washington modeling agency who says in the Housewives premiere episode that Michaele Salahi is anorexic. Erkiletian responded to the wine bath by flinging her glass of Perrier back at Tareq Salahi. "I should have kept it myself," she said after, to treat the red wine stain she was still dabbing up.

The incident put a bit of a cloud on Catherine Ommanney's 39th birthday. The British-born interior decorator was shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the "lack of class" of her fellow Real Housewives. Even before the first episode was airing, she was swearing off ever appearing on a subsequent season. "They couldn't pay me enough to be on the same show with them."

Salahi, for his part, says he didn't know much about The Real Housewives series on Bravo when they were signed on to do it. Filming for the first season lasted from March to November of last year.

"It's a great opportunity to show that Washington couples can do great things in Washington, D.C., without being a Congressman," he said. Salahi, who owns a Virginia winery, has donated cases to various political events, though he noted that few of the recipients of such donations came to his defense once they got on front pages.

The infamous state dinner they are accused of crashing occurred two weeks before the end of filming and thus provides a likely climax to the action on The Real Housewives of Washington DC. Still, the incident is anticipated from the very first episode, when the couple, with microphones on, are heard approaching the White House in a limo, giddy with anticipation.

"We understood ourselves to be invited," Salahi maintains.

Bravo for its part did not promote the series that begins Thursday with a panel press conference, though it would have enjoyed widespread coverage.

As it was, reporters chatted up and took photos of the Salahis standing near a makeshift NBC/Universal fountain that they nearly toppled into. Party security had to ask them to step down from it.

The couple, who were subpoenaed to a Congressional hearing (where they largely plead the fifth), and whose actions led to the firing of Secret Service personnel and the White House social secretary as well as a criminal investigation by a federal grand jury, are quite sure they'll be vindicated once all the truth comes out.

With the show, "We are about to relive everything," Salahi says. "I pray and hope that Bravo can edit it all to show the truth and prove that nothing improper happened ever."

Their actions before the reality show cameras may well leave an impression; their actions at the hotel bar, I fear, will leave a stain.