By: Joe Strupp
President George Bush?s choice not to make jokes, and comedian Rich Little?s somewhat poor attempt to make them, resulted in an unusual White House Correspondent?s Association Dinner Saturday as celebrities and politicians mixed, mingled and dined.
One highlight: singer Sheryl Crow, on a cross-country global warming awareness trip, got into it with Karl Rove. Jawing like a baseball manager and an umpire arguing a call, Crow and Rove were disagreeing over global warming, with Crow?s pal, Laurie David, offering support.
Approached afterward about the exchange, Rove said he was enjoying it all, ?if I can get to my meal.?
It was clear the dinner would have a less-comedic mood when WHCA President Steve Scully opened by noting the tragedy at Virginia Tech this week. ?Our hearts are in Blacksburg, Va.,? he said. ?We grieve for the families.? That followed with a moment of silence for those affected by the tragedy.
When Amie Steele, editor of the Virginia Tech student newspaper (interviewed by E&P several days ago), spoke, she received one of two standing ovations during the dinner, the other given for White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, just back from fighting cancer. Steele said she was invited Wednesday by incoming WHCA President Ann Compton, just two days after the shootings, adding that the press organization also gave the student paper a $5,000 grant.
In between butternut squash, filet of salmon and petite filet, and mango mousse, the 3,000-plus attendees chatted, snapped photos, and sought to get close to the presidential dais for photos.
Just a few feet from the podium, Rove was found at The New York Times table, in discussions with the likes of D.C. Bureau Chief Dean Baquet and columnist Maureen Dowd. When asked why the paper, which often battles the White House, chose to invite Rove, Dowd said, ?I don?t do the inviting anymore.?
Reporter Jim Rutenberg said he had asked Rove because ?we cover him and I just asked.? Was he getting any scoops from the White House insider? ?He?s telling us everything,? Rutenberg joked.
Asked to comment on the battle with Crow, Rove told one reporter, “She came over to insult me and she succeeded.” Crow and David have a full account up at the Huffington Post blog.
Another Bush White House figure, Alberto Gonzales, stayed seated at one of the USA Today tables most of the night. He declined to comment on his current troubles or press treatment of his recent testimony before congress on the eight fired U.S. Attorneys, saying ?I am enjoying my meal, it is great to be here. I am enjoying myself.?
In much better spirits, and still topping the Republican presidential polls, was Rudolph Giuliani, who sat next to Rupert Murdoch at a table near the front. ?I think it is a good time to have some things to laugh about,? he said prior to Rich Little’s performance. ?I am looking forward to seeing him.?
Then there was New Orleans Saints Running Back Reggie Bush, who said he was a guest of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. ?I am just trying to broaden my horizons,? he said of his appearance at the dinner, where he sported two large diamond stud earrings. ?It is fun, I didn?t realize it would be so big.? Asked about how the post-Katrina rebuilding is going in his new hometown, he said, ?It?s still a mess,? adding that he believed President Bush was doing his best to help. ?I?m pretty sure being president has got to be tough.?
Moments later, the star running back was grabbed by new Jenny Craig pitchwoman Valerie Bertinelli, who exclaimed, ?You?re the best, I?m so excited,? then posed for a photo. One table over, Katie Couric was the object of her own hugging fans, stopping briefly to comment on her past year of ratings battles and somewhat harsh criticism.
?I didn?t have any preconceived notions,? she said about her new role as CBS Evening News Anchor. When asked about those who have criticized her work, she said ?I think they?ve been fine, that?s their job.?
Finally, Teri Hatcher, another USA Today guest, said she wanted her daughter, Emerson, to learn something of the ways of Washington through the event. ?I think it is a fascinating combination of journalism and Hollywood and politics,? she said, ?Being here supports being a part of that.?