Political Capital with John Harwood

Inside The White House Correspondents Dinner

From left: Obama press secretary Bill Burton, Laura Capps, will.i.am, John Harwood
Source: Bloomberg

The White House Correspondents Dinner, which I attended this past weekend, is one of the most unusual events I know. Where else do you find Condoleezza Rice and Pamela Anderson in the same room?

The spectacle it has become reflects the convergence of Washington and Hollywood, of politics and entertainment over the past generation. Celebrities are a source of money and glitz for aspiring politicians; politics is a path for celebrities to make a difference on issues they care about or, at mininum, create a reputation for high-mindedness.

The result is an annual mob scene inside the ballroom of the Washington Hilton. Within a few feet of my seat, on one side was Henry Kissinger; on another were the Jonas Brothers -- the teen sensation singing group; and on another were Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

My guest was will.i.am, the hip-hop star who's a member of the Black Eyed Peas. More relevant to the 2008 campaign, he's the artist who produced the tremendously successful "Yes We Can" victory that placed a Barack Obama speech to music -- and has drawn more than 20 million page views on the Internet.

Will was unfailingly gracious as he was mobbed by scores of dinner guests for pictures and autographs. He met up for the first time with Jon Favreau, the young Obama speechwriter who penned the speech Will used in Yes We Can, and chatted with various other campaign operatives.

He's no fan of George W. Bush, but was plainly amused by the president's humorous remarks at the dinner. When did I know Bush was a hit? When Will said afterward, "He scored some people points with me."

But my favorite moment occurred before the dinner, after we walked the red carpet into the Hilton. We ran into former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who appeared delighted to greet the young hip hop star. They shared a warm handshake, then turned to the flashing cameras. "Help me get my picture in the paper, brother!" Powell quipped.

Only at the correspondents' dinner...

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