By: Joe Strupp
Saturday night?s much-awaited White House Correspondents Dinner, featuring appearances by President Bush, George Clooney and Valerie Plame, among others, kicked off with a round of cocktail parties scattered over two floors at the Washington Hilton. At the Reuters? party you could get a drink called The Cheney Shot?made with Wild Turkey.
Over 2700 attendees were expected. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of the Doobie Brothers, a guest of The Washington Times, was dressed in a kilt.
About 15 protestors from the conservative Web site Free Republic raised a fuss outside on a sunny evening, passing out baby pacifiers with ?CNN? written on them and carrying signs. One featured a picture of Osama bin Laden and the words: ?My best friends are Dana Priest, James Risen, and Eric Lichtblau? (all recently named Pulitzer winners).
Inside, Valerie Plame and husband Joseph Wilson were in the crowd spilling out of the ABC News party (they are guests of the network at the dinner). Plame was pleasant, but asked by E&P why she came tonight she said, ?I?m sorry,? adding in mock-red carpet lingo, ?I?m wearing Armani.? Her gown was ivory.
Asked what might happen if she met the president, she repeated, ?I?m wearing Armani.?
Off that subject, she explained that since leaving the CIA in January she?d een taking care of the couple?s kids. ?It?s more fun and more difficult? than working at the agency, she said.
?We thought it would be fun,? she finally said about the dinner. ?We look forward to a delightful evening.?
Her husband was a bit more blunt: ?We have no reason to hide.? He said some Republicans blamed him for the president?s low approval ratings, but he said that was not his fault, ?although I do have a W in my name also.?
George Clooney arrived at the Newsweek party with his newsman father, the pair just back from a trip to Darfur and Chad. Clooney praised New York Times reporter Nick Kristof for raising Darfur issues, and said he would be attending a Sunday rally for Darfur in D.C.
Asked what he thought about Tony Snow taking over as White House press secretary?a hot topic of cocktail chatter?Clooney said ?maybe it will help Bush, Tony is very good at what he does.?
Later, Clooney met Snow and told him, ?good luck, it?s going to be a wild ride.?
Clooney was also overheard responding when asked about the food in Darfur: “Don?t eat the goat. It took revenge on me.?
When E&P asked Snow for his outlook on his new job, he said, ?I?ll do it my way. I?m going to learn from Scott (McClellan). I have to figure out how to do it. But it’s all good.?
Maureen Dowd of The New York Times said that when she interviewed Snow several years ago she found him uncommonly “nice.” But she added: “I think he’s really irrelevant to the problem. They have to make fundamental changes to the war council.”
NBC?s David Gregory, who had many tough exchanges with McClellan, explained the Snow appointment to E&P this way: ?It seems like (Josh) Bolton wanted him (Bush) to loosen up and be a little more accessible. Bush must have agreed if he hired a guy like Tony. It?s hard to believe that Bush would have hired a guy like Snow earlier because he did not trust outsiders.?
MSNBC conservative host Joe Scarborough, asked to size up the president’s current political problems, said,?The common wisdom is that George Bush and the Republican party are in trouble. There is no doubt that if the Democrats take control of the House or Senate, the last two years for George Bush will be as difficult for him as the last two years were for Clinton.? In any case, he added, ?most people think Bush will not recover and investigations will continue for years.?
The late-breaking ?Hookergate? scandal, he said, ?will keep reporters and columnists busy this summer.?
Among others spotted: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, actor Terrence Howard, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The dinner would kick off a little later, at 8:20, with the arrival of President Bush and his wife Laura Bush, in a black dress. Bush shook hands with dinner entertainer Stephen Colbert on the way to his seat at the head table. Colbert was seated next to venerable Helen Thomas.