Bush's Secret Dinner -- With the Press

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 26, 2005; 12:00 PM

About 50 members of the White House press corps accepted President Bush's invitation last night to come over to his house in Crawford, eat his food, drink his booze, hang around the pool and schmooze with him -- while promising not to tell anyone what he said afterward.

It's something of a Bush tradition, a way of saying thank you to journalists for whom an extended stay in the Crawford area is anything but a vacation.

And in spite of all the recent press demands for senior administration officials to stay on the record more often, the press corps can't resist an offer of face time with the president, pretty much no matter what the conditions.

Nevertheless, I'm told that several reporters expressed squeamishness about last night's event, particularly as the press-pool vans drove by antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey" site. And later, a small handful watched askance as the rest fawned over Bush, following him around in packs every time he moved.

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush played host to the White House press corps Thursday night for a private off-the-record dinner at his ranch.

"The casual affair of fried catfish, potato salad, coleslaw, homemade cheese and chocolate-chip cookies followed a tradition in which Bush and his wife, Laura, have the press covering his annual August vacation out to the their ranch in central Texas as a sort of thank-you.

"The event was not held last year because of the busy campaign season. The invitations to the reporters were issued on the condition that they not discuss conversations at the event."

My sources (in this case, I should point out, not from The Washington Post) provided a few more details.

The president and the first lady greeted everyone personally in an informal receiving line. Both were dressed casually, Bush in jeans.

The dinner itself was held poolside. The reporters and camera crews were invited to bring swimsuits, but no one opted to strip and swim.

The beer, as usual, was a Texas brew: Shiner Bock.

The topics of conversation included the antiwar protests, the twins, sports, and Bush's summer reading list.

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