Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the editor of the Virginia Tech student newspaper. Her name is Amie Steele.
At This Dinner, A Dollop of Vitriol

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 22, 2007

Global warming was the talking point last night at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner when singer Sheryl Crow and "Inconvenient Truth" producer Laurie David walked over to Table 92 at the Hilton Washington to chat with Karl Rove -- and the resulting exchange was suitably heated.

"I am floored by what I just experienced with Karl Rove," David reports. "I went over to him and said, 'I urge you to take a new look at global warming.' He went zero to 100 with me. . . . I've never had anyone be so rude."

Rove's version: "She came over to insult me and she succeeded."

Things got so hot that Crow stepped in to defuse the situation and then got into it with Rove herself. "You work for me," she told the presidential adviser, according to singed bystanders. "No," was his response. "I work for the American people."

News of the dust-up filtered quickly through the room. Some witnesses said David was very aggressive with Rove; a shaken Crow later said that Rove was "combative and unresponsive."

Sanjaya Malakar, the shy, slender, 17-year-old "American Idol" reject, was at his table when a tall, middle-aged man stopped by to ask for an autograph. The boy's hosts, from People magazine, tried to shoo him away.

"We are trying to let him eat," they explained.

The man protested: "But I'm the governor of New York."

And so Eliot Spitzer got his autograph. It was that kind of night. It always is.

Larry David, the grouchy-comic creator of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," held court from a prized front-row seat just feet away from President Bush while Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz were relegated to tables in the Outer Siberia of the ballroom.

The evening took a turn toward the somber when the president took the stage. After a videotaped message from David Letterman ("Top 10 George W. Bush Moments"), he said, "In light of this week's tragedy at Virginia Tech I've decided not to be funny."

And with that he handed the lectern over to Rich Little. "I'm not here to make any political points," the veteran comic said. "I'm a nightclub entertainer who tells a lot of dumb stupid jokes. I'm just here tonight trying to make enough money to get my relatives out of Canada."

The impressions (of John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Carson, Andy Rooney) and jokes (Viagra, Smurfs, hemorrhoids) were comfortably middle-of-the-road. After one of them veered into the beakdown lane, Little riffed, "and you thought Colbert was bad!"

The dinner is an event that has ruffled plenty of feathers in recent years, what with the perceived aura of coziness between journalists and their sources. Last year's routine by Stephen Colbert became a national flashpoint for a routine blasted by some for its rudeness to Bush and cheered by others as brave truth-telling.

Association President Steve Scully urged the crowd to set politics aside for one night. "An adversary is not the same thing as an enemy," he said in his opening remarks, "and an evening of civility does not mean we are selling out."

Two poignant moments early on quieted and united the raucous room. Tony Snow made his first public appearance since he announced the recurrence of his cancer, and received a standing ovation when he was introduced. Amie Steele, editor of the Virginia Tech student newspaper, took the podium to lead the room in a call-and-response of "Let's go Hokies!"


Like weddings these days, the dinner has morphed into a three-day affair -- from Friday receptions for the favored out-of-towners, to the actual event Saturday, followed by Sunday hangover brunches (John McLaughlin hosts the most prominent).

At People magazine's Friday cocktail party at Indebleu, journalists and staffers sidled up to "Project Runway" eminence Tim Gunn and "High School Musical" star Zac Efron, the first of People's zeitgeisty guests to land in D.C. (Sanjaya was not expected until yesterday; Valerie Bertinelli was stuck on jury duty in L.A.) Efron wore Beatle bangs and a skinny tie. Adorable. How old is he? "Nineteen," People's bureau chief Sandra Sobieraj Westfall said quickly. "That's a virgin mojito. I got it for him."

Across town at the Park Hyatt, a couple hundred semi-drunk political and business types vied for a seat at the Creative Coalition's "celebrity invitational" poker tournament and a moment or two with Hollywood eye candy such as actress Kerry Washington ("I Think I Love My Wife"). Tim Daly ("Wings," "The Sopranos"), the last actor eliminated in the four-hour game, divulged his mishap at a White House luncheon the day before: "My fly broke." Really? A smitten fan interrupted: "That's Tim Daly. He's my future ex-husband."

Yesterday, the crowds jammed a narrow street in the Palisades for the annual power brunch co-hosted by MSNBC producer Tammy Haddad and lobbyist-turned-entrepreneur Hilary Rosen. "Go meet Tiki Barber -- he's adorable," Haddad said, waving to some place under the vast tent in her back yard, where 300-plus guests gulped mimosas and tenderloin: Morgan Fairchild, in gold lame and heels, chatting up Chris Matthews, in a baseball hat and jeans; Norah O'Donnell showing off her hugely pregnant tummy to another mom-to-be. "I thought I was being invited to a little backyard party," Ann Curry of NBC's "Today" show told us. "I had no idea. I have to say I'm overstimulated and confused."

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