- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

Once upon a time, the White House Correspondents Association invited their sources beginning with the president and vice president to dinner once a year, for an evening of off-the-record schmoozing, boozing and dining.
But then the correspondents or their editors and bureau managers discovered Hollywood and pop-music celebrities, and soon everyone was playing "Can You Top This?" Tacky soon became tasteless.
President Bush and the reclusive vice president, Richard B. Cheney, took a back seat to a fiftysomething dirty-mouth rocker at the 88th annual White House Correspondents Association dinner Saturday night at the Washington Hilton. Ozzy Osbourne, MTV's flavor of the month, threatened to put the president in the shade, with a little help from the president. It was a night to be hipper than thou.
"He's made a lot of big hit recordings, 'Party With the Animals,' 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,' 'Face in Hell,' 'Bloodbath in Paradise,'" Mr. Bush said of the night's most mercurial celebrity guest. "Ozzy, Mom loves your stuff."
Mr. Osbourne, who shuffled through the evening like a mummy, behind bodyguards shoving guests out of the way, shouting insults in four-letter words, spryly jumped atop his dinner table during Mr. Bush's comments, to blow air kisses at the commander in chief.
Many of the guests, clearly not impressed by the MTV generation, were less than amused. Georgette Mosbacher, the New York cosmetics executive and one-time Washington social lioness, called the scene surrounding the aging rocker "as freaky as it gets." Said she: "When I first saw him, I thought he was a homeless person. He's some role model for the press to be displaying before the youth of America."
Mr. Bush was acclaimed as the best entertainer of the evening. Like last year, he trotted "actual, never-seen-before photos" as the focus of his prepared quips. This time, instead of the "Bush Family Album," the snapshots offered a glimpse of the "real West Wing."
Jauntily leaning on the lectern, Mr. Bush proved that his past comic performances were no flukes. A series of slides featuring top administration officials looking through a peephole in the Oval Office door was a major hit, especially one of Mr. Cheney crouching at an unusual angle.
"I hope you're not doing what it looks like you're doing," Mr. Bush joked to hearty laughter. When Mr. Bush explained that certain Democrats "don't want it known they're working with Republicans at the White House," he flashed a slide of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or so he said enshrouded in a burka.
Next up was comedian Drew Carey, a self-proclaimed libertarian, who appeared delighted at his presidential "opening act's" strong showing. "The kid's got a future," said Mr. Carey, who was minus his trademark spectacles thanks to laser surgery.
"If I bomb, Saddam Hussein will send my family money," the chunky comic joked before launching into a scattershot set that reportedly was rehearsed before test audiences in Los Angeles and Washington. A nervous Mr. Carey told guests that he had also sought Jay Leno's comic counsel before tackling the gig.
"Ozzy Osbourne and the president have a lot in common. They're both family men, and they both partied a little too much when they were younger," Mr. Carey cracked. "Now, neither of them can make a move without their wives' approval." He recalled that he had the same kind of angioplasty procedure Mr. Cheney recently endured. "Except they left my heart in," he said with a nervous titter.
At various pre- and post-dinner receptions, Hollywood stars Glenn Close, Raquel Welch and Sally Field mingled with political and media figures that included Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld , Secretary of State Colin L. Powell , Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, and network-news personalities Sam Donaldson and Walter Cronkite while shuttling from one party to the next to catch glimpses of Mr. Osbourne or the evening's other superstar, Hollywood heavyweight Harrison Ford .
Brooks Robinson, the Baltimore Orioles' Hall of Famer, was a guest of The Washington Times, along with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez; Michigan Gov. John Engler ; Sen. John Warner; Reps. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland and Jennifer Dunn of Washington; Ambassadors Heng Chee Chan of Singapore and Ulrik A. Federspiel of Denmark; syndicated columnists A.M. Rosenthal and his wife, novelist Shirley Lord ; pundits Tony Blankley and Armstrong Williams ; tax-killer Grover Norquist and American Spectator Editor in Chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
The Orioles great, who chatted with fans who surrounded him all evening, said his post-baseball life gives him more time to read the region's daily papers. "I follow more than I ever have before." He didn't grow up around politics, but the curious logic of bringing celebrities and politicians under one roof didn't surprise him. Both the dinner and baseball, he said, have "a lot of odd combinations."
Later, Mr. Tyrrell joked that Mr. Bush's speech lacked the vulgarity of Bill Clinton's saucier dinner routines. The president must "break four or five commandments on a regular basis to catch up," Mr. Tyrrell said.
The Times reception also drew visits from ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts and commentator Ellen Ratner . At the Bloomberg News pre-dinner reception, Mr. Ford, sans rumored squeeze Calista Flockhart, proved as verbally efficient off-screen as he is charismatic on. Would he like to come to dinner as an elected politician: "No thanks."
But it was famous Republicans who dominated the scene: Mr. Powell, Mr. Rumsfeld, presidential adviser Karl Rove , former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, among others. Mr. Rumsfeld said that he "rarely" goes out during the week and that he doesn't often attend such events but turned out because Mort Zuckerman, his host at U.S. News & World Report, "is a friend."
Most of the A-list celebrities stopped by to take in the neo-disco scene at the Russian Trade Mission, on the Connecticut Avenue hill behind the imposing statuary of Abe Lincoln's sad-sack Gen. George B. McClellan. The party set Bloomberg News back an estimated $500,000. New York disco diva Anita Sarko blasted out retro tunes in the flower-filled tented garden while a battalion of 80 waiters, their faces painted by New York makeup artists, offered trays of glasses filled with imported vodkas, fine wines and champagne.
Guests received blinking lapel lights in various colors, which provided a tantalizing sight to the masses queuing below on the avenue, trying to get in. Each name had to be checked and rechecked, apparently because someone had forged copies of the invitation.
Actors Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni from "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marissa Miller and supermodel Christie Brinkley parted the crowds of carousing guests who rubbernecked until 3 a.m., nibbling on delicacies that ranged from sushi and Russian caviar to desserts that included boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. CNN's Paula Zahn and cyber gossip Matt Drudge, with whom she stood back to back, welcomed fans in equal numbers.
Many guests rated the president the winner of the evening's laugh-off. Mr. Carey's material was good, one said, but "all over the map." Others said Ozzie Osbourne, who wasn't one of the performers, hardly deserved so much attention. He didn't hear any of the criticism. He left early, complaining that he can't stand to listen to loud music.
Kevin Chaffee and Jabeen Bhatti contributed to this report.


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