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One Hot Dinner Date Minus Dessert

Colin Powell chats up Jenny McCarthy at last year's dinner (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

What happens when a popular new president meets a struggling industry for dinner? We're about to find out, as D.C. braces for Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association dinner -- the annual happening that packs 3,000 journalists, government officials, random Hollywood types and the president himself into a cavernous Hilton Washington ballroom.

On one hand: President Obama's first dinner has brought a surge of interest. On the other: Who can afford this nonsense anymore? Some D.C. bureaus that once filled entire tables have been shuttered; everyone else is cutting back.

But Jennifer Loven, the Associated Press correspondent who is president of the WHCA, tells us the dinner never changes: "In good times, in bad times, in the first year of a president, in the last year." In 2008, the final dinner for George W. Bush, 500 oversold tickets were refunded, at $200 each. This year Loven expects even more ticket seekers will be turned away. For all the news outlets that dropped out, she said, new ones have joined, such as Essence. (The New York Times will sit the dinner out for the second year in a row, because of the arguably creepy reporter-source schmooze dynamic.)

And many news organizations are still shelling out to bring celebs as their dates. Thus far the star factor seems slightly more A-list (Sting, Demi and Ashton, George Lucas, Alicia Keys) and slightly less freak-show than last year (no Pam Anderson or Perez Hilton) -- but surprise guests always turn up.

Will the president -- who bailed on the white-tie media-elite Gridiron supper -- actually show? Loven says he's confirmed; Michelle Obama is slated to personally present awards to the WHCA's college scholarship winners.

One thing that will be missing? Dessert. Our colleague Mary Ann Akers reports the WHCA knocked the usual chocolate mousse off the menu -- and will use the savings to donate $23,000 to the D.C. food bank So Others Might Eat.

By The Reliable Source  |  May 4, 2009; 1:02 AM ET
Categories:  Parties  
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