Party politics rule at White House dinner

Take the hottest ticket in Washington come spring. Add the promise of an exclusive afterparty stuffed with celebrities. Toss in some competition from an upstart magazine with a rival bash across town. Mix well. The resulting brew was cooked up at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which AdFreak snuck into. A week ago, the Washington Post’s gossip column reported that the guest list for the Bloomberg afterparty, once hosted by Vanity Fair, had been “pared to a mere 750.” Meanwhile, Capitol File, a new luxury magazine from Niche Media, organized its own party, and promised James Denton, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Wolf Blitzer, a few Washington Redskins and more. All of which had the party hosts scrambling.
   The dinner itself is always a sell-out, drawing 2,600 journalists, politicians and guests to the Washington Hilton Hotel (or the Hinckley Hilton, as the locals like to call it) until the walls are about to burst. When someone at the pre-dinner cocktail party wondered where all the celebrities were, a guest replied, “The only one here is the plumber from Desperate Housewives.” George Clooney, in town for a rally to protest genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, did hold court at the pre-dinner Newsweek party. Asked what it felt like to be mobbed by so many people, he said, “These are all just family members, and I owe them money.” The president was jovial, despite plummeting poll numbers and skyrocketing gas prices. He allowed himself to be mocked by impersonator Steve Bridges, who dropped lines like, “The media really ticks me off the way they try to embarrass me by not editing what I say.” Or, “How come I can’t have dinner with the 36 percent of the people who like me?” Stephen Colbert, billed as the evening’s entertainer, bombed. Flashbulbs popped around Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, seated at the ABC table, with Karl Rove only a few tables away.
   With the Bloomberg party a short walk away, at the Macedonian Embassy, most guests headed there first, where they stood packed shoulder to shoulder. Actresses Morgan Fairchild and Kelly Carlson were spotted, as was Time reporter Matthew Cooper, who testified in the Plame case. Fairchild and Cooper made it to the second party. Press types like John McLaughlin and Tucker Carlson never did. At Cafe Milano in Georgetown, the Capitol File party drew a younger crowd, along with Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and Ludacris, who chatted with Niche Media CEO Jason Binn. Things became ludicrous indeed when Capitol File’s Paige Bishop had to snap, “I’m the publisher of the magazine,” before she was allowed in the back room. 
   Atlantic Monthly publisher Elizabeth Baker Keffer was happy to see a second afterparty. “The Bloomberg party has been so difficult for even Washington insiders to get into,” she said. “The trick,” added Atlantic Media Co. president and group publisher John Fox Sullivan, “is to make something truly exclusive, so you have a mob of people showing up.” West Wing actress Anna Deavere Smith wasn’t too impressed with either party. “Neither does what the Vanity Fair party did,” Smith said. “Maybe there should be niche parties.” “Whatever happened to exclusivity?” Sullivan added facetiously.
   Fairchild, whose feet were already hurting her at the Bloomberg party, removed the offending stilletos when she reached Cafe Milano. As for the idea of more exclusive after parties, Fairchild said, “It works in Hollywood.”

—Posted by Wendy Melillo