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They're not exactly breaking bread together

In Long Beach, Calif., she is a shy stay-at-home mom with few friends and an unemployed husband who wants to be an actor.

But at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington on Saturday night, Paula Jones was the trophy guest.

Jones' sexual harassment suit against President Clinton has been dismissed by an Arkansas judge. But to Washington journalists attending their annual ritual of self-congratulation, Paula Jones is anything but a woman legally scorned.

Rather, she is the woman whose charges have dished up a year's worth of bread and butter, the woman whose case brought the American newspaper reader Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey and Elizabeth Ward Gracen. The woman who made oral sex a subject fit to print.

And at an event that has relied on Hollywood star power for its sizzle in recent years, Jones' presence restored the political charge to this quintessentially inside-the-Beltway gala.

Jones and her husband, guests of the conservative magazine Insight, were relegated to a table in the recesses of the cavernous hotel ballroom for the 84th annual dinner. Nevertheless, her presence caused something of a commotion, with several hundred people, including tuxedo-clad and sequined-gowned guests, loudly booing her arrival in the ornate lobby. She was ushered quickly through by several burly bodyguards.

Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the association's putative guests of honor, were seated on a raised dais next to White House Correspondents' Association President Laurence McQuillan. After a meal of spicy greens, smoked duck breast and sesame noodles, a jovial Clinton let go a series of zingers that spoofed himself, congressional Republicans and the White House press corps.

"This is the night I get to poke fun at you. That is my definition of "executive privilege,' " Clinton said, adding that he hadn't followed the news since the Pope's trip to Cuba, which took place the same week in January when reporters made public an investigation of Clinton's relationship with former intern Monica Lewinsky.

"What have you been writing about since then? I hardly have any time to read the news anymore. Mostly I just skim the retractions," he said.

And Clinton drew wide applause and laughter when, offering television executives an idea for how to fill "the gaping hole on Thursday night once Seinfeld goes off the air," he suggested: "Congress on C-SPAN. Now there's a show about nothing."

Lampooning his own tendency to express national repentance and his quandary over whether to apologize for American slavery, Clinton said in sorrowful tones, "I regret our long neglect of the planet Pluto. It took until 1930 to welcome Pluto into the family of planets. And that was wrong. And I am so sorry . . . about disco."

Many political commentators, columnists and others attacked Jones for accepting the invitation, calling it tactless and an attempt to demean and humiliate Clinton.

Lewinsky turned down several invitations, as did her omnipresent lawyer, William Ginsburg.

"It would be tasteless for us to attend," Ginsburg said.