Bush’s Last White House Correspondents’ Dinner Promises Surprises, But No ‘New York Times’

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By: Joe Strupp

So what will President George W. Bush do for his final White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday? Rumors are flying and speculation is growing as the president’s last chance to get back at the White House press corps nears.

Missing, in any case, will be The New York Times, which bought two tables last year and counted among its guests Karl Rove. Times officials have said they will no longer take part in the dinner, citing the uncomfortable pairing of journalists with those they cover.

“These events can create a false perception that reporters and their sources are pals, and that perception could cloud our credibility,” Spokeswoman Diane McNulty wrote. “It’s not worth it.”

White House Spokesman Tony Fratto offered few hints about the Bush farewell appearance, noting, “I can’t say; state secret.” But, he added, “it’s not like the State of the Union.”

Landon Parvin, a longtime Republican speechwriter who has helped Bush with all seven previous WHCA dinner speeches, also offered few details, saying earlier this week: “We still have a couple of options.”

Bush has been known to use the chance at each dinner to both make fun of himself and the press, giving up the podium in 2005 to wife, Laura, who used it for a memorable roast of her husband. In 2006, he invited Bush impersonator Steve Bridges to share the stage and essentially offer a “dueling banjos” approach to speechifying.

“He has a great sense of humor and, on the podium and off the podium, has impeccable timing,” Fratto said.

Parvin, who is credited with both the Laura Bush speech and the impersonator approach, also wrote one of the more controversial Bush dinner acts, his “comical” slide show at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner about looking for weapons of mass destruction.

Last year, with the Virginia Tech shooting still fresh in many peoples’ minds, Bush declined to offer a joke-filled talk at the WHCA event. Both Fratto and Parvin have said some zingers meant for last year could still be used. “It will be a mix of serious and some good material left over from last year,” Fratto said.

A new WHCA Web site, launched earlier this year at www.whca.net, offers clips of past dinners dating back to the early 1990s. It also includes the official menu for this year’s dinner, which boasts berber spiced petite filet, Tunisian tabil seared salmon, and white chocolate mousse.

CBS late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson is set to entertain Bush and the guests. The list of expected big names does not appear to include any controversial or awkward choices that have come to be common in recent years.

Some around D.C. had speculated that Eliot Spitzer prostitute Ashley Alexandra Dupre, who had met the disgraced governor at the nearby Mayflower Hotel under the name Kristen, would be a perfect guest. But no such luck.

Among the big names expected for this year’s dinner are Ben Affleck, Pamela Anderson, Ken Burns, John Cusack, Katie Couric, Jesse Jackson, Rob Lowe, Salman Rushdie, Tim Daly, and for the tween set, The Jonas Brothers.

Sen. John McCain is slated to attend with both his wife, Cindy, and 96-year-old mother, Roberta. Former Congressman Charlie Wilson, of “Charlie Wilson’s War” fame, is also on the list.

Absent will be Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, both of whom are still on the campaign trail.

C-SPAN is set to cover the event beginning at 8 p.m.

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