Off the Record

“Never stay for the second act,” Web log pioneer Matt Drudge said. Mr. Drudge, in a festive red-banded fedora and a white shirt with the top two buttons undone, was speaking to a group that included Tucker Carlson and ABC news producer Chris Vlasto in the light drizzle outside a stately Wyoming Avenue mansion in Washington, D.C., on April 30.

In fact, Mr. Drudge and company were neck-deep in the night’s second act: the Bloomberg News party, the famed follow-up to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But he was speaking more narrowly, about the dinner itself. As soon as First Lady Laura Bush had made her headline-grabbing joke about her husband trying to “milk” a “male horse,” Mr. Drudge had hustled out of the banquet at the Hilton, not waiting to hear top-billed Cedric the Entertainer.

But Cedric the Entertainer had suffered, if anything, from being tied to the first act: the staid, imperfectly cocktail-lubricated receptions and the scripted, meticulously scheduled dinner itself. Once Mrs. Bush conjured the image of the President giving a stallion a handjob, the dignified journalists bugged their eyes and did spit-takes. Andrew Sullivan lurched so hard with laughter that he nearly fell from his chair.

With that, the news had been made; the evening could devolve into loopy band-camp antics. The events would be divided into Before Laura Bush Talked About Horse Cock, and After.

The Before portion began with the publication-sponsored cocktail pre-parties on the lower level of the Hilton. Outside the Newsweek magazine event, a trio of Richard Gere, incoming World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and Gotham publisher Jason Binn posed amicably for a crowd of photographers.

Inside the Time event next-door, Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox swanned through the room in a strapless dress, cocktail in hand, looking like her portrait in The New York Times Magazine. Her husband, Chris Lehmann-who last week abandoned New York magazine for a job at Congressional Quarterly-was absent; Ms. Cox said he was “too sober” for such events.

Golden-haired Time columnist John Dickerson, described on Wonkette as having “cheekbones high and sharp enough to cut glass,” listened as Ms. Cox boasted that she had invited South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to come with her to the Bloomberg party, telling the ticketless duo she could get them in. But she couldn’t! she explained. It was a joke on them!

As the lights flickered, signaling dinnertime, CNN president John Klein was extracted from the Time party by his publicist. In the crowd bottling up in front of the metal detectors, Mr. Klein explained the journalistic Great Chain of Being. “We’re there to report on what the administration is doing, just as you’re here to report on what we’re doing,” Mr. Klein said. “So the same relationship you have with us, we have with them.”

Presumably that means laughing heartily at Mr. Klein’s jokes.

After dinner-crab hush puppies, steak, asparagus, warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and berries-and Mrs. Bush’s bawdy routine, it was Bloomberg time. Or almost. As the crowd dashed for the coat check, Gen. Wesley Clark and his wife, Gert, ducked into a brief pre-after-party where the Time reception had been. General Clark said he thought the first lady’s horse-penis joke was “an incredibly smart move.” Mrs. Clark, saying dinner left her mouth feeling stale, gratefully accepted an Altoid. The general paused every five feet to pose for a picture with one or another of a series of admirers. Would Mrs. Clark like to get in the frame, too? “No one wants a picture of me,” she said.

Outside the lobby doors, umbrellas sprouted. Women wrapped scarves over their hairdos. One partygoer offered a pretty TV anchor his tuxedo jacket for cover.

Mrs. Bush “was just brilliant-the whole thing,” said Senator Charles Schumer, holding his hand out to test the drizzle.

“Where are the Condé Nast cars when you need them?” another guest muttered.

At the mansion, the line stretched down the block. Monday morning, designer Roberto Cavalli’s publicist would send out a photograph of Mr. Cavalli posing outside the Bloomberg party with Goldie Hawn (“looking resplendent in Cavalli!”). Neither one was in evidence by the time the full party settled in. There were, however, steel drums, a chandelier made of ice and miniature sundaes on sticks. At booths scattered around the house, guests could snap pictures. Each shutterbug got the pictures digitally, on a keepsake Bloomberg-embossed portable USB drive.

By the dripping ice chandelier, New York Post publisher Lachlan Murdoch-necktie-free, and with his signature blond spikes shaved down to a fine buzz cut-chatted with P.R. guru Steven Rubenstein. What had brought the News Corp. scion to Washington?

“I’ve been meaning to come down for a few years,” Mr. Murdoch said. “This was the first year I could put it together.”

Mr. Murdoch added that he wasn’t familiar with the capital’s party scene. “The Mayor throws a great party,” he said, ignoring Michael Bloomberg’s abdication from the news agency that bears his name, “but I wouldn’t say this party is representative of most Washington, D.C., parties.”

Later on, by the D.J. booth, tennis star Venus Williams gave the Mayor even more credit. Wearing a form-fitting black Gucci dress and accompanied by her sister Serena, Ms. Williams explained that she’d been invited to D.C. by the “Bloomberg White House.” Freddie Ferrer in ’08!

Paula Zahn, standing near the band, was approached by Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles. Mr. Toles’ face was covered with lipstick kisses, which he said he’d been collecting all night. “If at any point tonight you feel the urge to dance,” he said to Ms. Zahn, “and you need someone to dance with you …. “

“I’ll come find you,” Ms. Zahn said peremptorily. “I’ll come find the tallest guy in the room.” She darted off toward the bar.

“That’s my fourth rejection tonight,” Mr. Toles said.

Two a.m. approached, and the party started to dry up. Rumor had it that there was an after-after-party at Christopher Hitchens’ place. Richard Schiff, of TV’s The West Wing, was loading a tray with hors d’oeuvres for his friends in another room. He offered a brownie with a maraschino cherry on top.

In the middle of the dance floor, embattled Harvard president Lawrence Summers stood by himself. Asked about his display of party stamina, Mr. Summers declared, “I’m a hip guy.” He had endured financial troubles and family conundrums, he noted-”I’ve been through some real shit in my life”-and he could survive a bunch of “whiny” professors.

Skipping Mr. Hitchens’ purported event, an expedition set off for the after-after-after-party, which was to be held at the Connecticut Avenue apartment of the acting Assistant Secretary of Education. Packed in a gossip columnist’s Honda Civic hybrid, the group struggled to navigate what should have been familiar streets.

Eventually, the trip ended up around the corner from its starting point, outside a dark apartment building. The assistant secretary was nowhere to be found, and the drizzle was gathering force. The fourth act would have to go on by itself.

-Rebecca Dana and Gabriel Sherman

The Washington Post has been the leading newspaper on the story of scandal-plagued lobbyist Jack Abramoff, breaking a series of stories on Mr. Abramoff’s web of influence and his embarrassing e-mails about his clients. Despite that-or because of it-The Post has been unable to include an interview with Mr. Abramoff himself in its barrage of coverage.

So on May 1, The Post ran the news that someone else had landed an interview with Mr. Abramoff. “Abramoff Breaks Silence About Investigations,” read the headline on reporter David Finkel’s piece on page A7.

Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Finkel reported, had given interviews to Time magazine, for a piece that would be published the next day. Portions of the Time story, he wrote, had already been posted to the magazine’s Web site.

Seven paragraphs into the piece, The Post mentioned that Time wasn’t the only outlet Mr. Abramoff had spoken to. Nor was it the first: The lobbyist had also sat down with reporter Michael Crowley for a 5,200-word feature in the May 1 New York Times Magazine-a piece which had been available since April 27.

Unlike Time, which interviewed Mr. Abramoff by phone and e-mail, The Times Magazine had landed a face-to-face interview.

“I was really happy with our piece,” Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati said by phone. “Once it became clear we had the exclusive with Abramoff’s first on-the-record interview, that became the story for us.”

Why did The Post brush off the scoop and cite the second story first? “There was nothing nefarious, no conspiracy here,” Mr. Finkel said by phone from Washington May 2. “My piece was paying attention to comments, and as far as the order, I didn’t give it thought. I didn’t want to pay attention to one over the other.”

Mr. Crowley, a senior editor at The New Republic, declined to comment on The Post’s handling of Mr. Abramoff’s remarks.

Mr. Finkel said that in his opinion, neither Time nor The Times Magazine had carried the most significant Abramoff story lately. “I thought the best piece of journalism of all, either today or yesterday,” he said, “was Susan Schmidt and James Grimaldi’s front-page story in The Post on Sunday.”

-G.S.

For the first time since 1989, New York Times staffers will not receive a cost-of-living raise in their paychecks this year. Instead, the paper’s 1,500 Newspaper Guild members are being required to sign over their scheduled 3 percent raise to pay for health coverage. Those who don’t agree before the May 18 deadline will lose their medical insurance.

“If you don’t return the forms, you will lose coverage,” the guild wrote in an April e-mail to its members.

Times sports reporter Lena Williams, the Newspaper Guild’s unit chair, said that the giveback was necessary to cover a $3.7 million deficit in the company’s benefits fund.

Reporter David Cay Johnston said he had collected more than 100 e-mails protesting the arrangement after it was announced earlier this year. Two weeks ago, Mr. Johnston formed a committee with a dozen Times staffers to prevent future salary deferments.

“The economic reality is they have to do it,” Mr. Johnston said. “The question is: Is this is best way to do it?”

-G.S.

New York Times pundit standings, April 26 to May 2:

1. Paul Krugman, score 21.0 [rank last week: 1st]

2. Thomas L. Friedman, 17.0 [tied-7th]

3. Frank Rich, 16.0 [2nd]

4. Maureen Dowd, 12.5 [tied-3rd]

5. Bob Herbert, 10.0 [6th]

6. Nicholas D. Kristof, 4.0 [tied-7th]

7. David Brooks, 3.5 [tied-3rd]

8. John Tierney, 0.0 [5th]

Maureen Dowd continued to struggle with her switch to the Saturday shift, as her weekend offering failed to register in the seven-day top-25 Most E-Mailed list. Chin up, Ms. Dowd! David Pogue got the whole Circuits section cut out from under him, but his technology column about Apple’s OS X 10.4 outpolled all but one of the week’s Op-Ed pieces (Thomas L. Friedman, Friday). Mr. Friedman gets meta-points for being the subject of Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday book review, No. 20 on the weekly chart.

-T.S.