- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 1, 2010

Behold, the mighty press of the press.

Tuxedos pressed and pedicures intact, 2,600 “White House correspondents” laid claim to the red carpet Saturday night for the annual rite of spectacle and political theater, a great gaggle of lawmakers, journalists, celebrities, the rich and the powerful.

Welcome to the 2010 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where the din was indeed great and the cleavage minimal, the one big fat evening when journalists are the subjects of the main story, for better or worse.

With cocktails. Lots of cocktails.

“You know, I asked Joe Biden about this dinner,” President Obama told the appreciative throng from a dais theatrically lit for live coverage on C-SPAN.

His quip was censored with a familiar sound effect.

“And he told me, Mr. President, this is a big [bleeping] deal.”

Mr. Obama charged on with good cheer and subtle timing.

“All the jokes here are brought to you by Goldman Sachs. They make money, whether you laugh or not, ” the president said, later adding, “I see Scott Brown is here. I admire him. He’s a man with nothing to hide.”

It is also night of extraordinary and often contrapuntal juxtapositions of the famous, in all their persuasions. Consider this sight, for example. Caught, elbow to elbow, at a single escalator trying to make it down a level to the glittering ballroom: Al Sharpton, Rahm Emanuel, Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, Eleanor Clift, “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon and rock legend Jon Bon Jovi.

“This is all very nice, but it’s about time for me to sit down,” said actor Morgan Freeman, who paused every few feet to graciously pose for pictures with someone wielding a tiny camera or a cell phone.

Comedian Jay Leno, in full TV late-night mode, later stepped up to the microphone.

“Well, of course the press corps is excited about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s the closest they’ve come to a press conference all year,” he noted.

The sheer size and scope of the soiree is a quantum leap from 1920, when the White House Correspondents’ Association had its first dinner. Eleven attended.

But this one, nine decades later. The sartorial splendor - including first lady Michelle Obama’s sleek red gown and a young man in a straw boater hat and two-tone shoes - was rampant. Security and police presence was industrial strength.

The media mob delicately dined upon a mystery salad composed of organic wheatberries and shaved fennel, and a veritable checkerboard of filet mignon, roasted halibut and a rounded mold of potatoes and corn. They picked over small plates of even smaller pastries in unusual configurations: green tea creme brulee, basil cheesecake and a fat chocolate truffle.

And about those Hollywood celebrities.

They drifted across the official red carpeted walkway upon their arrival as young fans screamed and cameras rolled. But the stars also encountered a phenomenon less familiar on the West Coast, perhaps: the powerful, their cachet driven by the big doings of politics, government and global affairs rather than matinee fame. It was wall-to-wall with public and elected officials, high-ranking politicians, military brass, diplomats, lobbyists - and the intense journalists who cover such things.

“I’ve been to Oscars, I’ve been to Hollywood events. But this is something I won’t miss,” said BigHollywood.com founder Andrew Breitbart. “It is a wonderful, bizarre confabulation of people who put their political and ideological differences aside for one night. And that is something noteworthy.”

News organizations wrangle their own celebrities for the night.

The Washington Times hosted the likes of newly minted Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, ‘Skins owner Dan Snyder and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Morgan Freeman and Betty White sat with CBS; Jessica Simpson and Justin Bieber were among People magazine’s big gets; FOX News hosted Vanessa Williams and Chace Crawford; Alec Baldwin and Jon Bon Jovi were with NBC; Mary J. Blige and the Jonas Brothers were the guests of Politico.

And that is the very bare minimum of name-dropping from the big event, and the myriad private parties that followed once the crowd spilled out onto the avenue and into the night.

It was President Obama who reminded the revelers why they were there, however.

“We need a healthy, vibrant media, now more than ever,” he told them, concluding, “For all the jibes and the gripes from you, I still cherish the work.”


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