Behind the Scenes at W's Last Correspondents' Dinner
As we strolled into the Washington Hilton ballroom Saturday night in penguin costumes and ball gowns for the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner, many of us asked ourselves: why do we come?
The short answer is: the same reason we come every year, to rub elbows with the powerful and famous. The long answer is: to settle, once and for all, the burning question of whether pop star Ashlee Simpson is pregnant, and gawk at the likes of Donatella Versace, Pamela Anderson, Rob Lowe, Martha Stewart and Ben Affleck, all of whom were there, along with more than 2,500 others, for the annual Hollywood-meets-Washington soiree, the last one ever for the Bush presidency.
The ballroom was a cacophony of camera flashes as journalists and the government's finest posed with Hollywood A through C-list celebrities and -- at least in the case of the aging "Baywatch" star -- their breasts. Check out this photo of Anderson posing with Dan Mathews of PETA.
Even though it's safe to say most people didn't have a clue who they were, the teeny bopper trio Jonas Brothers appeared to be the only celebrities who brought security.
One actor who could have used security was the dreamy "McSteamy" -- Eric Dane, who plays Dr. Mark Sloan on "Grey's Anatomy" and who earned the nickname McSteamy for being, well, totally smoking hot.
Among the lucky gals who snagged a photo op with McSteamy was Laura Capps, the Ocean Conservancy flak who is married to Bill Burton, spokesman for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Burton took a quick hiatus from the campaign to attend the dinner, as did campaign officials from all three presidential campaigns.
And believe it or not, there was even a little love in the cavernous ballroom between the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns, even as the candidates themselves stayed on the campaign trail to continue battling. We saw Burton and his longtime friend and current political adversary Jay Carson, spokesman for the Clinton campaign, hugging and patting each other on the back. (And maybe stabbing imaginary knives in each other's backs.)
House Majority Whip James Clyburn's spokeswoman, Kristie Greco, was spotted getting her photo taken with E! Entertainment's Joel McHale, host of "the Soup."
One of the biggest celebrity hits of the dinner was legendary partyer and former congressman Charlie Wilson, who was immortalized in the recent hit movie "Charlie Wilson's War." Despite having had a heart transplant (in real life) last year, Wilson cocktailed like a champ consistently throughout the night in his white tuxedo jacket.
There were other Hollywood/Washington connections. GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg was shadowed by actor Bob Balaban, who is playing the balding Patton Boggs law firm partner in the upcoming HBO movie "Recount" -- or what we like to call "Night of the Living Chad."
Ginsberg, who, as chief counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, played a key role in the 2000 Florida presidential recount, also has a cameo in the movie. ("Recount" stars Kevin Spacey as former Gore chief of staff Ron Klain; John Hurt as Warren Christopher, who was observer in chief for the Gore campaign; Tom Wilkinson as James Baker, Bush's top observer; and Laura Dern as the batty Florida secretary of state -- and later congresswoman -- Katherine Harris.)
The Newsweek reception before the dinner was, as usual, jam packed with political (and a few Hollywood) celebrities. We saw everyone from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Rick Davis, John McCain's presidential campaign honcho, to actor Kal Penn (of "Namesake" fame), co-star of the wacky new comedy "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay."
President Bush's environmental guru, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and C. Boyden Gray, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, chatted with reporters about the ever-sexy cocktail topic of biofuels. When the conversation ended and Connaughton walked away, a fuming Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) -- one of the Bush White House's toughest watchdogs in Congress -- swooped in and was overheard asking the scribes, "Why are you talking to liars?"
Also at the reception, White House counsel Fred Fielding chatted with the Sleuth about Jenna Bush's upcoming wedding in Texas -- which we'll tell you about in a later posting, so be sure to check back -- and about his special relationship with Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader turned big-time corporate consultant.
"Hey, Roomie," Reed said with a big smile, putting his arm around Fielding. Looking at the Sleuth with his arm still slung over Fielding's shoulders, Reed said: "He made a move on me."
A joke, Fielding quickly clarified, a joke. The two of them were roommates on a salmon fishing trip to New Brunswick on the Miramichi River. (They did seem to have that special Skipper-and-Gilligan-like bond.)
Later, at the after-party hosted by Bloomberg News at the Costa Rican Embassy, Reed was spotted fetching refreshments for one possibly prego Ashlee Simpson and her entourage. Simpson's beau, Wentz, was at the Capitol File magazine after-party, where he played DJ.
And a party's just not a party without Henry Kissinger, who provided one of the best one-liners of the night.
An out-of-town guest at the dinner was overheard greeting the storied former secretary of state and asking the German-born American diplomat what he's doing in retirement. Sounding like a hybrid of himself and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kissinger, who turns 85 next month, replied: "I'm not retired."
Mary Ann Akers
April 28, 2008; 9:53 AM ET
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