Special Feature: White House Correspondents’ Dinner

by Janet Donovan

Stars descend on the nation’s capital for a week of White House Correspondents’ Dinner festivities.

Kendall Tony Web

Model Kendall Jenner at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. (Photo by Tony Powell)


As the Brits would say:“Keep Calm and Carry On.”A stash of Red Bull doesn’t hurt either when you’re hoping to make it through the surfeit of White House Corespondents’Association parties that prelude Saturday’s dinner with the President and first lady. We covered more than 20 of them, starting on Wednesday evening and ending at brunch on Sunday (that’s a lot of outfits, thank you very much!). Here are the highlights: >>

Wednesday, April 27

Press for the Press: “You know, I want to meet the ‘Broad City’ gals on Comedy Central,” The Washington Post’s Reliable Source columnist Emily Heil told us at an intimate and lavish party for accredited White House Correspondents’ Association members at the home of Xavier Equihua. It’s also where we learned that C-SPAN gets the President’s speech ahead of time. “We will get the text top secret, probably late afternoon,” said Steve Scully. “What we’ll do is read the script, look at the program, look at the table settings, and figure out who’s where and so if he’s going to poke fun or acknowledge or make reference to a certain individual, we’ll be able to have that shot ready to go.”

Thursday, April 28

Women in Journalism Awards: “We’re lucky to have women who, in particular, stand out in their field for extraordinary journalism and the things that they do for their craft,” Gloria Dittus said before acknowledging the awardees at the Third Annual Women in Journalism event she has hosted at her Kalorama home. “Admittedly, we’re in the midst of one of the most interesting political years ever. We’re probably going to have a woman at the top of the ticket for the first time, so it’s quite appropriate that today we’re going to acknowledge women who are leaders in the field of journalism. … No matter who is selected at the ballot box in November, male or female, Democrat or Republican, I know that the women that we’re going to honor tonight will continue to set the standard among their peers for reporting and journalism.”

Global Beat: The annual Global Beat party sponsored by Devex, the U.N. Foundation and Foreign Affairs magazine celebrated with Michael Kelly, who plays presidential henchman Doug Stamper in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and our favorite local chef and activist, José Andrés. Kelly still likes to remind us that he is far from the evil character he plays on television.

Swipe the Vote: Rock The Vote? Tinder? I.J. Review? The trio of sponsors made for fun & games at their rooftop party. Rock the Vote’s Kiki Burger told us they mixed the dating app Tinder’s signature swiping feature with the 2016 field to test a different compatibility. “Based on if you swiped right or left on the issue, you got matched with the candidate. You could see where you align on the issue, so that was really fun.” What we really want to know is who got matched with The Donald? Rock the Vote also partnered on PSAs with Kendall Jenner, Burger said. “She’s been a big supporter of ours, which is great because she’s only 20 and this will be her first time voting in the presidential election.”

Bytes and Bylines: This party at the residence of Spanish Amb. Ramón Gil-Casares was the ultimate soirée, co-hosted by Allen Gannett, Eric Kuhn, John McCarthy and Susanna Quinn. “I should’ve done it before,” Gil- Casares said, wondering why he hadn’t had a hip, young party previously. “It’s been so much fun and such a wonderful evening, I hope to be able to do it for many more years.” José Andrés, Rebecca Cooper and Steve Clemons hammed it up downstairs reminiscing about past dinners. For that, we turned the recorder off.

Friday, April 29

Sunset over the White House: Although the sun was not visible for this rooftop gathering hosted by Washington Life, there was plenty of excitement from guests admiring the stunning view of the Old Executive Office Building and White House. We tapped our closest pals, including Real Housewife of Potomac Katie Rost and Fox News’s Bret Baier, to join the happy hour celebration,which raised awareness of domestic violence for L.Y. Marlow’s Saving Promise Foundation. A generous swag bag contained a commemorative Preakness glass and pocket square from Ike Behar.

Washington Post and SAG-AFTRA: “I did have a lot of fun going into the press briefing room this afternoon and starting it as C.J., which was a lot of fun.” Allison Janney told us at the SAG-AFTRA bash. C.J. Cregg is the role she played on the television series “The West Wing,” a character is loosely based on Clinton-era White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers (who served as a consultant to the show). We hear that the real White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, is pounding the pavement looking for new day job.

Voto Latino: It’s always a good thing that no caffeine is available at Voto Latino parties; guests are already on an energy high. The event highlighted the “Crash the Parties” initiative, a nationwide search to identify two millennial, aspiring reporters to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions for the Fuse network. “Crash the Parties” was created to inspire and encourage participation among millennials in the presidential race, and address the lack of on-camera diversity in media.

Creative Coalition: “I’m here to thank you, to implore you to keep going, to let you know that the difference we’re talking about is the difference between life and death for some people,” actor Esai Morales said in reference to funding the arts. Besides Morales, the “Night Before” Supper Suite by STK had plenty of eye candy: Emily Ratajkowski (“Gone Girl”), Nina Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries”), Rosario Dawson (“Daredevil”), Neve Campbell (“House of Cards”), AnnaLynne McCord (“90210”) and Constance Zimmer (“UnREAL”), to name a few.

The Hill and Extra: The Hill, Extra and the Embassy of Canada hosted a star-studded event featuring Hollywood, media, sports and political types. Spotted in the crowd: actress Bridget Moynahan (“Blue Bloods”), Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, actor Scott Foley (“Scandal”), CNN anchor Don Lemon, Fox Anchor Greta Van Susteren, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, and Extra’s A.J. Calloway.

People and Time: “Hillary is well on her way to marching to the White House again,” party-hopper extraordinare Michael Kelly, told us when leaving the St. Regis Hotel. As for Trump, “It’s not going to happen. Enough people in America know that the people in this country deserve a leader who can operate with the proper decorum, respect and knowledge; not just for the country, but for the world.”

Mother Nature’s WHCD Jam: This self- proclaimed jam session at the Hamilton may have been the most laid back of them all. With a dress code that ranged from “blue jeans to black tie,” it was apparent that there were no rules for this one. Several bands rocked on stage, slowly drawing guests farther from the bar and closer to the music. But nothing compared to the grand finale. The Jam’s cool factor flew off the radar when Chuck Leavell (The Rolling Stones), John Bell (Widespread Panic), Mike Mills (R.E.M) and Paul Riddle (Marshall Tucker Band) took to the stage. The dance floor erupted at the sound of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” leaving lifetime Stones fans (and us) frenzied and awestruck.

Funny or Die: “Forbidden fruit tastes so much sweeter,” as the saying goes. Such was the case at the fourth Annual “no sponsors, no cameras, no press, no hassles” party hosted by Funny Or Die and United Talent Agency at Fiola Mare in Georgetown, where the pro- Hillary crowd included Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, and Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Clinton 2016 campaign. All were happy campers, assuming that the likely Democratic nominee would be Clinton.

Saturday, April 30

Garden Brunch:“When I was here last year, I was literally approached with ‘You’re the hooker.’ Okay, Okay!” Lisa Edelstein told us of being recognized as her sultry “West Wing” character. The Annual Garden Brunch is hosted by Tammy Haddad, Kevin Sheekey, Hilary Rosen, Sachiko Kuno, Fred Humphries, Constance Milstein, Anita Dunn, Bill Knapp, David Adler and Franco Nuschese at the legendary Beall-Washington House once owned by Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham and now owned by Sally and Mark Ein of the Washington Kastles. The brunch proved to be a feel-good morning after the hectic activities preceding it. But, the big challenge still remained – getting to Sunday!

House of Code Brunch: Tech entrepreneurs flocked to Kinship on Saturday morning to talk passionately about industry issues and their latest apps over mimosas and bites from chef Eric Ziebold. The first annual brunch from Buzzfeed and the App Developers Alliance provided a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere than the Garden Brunch. Plenty of business cards were passed between local innovators wanting to network.

White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner: The President spoke with his usual humor and ease at his last Correspondents’ dinner. “Eight years ago I was a young man, full of idealism and vigor. Look at me now! I’m grey, grizzled, just counting down the days ’til my death panel!” he joked. Pre-events included the Yahoo & ABC News reception with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright taking center stage; the Atlantic/CBS party where presidential candidate Bernie Sanders felt the Bern from selfie-seekers; and the Washington Post’s bash where Rep. Joaquin Castro and Daniela Lopez Osorio ruled the room.

MSNBC After Party: As guests arrived at the Institute of Peace through the American Airlines sponsored Arrivals/Departures lounge, they were invited to get the party started with a First Class Fizz cocktail. But, by the end of night, it became evident that a few partygoers may have had one fizz too many when a fist fight broke out between Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post and Jesse Watters of Fox News. You might say the evening ended with a bang!

Sunday, May 1

Thomson Reuters Brunch: Guests at Thomson Reuters’ “Morning After” had to deal with a human traffic jam when fire marshals concerned about overcrowding limited many guests from moving to the top floor of the Hay-Adams, where the party took place.

CNN’s Political Hangover: At CNN’s Political Hangover brunch, the conversation centered on Larry Wilmore’s comedic performance at the WHCD. “I love Larry Wilmore. I’ve been a guest on his show. He could not be nicer,” Ashleigh Banfield told us at Long View Gallery. “He’s smart, talented. The only thing I didn’t like was his hitting on my bestie Wolf Blitzer. But it’s all in fun and everybody is a big boy and a big girl.” Money guru Suze Orman said “A struggle, just a struggle,” adding to the general criticism of his performance.

That’s All Folks!

This feature appeared in the June 2016 issue of Washington Life.


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