Curse of the D.C. Swamp Creatures

“His mother.” Everyone laughed.

Did you get anything good, MSNBC gossip Courtney Hazlett? “No, I’m in D.C.!” she said.

“We don’t know if she’s Miss America or Miss USA, but she married one of our friends,” someone said.

GQ editor Jim Nelson was speaking about approval ratings with Hillary Clinton’s recently semi-dumped adviser, Mark Penn. Mr. Penn’s shirt was soaked in sweat, and was untucked in the back; Mr. Nelson wore a well-fitted blazer and skinny jeans.

Later, Mr. Penn was asked if he received any fashion advice from Mr. Nelson. “Who?” he asked.

 

THAT NIGHT AT the Hilton Hotel, at the dinner proper, Nancy Gibbs, the back-page essayist for Time, was discussing what an honor it was to be in a place with so many distinguished journalists, especially those who were risking their lives. (That war.) Then her colleague, Karen Tumulty, tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hillary Rosen is going to get a picture of the Jonas Brothers—do you want one for your kids, too?” Ms. Gibbs popped from her seat.

“You know, I’m parachuting down from New York this weekend and in New York there are lots of conversations,” said Time’s Joe Klein. “This is a one-conversation city.”

“Great to see you, Tony!” Mr. Klein said, flinging himself at Tony Snow, former White House spokesman.

There had been a red carpet. Girls screamed. The host of Lifetime’s Daily Workout did push-ups on it. “I’m here for you,” Jason Binn told Salman Rushdie on it. There Martha Stewart posed with Colin Powell. Homeland Security honcho Michael Chertoff ghoulishly crawled by.

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn was a bit of a star this weekend. He was drinking a glass of rum.

“Tonight is about the happy conclusion of the Bush administration, which has been eclipsed by this catfight in the Democratic Party,” he said. “Tonight is also a chance to be a part of the cream of the crop,” he said. Like who? Actress Morgan Fairchild, who he described as a “foreign-relations expert.”

And yet Karl Rove was right there! He was sitting next to Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. CBS News president Sean McManus worked the room; there were his reporters David Martin, and Steve Kroft, and Bill Plante. But where in the world was Katie Couric? People said Ms. Couric had swept in under the protection o
f mammoth producer Rick Kaplan, tasked with the all-important job of keeping the press away from Ms. Couric.

With that bit of dirty work out of the way, Mr. Kaplan, the current CBS News producer (and the former president of CNN and MSNBC) sidled up to the MSNBC table, one by one squeezing the cable newsmen into his barrel chest. Papa! The big bearlike producer moved on to the CNN table next door. More hugging. He rubbed John King on the head. “I’m proud of you,” said Mr. Kaplan,

Kal Penn, the handsome star of Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo, was a guest of Slate editor Jacob Weisberg. Mr. Penn was with a stunning white-bow-tied young person named Jake. Does he ever get tired of Mr. Penn being chased with a camera? “This isn’t even that bad,” he said.

Ed Westwick—Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl—was sitting at a nearly empty table at the farthest end of the room. He was here with his father—a professor of economics at the University of London. Surprise!

“Remember that Swift Boat thing?” said a D.C. columnist, pointing out a man in the crowd. “That was him. Now he works for Romney.” Apparently, there is still both a Huckabee and a Romney campaign; the McCain camp was also well represented.

“This does have an absurdist quality to it,” said Matt Cooper, Washington bureau chief at Portfolio. “Mixing all these celebrities with us,” he said, thinking out loud. “There is some eye-rolling to all of it.”

“This is my 20th year here!” said Bill Schneider, the CNN commentator. “It’s only gotten glitzier.” And after eight years of Bush? “We’re much wearier, and we’re much more skeptical.”

For the first time, The New York Times boycotted the dinner. “This is a moment when people already think the press is too cozy with government,” said Dean Baquet, The New York Times’ Washington, D.C., bureau chief, last year. “And I think these events confirm that.”

“They felt—I just want to make sure I got this right—they felt this event undercut the credibility of the press,” said Craig Ferguson during his comedy presentation at this year’s dinner. “It’s funny. You see, I thought that Jayson Blair and Judy Miller took care of that. … Well, let me try this: Shut the hell up, New York Times, you sanctimonious, whining jerks!”

Curse of the D.C. Swamp Creatures