White House Press Dinner: De-Wonked!

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Monday, April 21, 2008

God help us: Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Donatella Versace, Rupert Everett, Marcia Cross and Colin Firth are hitting D.C. this weekend for Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. The annual press prom has devolved from an insidery-wonkish night with reporters and sources to stargazing with A-, B- and C-listers with no connection to Washington or politics -- which hasn't stopped them from showing up at the dinner and after-parties.

Whither the night's Baywatch-ification? "It's bizarre," said one media pro tasked with wrangling VIPs, who says it's become a "weird competition" for publications trying to stand out. Snagging celebrities "makes you seem relevant."

Blame the late Michael Kelly, who opened Pandora's box in 1987 by inviting Fawn Hall, the Iran-Contra scandal's dish du jour. "That's the first time people realized that you could draw a lot of attention to your news organization with the 'get' and make world headlines," says network news veteran Tammy Haddad."It was a new way for the most competitive journalists in town to compete with each other." Kelly's next guest, Donna Rice, made sense; ditto for the cast of "West Wing" and Paula Jones. Even Marla Maples and Ozzy Osbourne were, arguably, newsmakers of the moment. But Anderson? Versace?

"How many times do celebrities have the opportunity to hang out in a casual setting with the top editors of the most important publications?" says Haddad, who's hosting her 11th annual VIP brunch Saturday afternoon. The New York Times, however, is boycotting the dinner because reporters look too cozy with sources; it has also reportedly banned them from rubbing elbows with Anderson and her ilk at the after-parties.

No chance for them to discuss global warming with the Jonas Brothers, labor practices with Rob Lowe, or gawk at Hayden Panettiere, Lauren Conrad, Padma Lakshmi. ( Ben Affleck should be full of insights -- he's playing a congressman in "State of Play.") We'll have to ask Ashlee Simpson about those baby rumors and Tim Daly about . . . well, what show he's on. That's assuming, of course, they all show up -- celebs have a funny way of dropping out.

Does the lineup seem too C-listy this year? With a new administration, "people will be clamoring" to come in '09, the VIP wrangler predicted. In the meantime, WHCA President Ann Compton is making sure a few folks who really deserve an invite get a seat: She's set aside two tables for the young White House press grunts who work with reporters every day.

Deal or No Deal, He's a Winner to Bush

Is President Bush a good-luck charm? The commander in chief pops up in a surprise good-luck video on tonight's episode of "Deal or No Deal" for Army Capt. Joe Kobes, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. The 29-year-old transportation officer served three tours in Iraq (he re-upped for three more years and is currently training at Fort Lee, Va.) and calls the president his hero. So the show's producers called Washington, and Bush taped the video -- the first time he's appeared on the NBC game show. White House spokesman Tony Fratto called it an "emotional moment" -- yeah, but did Kobes pick the $1 million briefcase? Lips are sealed; have to watch to find out.

Hey, Isn't That . . .

· Chris Rock at the noon screening of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" Saturday at the Georgetown AMC. The comedian, in town for a four-night gig at Constitution Hall, partied until the wee hours at Georgetown's private L2 Lounge after his Friday show. Also on Saturday (wearing jeans, jacket, shirt, tie and a tan Kangol hat) he arrived at the Park at 14th with 10 friends, turned down a table in the super VIP section for one less secluded, then nibbled on chicken and beef sliders and requested hip-hop from the DJ. Made the rounds to shake hands; told fans: "It's really me!"

· Will.I.Am also at the Park on Saturday night -- but he never ran into Chris Rock. The Black Eyed Peas star (12-inch top hat, white scarf, brown jacket) was mobbed; he posed for pictures, signed autographs, then settled in with a millionaire fan who ordered 45 bottles of premium champagnes. Closed the place down at 3:30 a.m.

· Nicole Richie and Joel Madden at Cantler's in Annapolis on Saturday night. The new parents came in with 3-month-old Harlow (in a baby carrier) and the rest of the Madden clan (most wearing black hats); sat for more than two hours on the outdoor deck, where they were very low-key but friendly to fans. Bonus sighting earlier: New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick with family members. Yes, everybody had -- what else?-- crab.

· Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver at Bethesda's Centro on Friday night. California's guv and first lady (he in blazer and open-collar shirt, she in trendy short jacket and pants) arrived with five friends; he ate a New York strip with broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes, she had Caesar salad and a half-portion of fettuccine.

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