Fox News Brings out the Star PowerBy John Arundel and Janet Donovan Photos By Tony Powell
Any ideological friction between Fox News Channel and the Obama Administration appeared to melt away like February’s snow Wednesday night at the Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner.
“The Most Powerful Name in News” became host to “The Most Powerful Party in DC” as Fox’s founding CEO Roger Ailes feted several hundred policymakers and media friends with a lavish pre-party at the Washington Convention Center.
The event was as elaborately conceived as a Hollywood soundstage, with burbling fountains, Parisian-styled lamposts, elaborate murals and a guest list heavy on the heaviest that might even impress a White House social secretary.
Several Obama Administration officials showed up in high spirits. They included Obama’s Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowksi, Domestic Policy Council Advisor Melody Barnes, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, TARP Adminisrator Kenneth Feinberg and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
On the Congressional side, the Republican load factor (Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Thompson, Rep. Roy Blount, Sen. Bill First, Sen. John Thune, Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Sen. Arlen Specter), appeared to be evenly counterbalanced.
Some of the other high-powered Dems working the crowd included Jesse Jackson, Sen. Evan Bayh, Gov. Ed Rendell, Rep. Elijah Cummings, former Clinton campaign spokesperson Mo Elleithee, Sen. Arlen Specter, former Sen. John Breaux, Austan Goolsbee of the Council of Economic Advisors, Sen. Kay Hagan and Democratic political strategist Joe Trippi. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman, a non-partisan Obama holdover from the Bush administration, kept things even more in check.
Standing in the center of it all was the legendary Ailes, who appeared to be more than pleased that the D’s and the R’s could put down their swords for a few hours as the health care debate raged on the Hill, to enjoy the canapes and cocktails served up by the convention center caterers.
“It’s really wonderful to see so many old friends,” Ailes said. “The spirit of bi-partisanship is alive and well here tonight.”
A late arrival to the party was Fox News anchor Bret Baier (with wife Amy), fresh from his exclusive White House interview a few hours earlier with President Barack Obama, and a 6 p.m. taping of his primetime show, Special Report with Bret Baier. Earlier in the week the Baiers participated in a Washington Life photo shoot at their Northwest DC home.
Tagging in behind the Baiers for the step-and-repeat led by Washington Life photographer Tony Powell were Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, new ‘Skins General Manager Bruce Allen, NVR Chairman Dwight Schar, FedEx Chairman & CEO Frederick W. Smith and Fox News uber-hosts Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly.
The impending health care vote was much on the minds of attendees, “If Nancy Pelosi had the votes they already would have votedm but she doesn’t and is ready to spin it,” said Fox news radio talk show host Laura Inhraham. “Pennsylvania Avenue is littered with arms, legs, ankles, plus knees and hips because they twisted them all off.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) agreed. “As honestly as I can look at this, the Democrats don’t have the vote,” King said. “Just from talking to various Democratic members, seeing the worried look on Nancy Pelosi’s face, seeing the way they were tracking down members of Congress on their side undecided, there seems to be a real concern.”
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-CO.) said he wasn’t sure what would happen. “Right now I just have to consider myself in the dark like everybody else,” Nelson said. “I’m onl hearing hallway gossip and stuff like that. But hopefully something will come to the Senate and that’s when another series of fun rounds will begin. With what I hear is as many as 400 amendments from the other side that will have to be challenged under some procedural rule.”
As far as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could tell, there were many unknowns to the big bill, a $973 billion makeover of health care not seen since the 1950s. “There are no knowns, the thing you know. There are no unknowns to the things you know you don’t know and there are unknown unknowns to the things you do know but you don’t know and those are the ones that get you in big trouble.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, when asked why he had changed his vote from a no to a yes, responded: “No one’s fought longer and harder than I have inside Congress for single payer. That’s not what this bill is about.I also fought for public option and for protecting the right of states to be able to have a single payer system, if they desired it. I lost the vote, I lost the bill. Where we are now is this vote has come down to one or two people. I don’t want to be the one killing it simply because I didn’t get my way.”
The Rev. Jessie Jackson said he felt the Democrats had momentum going into the historic vote. “The opposition has become rather obstructionist and seems to be November at all costs,” he said. “The interesting this is that all those against it have comprehensive health care.”
Also lending starpower to the event were Fox News talents Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace (with wife Lorraine), Bill Hemmer, Martha MacCallum, Megyn Kelly, Carl Cameron, Jennifer Griffin, Catherine Herridge, Shannon Bream, Griff Jenkins and Alisyn Camerota.
The Fox News talent had plenty to celebrate. In 14 years the cable and satellite network owned by News Corp. subsidiary Fox Entertainment Group has leap-frogged past CNN and MSNBC to become the nation’s most watched news network, seen in 102 million households in the United States and in 40 other countries.
“The secret to all this is good people,” Ailes said. “I don’t take much of the credit myself. At the end of the day, almost everything I do is related to my ability to hire good people.”