Alberto Gonzales to Be ‘USA Today’ Guest at WHCA Dinner

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By: Joe Strupp

Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have been the subject of congressional grilling Thursday over the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys, but come Saturday he will be the guest of USA Today at the annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

As in the past, only members of the White House Correspondents Association may purchase tickets to the event, which comedian Rich Little is slated to emcee and President George Bush is expected to attend. Because of that restriction, news outlets commonly buy tickets and bring notable guests.

That approach makes for some interesting mixing of newsmakers and those who cover them. Along with USA Today and Gonzales, this year’s guest list has Newsweek bringing presidential contender Mitt Romney; ABC News inviting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Sen. Fred Thompson; Time hosting singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill; The Washington Times with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; and Bloomberg News bringing former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.

Then there is People magazine, with three tables that will include the likes of Valerie Bertinelli, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and recently dumped American Idol contestant Sanjaya.

Other guests, as we’ve revealed previously, will include Peyton Manning, Jane Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Brooks Robinson and David Geffen.

USA Today Editor Ken Paulson could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday on his paper’s controversial guest. Executive Editor John Hilkirk said: “We don’t want to comment on our dinner guests. The Attorney General was invited in January, he RSVPed, and he is coming.”

WHCA President Steve Scully of C-SPAN, who declined to comment on any conflicts such pairings might bring to news coverage, said the dinner will likely include a change in format to honor those who have died in the Virginia Tech. shooting this week.

“The tone of the evening is going to be different, more somber in light of the awful tragedy at Virginia Tech,” he told E&P. He also said the choice of Little as emcee, a decision that had drawn some criticism from some observers, may now serve the event better since his approach is seen as calmer than some other comedians.

“In light of everything, including the Imus situation, I believe his brand of humor will be perfect for the night,” Scully said.

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