OSCAR CRUNCH: Get ready for a real fashion crunch — the Oscars are moving up a month to Feb. 29, 2004, and late February 2005, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences executive director Bruce Davis announced late Wednesday. It’s a two-year experiment. That’s smack in the midst of the European ready-to-wear collections, which might cause major dress jockeying among designers, stylists and actresses. With the Oscars’ earlier date, designers will have to decide whether or not to save their new gowns for the runway, or preview them on the all-important red carpet. It’s doubtful that fashion savvy actresses and their stylists will settle for wearing the current season’s clothes.

NEWS BLACKOUT: George and Laura Bush’s second state dinner Wednesday night for Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his wife, Jolanta, offered a chance to show off the Bush entertaining style in a home where the President lays down the dinner rules. Word is that President Bush does not have fond memories of his days as a presidential son in his father’s White House, fending off unwanted interactions with roving social reporters. Months before anyone had a reason to blame media blackouts on heightened security, Bush quietly banned the social press from mingling with his guests at official dinner parties, thereby ending a 50-year tradition of giving reporters a chance to talk with dinner guests. Perhaps to soften the blow, the First Lady met with reporters earlier in the day to talk about the dinner, raving about the new Oscar de la Renta gown she planned to wear. As for the party itself, she said, "I think we’ll probably dance at least one dance, maybe just one."

When the big night finally came, reporters were quarantined behind ropes as guests like Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder; Henry and Nancy Kissinger; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, and former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife, Charlotte, paraded through the Booksellers Room en route upstairs. As guests ran the gauntlet, one reporter noticed bare rafters showing through the ceiling, surrounded by crumbling plaster. When Noelia Rodriguez, the First Lady’s Press Secretary, was asked about the cause of the leak, she chalked the eyesore up to an ongoing White House renovation project, and laughed, "I though you were asking about a news leak to the media."

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