- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

The love affair between celebrities and journalists continued Saturday night at President Obama’s first White House Correspondents’ Dinner at the Washington Hilton.

The annual event, which began in 1920 and has been attended by each president and vice president, is known around the Beltway as Washington’s prom, fusing the elite from the worlds of journalism, Capitol Hill and Hollywood. However, this year’s constellation of stars was even more robust and dazzling, thanks to Mr. Obama’s wild popularity among those in the arts and entertainment industry.

Among the Hollywood luminaries expected to attend the $200-per-ticket dinner: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eva Longoria Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Alicia Keys, Jimmy Fallon, Samuel L. Jackson and Jon Bon Jovi.

Aside from shop talk, the night’s other chatter centered on fashion, with many appearing reticent when asked “who they were wearing” in deference to the nation’s economic woes.

“It’s by Zegna,” said Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker (a guest at The Washington Times’ table), when queried about his dapper tuxedo.

Diana Taylor, New York state superintendent of banks and significant other of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, was somewhat more reserved. “It’s by Ralph Lauren,” she whispered when asked about her elegant black sheath.

Also up for discussion: the city’s humid air made even more so when coupled with the body heat at the crowd at the pre-dinner receptions.

When asked why he was in the reception room for CNN, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann replied, “I’m looking for any place that’s cool.”

Meanwhile, the Creative Coalition, the industry’s nonprofit advocacy organization (also known as TCC), appeared to observe the inroads its presence in Washington had made prior to the dinner. Since its arrival in advance of the dinner, the group has held a series of events designed to heighten awareness among its high-profile supporters.

“I’ve been to several of these dinners, but stopped going about four years ago during the Bush years, because I thought they were very boring,” actress Dana Delaney, known best to fans of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” TV series as the manipulative Katherine Mayfair told The Washington Times during a private TCC-sponsored dinner Thursday May 7 evening.

Fittingly, the Coalition held a Friday night screening of “PoliWood,” a “film essay” documenting the collision of politics, media and Tinseltown, directed by acclaimed Baltimore-born filmmaker Barry Levinson.

Mr. Levinson said that there’s something special about this weekend’s rare gathering of stars and politicos. “Nothing like it [in Los Angeles],” he noted, adding that’s why he and Robin Bronk — the co-producer of the film and TCC’s executive director — decided to premiere “Poliwood” in Washington this weekend.

“Politicians are impressed with celebrities. Celebrities are impressed with politicians. I think people are enthralled with what they don’t know,” said actor Tim Daly of ABC’s “Private Practice,” explaining that the connection between entertainers and public officials is a mutual admiration society.

Actress Kerry Washington of the 2004 movie “Ray” said she came to town “to celebrate journalism and the people who help us understand the decisions being made in the White House.”

Mr. Levinson, Mr. Daly, Miss Bronk, and Miss Washington were among the TCC members lobbying for “arts advocacy” and funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

“In this time where the government is giving billions to companies and industries, we need to spend more on the arts,” TCC spokeswoman Chelsea Cummings told The Washington Times in an e-mail.

She also said that TCC members met with Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat; Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat; Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska Democrat; and White House arts liaison Kareem Dale during their visit.

Miss Cummings also mentioned that no meetings were held with Republican members of Congress, although the TCC and its members have made claims of bipartisanship in the organization.

“It’s absolutely coincidental,” says actor and TCC member Matthew Modine, who added, “They [Republicans] probably would not have much to talk to us about.”

On the other hand, someone who did have a lot to talk about was Wanda Sykes. The comedic actress and former D.C. resident, who appeared to be playing to the left-leaning crowd with her pointed jabs at talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was the guest entertainer at the dinner.

“I know you’re into transparency, but I don’t need to see your nipples,” Miss Sykes quipped, referring to Mr. Obama’s bare-chested photo on the cover of Washingtonian magazine. Mr. Obama seemed amused by the jab.

The president also poked fun at himself, his Cabinet and the journalists who cover him.

Mr. Obama joked about his reliance on a teleprompter and at what critics say is the easy ride he gets from Washington journalists.

“Most of you covered me; all of you voted for me,” Mr. Obama told the more than 2,000 guests in Hilton’s Cabinet Ballroom.

“In the next 100 days, I will learn to get off the prompter, and Joe Biden will learn to get on the prompter,” the president said, referring to recent gaffes made by his vice president.

Later, Miss Sykes, along with other A-list stars like Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway, actress Brooke Shields and Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker were expected to hit the after-parties hosted by luxury magazine Capitol File at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The famous group also was expected to attend a ritzy soiree at the French Embassy hosted by Vanity Fair and Bloomberg News.

Yet despite the stargazing and glitzy parties, the White House Correspondents’ Association, the night’s sponsor, bowed to the economic climate by deciding not to serve dessert. Instead, the group donated the $23,000 it saved on the confections to a local charity, So Others Might Eat. The association also was expected to donate more than $100,000 in scholarships to journalism students. First lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to present the winning students with their awards.

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