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Date Night

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 7:52 AM

ABC has Rahm and Jon Bon Jovi! CBS has Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner! CNN has Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore! Time has Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw!

Yes, it's that time again when Washington journalists get to put aside cap-and-trade and hobnob with Hollywood celebrities. The importance of this annual exercise is:

a) it breaks down the artificial barriers between media, politics and entertainment.

b) it fosters a greater understanding of differing cultures.

c) it makes Beltway grinds feel really cool.

And it's no longer just the White House Correspondents Dinner, D.C.'s black-tie version of the spring prom. There is the Time/People party, the Hotline party, the Creative Coalition party, the Tammy Haddad party, the Atlantic party, the Newsweek party, the Capitol File party, the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg after-party. If some government official has bad news to break, Saturday night would be the ideal time; there will be no one around to cover it.

In the meantime we're busy chronicling our own fabulousness. There are stories and items about who's throwing which shindig and which stellar guests are expected to show up. My colleague Tammy has started a blog about the doings of White House correspondents and their pals (don't miss the picture of Christopher Hitchens and Paris Hilton at the Kennedy Center).

All this is harmless, I suppose, despite the inevitable questions about whether journos should invite administration officials and members of Congress to the annual dinner. And I for one am dying to know what Ashton Kutcher, who has more Twitter followers than CNN, thinks about the banking stress tests. But the level of bragging and celebrity-bagging is getting to be a bit much, reinforcing my view that Washington is like high school, without the parental supervision.

While lawmakers can't compete with the likes of Ashton and Demi, they are looking for a touch of celebrity themselves. In the New Republic, Michelle Cottle takes a look at the CNN.com video series Freshman Year, which follows the exciting exploits of Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Jared Pols:

"For members of Congress, it's always a struggle to avoid vanishing into the shadow of the White House. Whether your team is in or out of power hardly matters, gripes one Democratic Hill aide via e-mail: '[H]onestly, if you're rank and file it's tough to get press no matter who's in charge.' But, in the new Obama era, legislators find themselves in an unusually difficult spot: Our 44th president is the hippest, hottest star on the world stage today--a guy with so much buzz he makes your teeth vibrate. The average House member, by contrast, is one of 435 charisma-challenged, comparatively powerless dweebs. Under such circumstances, what's an ambitious but unglamorous lawmaker to do?

"The same thing, it turns out, as any other American looking to scale the mountain of celebrityhood: become a reality star. Chaffetz and Polis may be the only two legislators with their own network-affiliated show. But plenty of their colleagues have embraced the whole casual, up-close-and-personal ethos of the genre. Forget C-SPAN gasbaggery or starchy pronouncements in the New York Times. Today's savvy Hill denizens, aiming to project a mix of grassroots connectedness and hip, new-millennium with-it-ness, are using tools like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, the celeb-obsessed TMZ.com, and 'The Colbert Report' to give America a peek at what its elected officials are really like. At the rate things are going, even the staunchest fans of transparency in government might soon have had enough . . .

"As for using old media in new ways, recent congressional guests on 'The Colbert Report' have included Wyoming's Cynthia Lummis and Illinois's Aaron Schock, the 27-year-old freshman who--in one of the strangest signs of both the political and the media times--has been winning national coverage of his six- pack abs from outlets ranging from TMZ.com (which has taken to stalking Schock) to CNN's 'State of the Union' to ABC's 'Good Morning America.' "

Cottle includes Schock's on-air comments to me about his brief burst of celebrity.

Riled Over Rielle

John Edwards is in for a tough time as his wife launches her book tour. Asked by Oprah if she still loves her husband, Elizabeth offers a Facebook-style reply: "It's complicated." And she says she doesn't know whether John is the father of Rielle Hunter's baby.

But a debate is developing online over the federal probe into whether the Edwards campaign improperly paid Hunter for her, ah, services. At Talk Left, Jeralyn Merritt is hardly sympathetic to the former candidate, but ready to move on:

"The reason this story is news is because of Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, which he handled abysmally in his Nightline interview (admitting the affair but denying he was the father of the child.) Elizabeth's book, in which she never mentions Hunter by name but calls her names, is not going to endear him to the public.

"That Edwards stayed in the race either believing that he could keep the affair a secret or even worse, thinking somehow the public would forgive his cheating on a cancer-stricken wife he dragged all over the campaign trail, was unjustifiable by any standard.

"But, he's a lawyer. And he's undoubtedly lawyered up. If he had any liability, he wouldn't be cooperating -- without immunity or assurances he's not the target . . .

"John Edwards has become a social pariah. He deserves it, but Elizabeth is not without fault as well. She continued to campaign for him and went along with his lie to the American people . . .

"Yet, I don't believe criminal charges are appropriate . . . or that they are in John Edwards' future. He's paid dearly for his errors in judgment and that should be enough. I see no need to kick him around any more."

Which draws this rebuttal from Ann Althouse:

"Oh no? Why have these campaign finance crimes at all if we aren't going to enforce them? What is it about John Edwards that he deserves special compassion? I'd say he owes us big time for staying in the presidential race, holding our attention, when what we needed to do was compare Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. That was massively selfish -- and Elizabeth Edwards didn't stop him when she had the chance. I will not be suckered into feeling sorry for them."

As The Globe Turns

"The Boston Globe's largest union reached a tentative deal with the New York Times Co. shortly after 3 a.m. this morning, agreeing to a substantial pay cut, unpaid furloughs, and modifications to the lifetime job guarantee provisions that protect almost 200 employees in the Boston Newspaper Guild, according to sources familiar with the deal."

That gun-to-the-head agreement should avert the threatened shutdown. The details weren't disclosed, but in a letter to his members, the Guild leader "said the Times Co. not only proposed a 23 percent wage cut but also 'intimated that a large layoff can be expected regardless of the outcome of negotiations.' "

The pay reduction is substantial, especially since the company got Times staffers to agree to just a 5 percent cut.

By the way, three Boston media analysts told me for yesterday's article that the Times was playing down the story--and the news report in yesterday's Times was buried on the bottom of Page B-3. But Times Business Editor Larry Ingrassia tells me he has run half a dozen pieces on the Globe situation and suggested I provide a link to this lengthy April feature, which I mentioned, so readers can judge for themselves.

Pulitzer Aftermath

First the Obama administration dropped charges against Ted Stevens. Now it repudiates another Bush-era investigation over the New York Times story that won a Pulitzer last month:

"In a highly unusual reversal, the Defense Department's inspector general's office has withdrawn a report it issued in January exonerating a Pentagon public relations program that made extensive use of retired officers who worked as military analysts for television and radio networks.

"Donald M. Horstman, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, said in a memorandum released on Tuesday that the report was so riddled with flaws and inaccuracies that none of its conclusions could be relied upon."

A Question of Diversity

My initial reaction to this Politico piece is Not Gonna Happen:

"President Barack Obama is looking to advance diversity with his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter -- and early speculation has focused on whether he'll pick a woman, or perhaps the first Hispanic justice.

"But gay rights groups -- disappointed that Obama didn't pick an openly gay man or woman for his Cabinet -- are pushing him to put the first openly gay justice on the Supreme Court.

"Within hours of word of Souter's departure, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund was hailing the candidacy of a First Amendment scholar and former dean of Stanford Law School, Kathleen Sullivan. 'Out lesbian a contender for Supreme Court,' one of the group's web sites declared."

But that climate could change in the coming years, if this CNN poll is any indication:

"Among those 18 to 34 years old, 58 percent said same-sex marriages should be legal. That number drops to 42 percent among respondents 35 to 49 years old, and to 41 percent for those 50 to 64 years of age. The poll indicates that only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older support recognizing same-sex marriages as valid."

How Big a Tent?

The debate over the shape of the post-Specter GOP goes on. Rich Lowry says the tent shouldn't be too small:

"If there were ever a senator a party would want to show the door, it's Arlen Specter. Personally disagreeable, philosophically unmoored, and fundamentally self-interested, he represents the worst of the U.S. Senate.

"So the collective cry of good riddance on the right that greeted his departure from the GOP is understandable . . .

"The danger to the GOP is making good riddance an ongoing rallying cry. South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint pronounced on Specter's departure, 'I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don't have a set of beliefs.'

"This is a bracing statement of suicidal purity. If Republicans had just 30 senators, it wouldn't matter if they scored 100 percent on the Ayn Rand score card, they'd be an irrelevant rump watching the Democrats pass something like the New Deal and Great Society rolled into one.

"Besides, the Republicans already have 40 senators, almost all of whom are quite conservative. All but three voted against President Barack Obama's stimulus bill, and they all opposed his budget. It's the other 20 they would need to get to 60 who would be more heterodox. America is just too big and diverse a country for any party to forge an ideologically monochromatic majority. In their desperation a few years ago, the Democrats acknowledged this reality and began recruiting pro-life and pro-gun Democrats around the country who would make Nancy Pelosi's constituents blanch."

Few people remember this, but the sainted Ronald Reagan picked another moderate Pennsylvania senator, by the name of Richard Schweiker, during his 1976 White House run, promising to nominate him for VP if he won the nomination. So if it was all right for Reagan . . . ?

Standing O?

Plenty of chatter on conservative blogs about the WH press corps standing up for Obama the other day but not for W. Slate's John Dickerson says reporters usually stood up for Bush, but not in the more informal briefing room:

"A video, put together by Politico's Patrick Gavin, is making the rounds showing two presidential visits to the White House briefing room. In one, George Bush arrives for a press conference in February 2008, and the press remains seated. In the second, from last Friday, Barack Obama surprises the press by appearing in the midst of the daily briefing. They stand to greet him. (Given that the press is supposedly in the tank for Obama, shouldn't critics be happy they didn't kneel?) . . .

"Why, then, didn't the members of the press stay in their seats when Obama walked in last Friday? Unlike the Bush planned press conference in February, Obama's visit was a complete surprise (you hear fewer clicks because not every photographer is there), which meant the natural instinct to stand when a president enters the room may have kicked in. As you can see from the video, they also ruined the shot, which means standing not only invited grief from conservatives but from their colleagues, too."

Obama and Wall Street

When the Dow dropped nearly 2,000 points after Obama's inauguration, some Fox hosts repeatedly blamed the new president. That was then, says Washington Monthly's Steve Benen:

"Neil Cavuto Monday, commenting on the recent upswing on Wall Street. Cavuto told viewers:

"I want you to take a look at this, because if Wall Street's worried about all the crosscurrents in Washington right now, it has a funny way of showing it: the Dow up better than 214 points, 8,426. We are very close to being even on the year, when for a while we down 20 more than percent on the year, the Dow storming back to levels we've not seen since early January.

"So on the year now we are effectively at a wash, a year that had us cascading better than 20 percent, well, well, well into bear territory. Like I said, Wall Street climbed a wall of worry. Whatever it is, it's climbing through this.'

"Yep, 'whatever it is' that's pushing up the major indexes, Cavuto's pleased. If only it weren't a total mystery.

"Of course, Fox News wasn't nearly this confused when Wall Street was in a tailspin. At that point, it was irrefutable evidence of the failure of President Obama's economic policies. Several on-air Fox News figures -- as recently as March, less than two months after the president's inauguration -- labeled the steep decline the 'Obama bear market.' "

I happen to think it's ludicrous to blame the president for gyrations in the market, as opposed to longer-term performance. But if you're going to play that game, it would help to be consistent.

Savage Treatment

Britain has put conservative radio ranter Michael Savage on a "named and shamed" list of 16 people who are barred from entering the country. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is quoted as saying:

"This is someone who has fallen into the category of fomenting hatred, of such extreme views and expressing them in such a way that it is actually likely to cause inter-community tension or even violence if that person were allowed into the country."

I'm not defending Savage, but it says something about Britain that the country would bar people not for their conduct but for their political views. And would that list change depending on who's prime minister?

Raising Hell

How long are the lines going to be at Ray's Hell-Burger after Obama and Biden, in identical white shirts, popped over to the Arlington joint for lunch? One reviewer noted its "$7 burger and its generous (and gratis!) accompaniments--toppings including sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, and charred jalapeños."

Pressure Campaign

It is not true that I only read Foreign Policy when the articles are about sex. But I did notice this one:

"Ida Odinga, wife of Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga, has joined a Lysistrata-like nationwide sex boycott aimed at forcing the countries leaders to overcome a political impasse.

"Kenyan women's groups started the boycott in an effort to end the feud between the factions led by Mr. Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki that has paralyzed Kenya's government for weeks. Kenya's Federation of Women Lawyers has urged the wives of both leaders to withold sex from their husbands until the feud is resolved."

Shouldn't such below-the-belt tactics be outlawed or something?

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