By: Joe Strupp
The woman in charge of tickets for People magazine was ready. ?Is Sanjaya here yet?? someone asked outside the magazine?s party area on the lower level of the Washington Hilton. ?No, but I?ve got his ticket,? the woman said with a smile. ?You?ll know by the scream of girls that goes up when he comes.?
That was one of the many questions circulating during the pre-dinner parties prior to tonight?s White House Correspondence Association Dinner. A warm, calm night led the events as the famous, infamous and powerful roamed two floors of receptions that annually kick off the star-studded affair.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow made his first appearance since taking leave for a prostate cancer battle. Pulled along by incoming WHCA President Ann Compton, Snow said he was feeling well. ?I thought that I could get back out in time to be here tonight and I did,? he told E&P. ?I am feeling fine.?
A little later, at the dinner, as guests at the head table were introduced, the head of the group, Steve Scully, welcome Snow back and he walked to the front to loud cheers, waving (looking a little thinner) and sitting next to his boss, the president.
Along with the location of American Idol?s most famous hair-styled failure, attendees discussed the recent trio of news; The Virginia Tech shootings, Alberto Gonzales? testimony and, of course, Imus.
?It is fairly solemn,? said Jon Meachem, editor of Newsweek, as he greeted the likes of
David Geffen and Henry Kissinger at that magazine?s party. ?You lose 32 people who commit the sin of going to class, we have troops in harm?s way. I have noticed a difference between the Clinton evenings like this and all of the Post-9/11 evenings. It is a little more grown up.?
John McLaughlin offered the political impact of the Virginia Tech shootings when asked about the incident, saying it would help Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. ?Because I think security will be very much on the national mind,? he said. ?And they will be looking for decisive, strong and reliable leaders.?
Later, when Fred Thompson was asked if anyone was NOT asking if he planned to run for president, he said ?the question?s not allowed.? But that did not stop well-wishers as he shook hands in the warm, outside court area.
Kissinger declined to comment on Gonzales or Bush?s troubles, noting ?I am a great friend of the president?s? but adding, ?I don?t get into domestic politics.? At one point, Geffen chatted with Dean Baquet, the former Los Angeles Times editor and current D.C. bureau chief of The New York Times. When Geffen initially sought to buy the L.A. paper, speculation had Baquet returning to work for him.
Geffen did not want to speak on any future efforts to buy the Times, or any paper, saying, ?I can?t talk about that, it just gets me into trouble.? Not far away, Fox News? Roger Ailes defended NBC?s recent controversial airing of the Virginia Tech shooter?s video manifesto. ?It is overblown,? he said about the reaction it sparked. ?I would not fault [NBC] for the decision. I didn?t think they did anything wrong.?
Rupert Murdoch, himself a subject of media-related criticism in the past, offered similar thoughts when asked if either the shooter?s video or the Imus firing were overblown. ?I think the media worries about itself too much,? he said with a smile.
Elsewhere, Ann Marie Cox was overheard accepting compliments for a somewhat formal hairstyle. ?I like it, but it is a lot of hair,? she told an admirer. ?They wanted to put in extensions.?
On a more serious note, singer Sheryl Crow, who is touring the country in a bio-diesel bus to promote the fight against global warming, said her vehicle was parked just blocks away. Planning to lobby congress on Sunday, Earth Day, she joined the People party. ?We want to make sure this is the major issue for this administration from here on out,? she said.
Most expected a calmer evening with Rich Little handling the entertainment chores instead of last year?s Stephen Colbert, or another more-controversial host. Some, like veteran White House scribe Helen Thomas, were slightly disappointed. ?I have never played it safe,? she said. ?I liked Stephen Colbert. He was with it, he has a lot on the ball.?
David Brooks of The New York Times said of Little, ?I?m looking forward to his Coolidge impression.? For John Roberts of CNN, Little was fine, but he preferred something ?a little edgier, it is a night to let loose a little bit.?