By: Joe Strupp
Will Valerie Plame be the talk of this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner? E&P has confirmed that she is slated to attend this year’s gala, along with her husband Joseph Wilson and several other notable non-journalist guests, such as Alex Trebek and Ben Rothlisberger, according to organizers.
As in the past, attendees at the annual black-tie affair, to be held on April 29 this year, often look for a controversial visitor who might spark extended gossip around the open bar. When outsiders such as Donna Rice, Michael Moore, Fawn Hall or Ozzie Osborne were escorted to the gathering, they sometimes drew nearly as much attention as the president during his remarks.
Plame, the former CIA operative whose outing by columnist Robert Novak sparked a U.S. Justice Department probe that has already sent one reporter to jail and brought a White House official under indictment, may take that role this year. It is unlikely she will be seated next to Novak, but perhaps Bush may have a good view of her from the dais.
She and Wilson will be guests of ABC News.
Other “outsider” guests include tennis star Anna Kornikova, rap star/actor Ludacris and James Denton of “Desperate Housewives.”
Mark Smith, White House Correspondents Association president and an Associated Press reporter, declined to weigh in on what Plame’s presence might bring. “That’s not for me to comment,” he told E&P, also declining to reveal who invited Plame. “It comes at a time when we are wrestling over a lot of different things, like access issues.”
The annual event that has become a must for local news and political types is set for the Washington Hilton. While Smith declined to opine about Plame’s presence, he talked up the guest host, Comedy Central “newsman” Stephen Colbert. “He lampoons us as much as the politicians,” Smith said. “So it will be great.”
Admitting he does not watch much television, Smith said asking Colbert was actually the suggestion of incoming WHCA president Steve Scully of C-SPAN. “It was suggested and he was agreeable,” Smith said of the TV talker. “I just kind of happened in to it.”
The $175-per-person dinner has also brought more demand for tickets than ever before, according to Julie Whiston, who has organized it as WHCA executive director for 10 years. She said all 261 tables with 10 guests each are sold out. In fact, some $113,000 had to be returned to those who sought tickets, up from $107,000 in refunds last year.
“Regular members are allowed to request up to eight tables, associate members [who do not regularly cover the White House] may request up to three,” she said. “I choose who gets them with the president of the association and we take care of the board members’ organizations first, then the regular members who participate in the travel pool, and then the associate members.”