Washington's own Super Bowl: The incredible party sprawl of the White House Correspondents' Dinner
Congratulations, D.C., you finally got your Super Bowl: It's called the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and what began long ago as a wonk-insider banquet -- a single night of jolly ha-has shared by a president and a media corps who torment one another the rest of the year -- has metastasized into a week-long Happening of national stature.
It's a fashionable fly-in for Hollywood types who need a red carpet to be photographed on between Coachella and Cannes. And as with the Kentucky Derby, the NBA All-Star Game or the political conventions, the festivities now start days ahead of -- and with ever-shrinking relevance to -- the main event.
We submit: the White House Pet Correspondents Benefit on Wednesday night.
Ma'am, that doesn't even make sense. Nonetheless, NYC-based pet advocate/author Wendy Diamond managed to draw a lively set of guests -- two-legged and four-legged -- to her fundraiser for the Washington Area Rescue League at Hotel Helix. Cocktails, canapes, kibble. Celebs included Channel 9 anchor-socialite Angie Goff with her golden-mix rescue, Atticus; Craig Newmark of Craigslist; and Buzz Aldrin (on his way to a tonier affair at Air & Space honoring Capt. Sully). The hostess, in a strapless blue gown with her tiny white purse dog Lucky tucked under an arm, cheerily acknowledged that it was basically one of the "Yappy Hours" she hosts around the country, timed and repackaged for the big, buzzy occasion.
"I figure in Washington, people are more serious," Diamond told us. "They won't come to a Yappy Hour, but they'll come to a White House Pet Correspondents party."
Oh, honey, they'll go anywhere, if you ask them. The awkward truth is that the bigger the WHCD gets, the harder it is for the regulars on the scene to get in. Intense demand for the 3,000-person affair at the Washington Hilton has left many media organizations complaining that they couldn't get enough tables and reporters complaining that the tickets are all going to Hollywood stars or New York media elite.
Don't look for many ink-stained wretches at the exclusive after-party hosted by Bloomberg and Vanity Fair; even many White House correspondents didn't get an invite there, nor to the rival MSNBC and Capitol File parties.
Which may explain the general party sprawl. It got started earlier than ever this year, with a WHCD-themed party hosted Tuesday at Public by the lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates and communications firm FD International for 200 actual working reporters. Among them were famous-for-D.C. types such as "Meet the Press" producer Betsy Fischer, CNN's Ed Henry, Fox News' Bret Baier, Bloomberg's Ed Chen.
"We know that the dinner itself is not actually a celebration of the White House press corps but instead a celebration of politicians and celebrities," said QGA chairman Jack Quinn. "To us, journalists are celebrities. White House correspondents are the rock stars of Washington for the political class." Aww.
Some early events weren't technically WHCD things, but with their cozy media-political-celebrity synergy felt like warm-ups. Fortune hosted its Most Powerful Women Dinner under glittering State Department chandeliers Wednesday -- guests like Susan Sher of the White House and CNN's Jessica Yellin enjoying the halibut while Fortune editor Pattie Sellers bantered onstage with Sen. Dianne Feinstein about why so many VIP women had doctor dads.
At the Ritz-Carlton the same night, the limos were triple-parked for the Atlantic Council's black-tie dinner honoring Bill Clinton and Bono. Exclusive, earnest, endless. Breezy banter from emcees Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the Regis and Kathie Lee of the pundit set. Insidery, affectionate mocking from the U2 frontman: "I look out at this audience; a lot of military past and present, a lot of brass, spit and polish. And I wonder who let the peacenik in? . . . Like that cat Billy Clinton from Arkansas." Who then delivered a 31-minute keynote.
On Thursday night, it was the Creative Coalition, an earnest "advocacy" group comprising actors you may remember fondly from '90s TV shows (Richard Schiff, Tim Daly, Dana Delaney, Gloria Reuben, etc.) doing a "tribute to the preservation of our nation's cultural heritage" at the Library of Congress.
It's all expected to end, finally, midday Sunday, with rival brunches and lunches, all vying to draw the big names -- but sorry, invitation only.
Feeling left out? The Channel Inn Hotel put out a flier advertising a special "Pre-Correspondents Event" happy hour Thursday. Hey, why not? Can we bring our pets to this one, too?
The Reliable Source
April 30, 2010; 1:00 AM ET
Categories: Parties , White House Correspondents' Association Dinner
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