Some in the media are spooked by the Gores' Halloween party, fearing for their integrity. Others revel in a chance to see Al out of his vice president costume.

SCHMOOZE MONSTERS

October 31, 1998

WASHINGTON — The article on Al and Tipper Gore's Halloween party in Saturday's Today section was by Sun national staff writer Ellen Gamerman, whose byline was inadvertently omitted.

WASHINGTON -- What to wear when trick-or-treating with the Clinton administration? Perhaps no one will be nervy enough to don a beret, but at least some bold guests plan to strap angel wings to their right shoulders and show up as "a vast right-wing conspiracy."

There will certainly be enough fodder for political punning when at least 500 media people, White House players and their relatives gather at Vice President Al Gore's residence today for his annual Halloween party. Even so, the event is usually heavier on Tennessee Goo-Goo Clusters than on hard-ball politics, as the press tries to play nice with the veep for a day.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The bash is widely billed as the media party in Washington, an afternoon of candy and photo ops centered around the children of the press. It is one of a string of chummy encounters exclusively for politicians and journalists in the capital, like the annual Christmas party at the White House and the Fourth of July fireworks event on the South Lawn.

Journalists call it a treat for their kids, after so many late-night deadlines that have kept them from all those soccer games and ballet performances. Not to mention, the party gives reporters a glimpse of the unscripted Gore and allows them some face-time with the second-in-command and his deputies.

The vice president, meanwhile, gets to do something more fun than dodging questions about his campaign for president. He poses for pictures, flaunts a ghoulish costume and banters with the children of big-name journalists. Dressed like a monster, he can act like a human.

If it sounds like classic insider schmoozery, it is.

"I'm not sure I ever would have accepted the invitation for a party like this before I came to Washington -- I had some questions about it," says Jodi Enda, a White House correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But it gives you a chance to talk to your sources in an informal way, where you can act like human beings. I don't feel I'm giving them a big favor or they're giving me a big favor."

Some reporters stay away from such events -- mainly, they say, they would rather be reporting about these characters than eating candy corn with them.

Professional relationships

"I don't have any great moral judgment about it at all but I figure I'm in the business of writing about people, not socializing with them," says National Journal's Michael Kelly, a vocal Clinton critic. "I'm more comfortable in a strictly professional relationship."

Kelly says he used to go to the White House Christmas party, but then began to feel awkward.

"I felt it really wasn't fair to the Clintons to foist my presence on them under the guise of pretending to exchange heartfelt wishes for a merry Christmas," he says. "I actually thought they didn't care much if I had a merry Christmas."

But many reporters who make a meal of the Gores don't seem to have any problem showing up for the Halloween party and, in fact, arrive with relatives in tow.

"There have been plenty of members of the fourth estate who have taken unwarranted pot shots at the vice president and Mrs. Gore, most of whom are invited and attend," says Sally Aman, a former spokeswoman for Tipper Gore who helped organize the first event in 1993 after the Clinton-Gore team took office. "All's fair in love and politics, I guess."

The bash features live music, children's games, candy and goodie bags with Halloween reporters' notebooks and fuzzy goblin pencils. One year, Cal Ripken went, creating a far greater kiddie uproar than Gore ever could. The party is paid for with money from the vice president's household entertainment account -- taxpayer dollars. Mrs. Gore's office would not estimate the total cost.

Journalists who attend simply see it as a fun day. Steve Scully, C-SPAN's political editor, says Gore usually bonds with the press by chatting about how he, too, used to be a reporter. Media people, in turn, do their best to behave, though a handful could not resist dressing up as Buddhist monks last year -- a reference to Gore's campaign fund-raising flap.

Careful dressing

This year, the costumes are trickier. Going as a Starr subpoena might be acceptable, but partygoers say dolling up in a Monica get-up would take more guts.

"After all, it is a party at the vice president's house," says Enda, who dressed up as "soft money" last year and will go as one of the right-winged conspirators this year. "The whole sexual nature of the Monica thing -- it may be a little too sensitive."

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