And you thought this weekend was going to be all about Donald Trump! Probably only one other lightening-rod VIP could have stolen the mogul’s buzz in the pro-am zeitgeist tournament known as the White House Correspondents’ weekend, and darned if she didn’t pull a surprise appearance. You betcha, she did.
Sarah Palin walked into the Georgetown home of Mark Ein shortly before noon Saturday to dazzle a brunch crowd of Washington insiders and visiting luminaries. Black bell-sleeved summer dress, shiny hair. She and a clean-shaven Todd Palin posed for a few photos with hosts Wendi Murdoch and Susan Axelrod, then carved a path through the crowded dining room with their host for the weekend, Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren. (** read more: Donald Trump vs. Sarah Palin at WHCD weekend **)
So, a win for Van Susteren, scoring the buzziest guest? (Her other guest, Kate Hudson, had to bow out for movie-promotion commitments.) Sure, but with an asterix, for Palin’s not actually expected at tonight’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Van Susteren’s husband John Coale told us: “She’s just doing the brunch and the after-parties.”
The parties! They’ve all but eclipsed the 3,000-person annual gala, headlined by the president, that is officially the main event of the weekend. There are parties hosted by media magnates, parties hosted by lobbying firms, parties hosted by “advocacy” groups with a gift for wrangling attractive movie stars and corporate sponsors. (**update Monday a.m., read a full roundup of WHCD parties **)
At Friday night’s “Emerging Voices in Media” party, looking down on the White House from atop the Hay-Adams hotel, every attractive young pundit you’ve ever seen hold forth on cable-news mingled over champagne and canapés. Rodell Mollineau, a longtime aide to Sen. Harry Reid who just left the Hill for a new job as head of a Democratic mega-PAC, noted wryly that it was the first year in many that he hadn’t scored an invitation to the dinner.
“Not getting invited is a rite of passage,” said Terence Samuel, an editor at National Journal. Some years you’ve got the juice, other years you don’t.
The trend these days is to insist that your pre-WHCD party be For a Good Cause. At a Creative Coalition cocktail party at Dupont Circle’s Washington Club, a line of showbiz folks took the stage to denounce bullying. “Courage is totally cool – Mahatma Gandhi,” said David Arquette, wearing a purple velvet suit. At a late-night loud-music fete thrown by National Journal and the Atlantic in collaboration with Impact Film Fund, actors Maria Bello and Ian Somerhalder tried to holler some words about the BP oil spill over the din of the open-bar scene.
The most striking aspect of Friday’s pre-parties was the randomness of it all. Bristol Palin (thinner than you expect) at Time and People’s reception at the St. Regis. Palin was the magazine’s guest for the weekend, lured by the promise of hanging out with mutual, unnamed friends. “It’s going to be a fun event!” she said, as guests thrust cameras at her handler for a picture with the abstinence advocate.
Miro Sorvino dropped her iPhone on our foot. John Waters walked in.... nope, it’s look-a-like Steve Buscemi. “Top Chef’s” Carla Hall towered over the crowd. CNN’s Dana Bash showed off her baby bump. Cate Edwards showed off her fiance, surgical resident Trevor Upham; they’re tying the knot in October. Hey, isn’t that blonde in the white beaded dress “Semi-Homemade” cookbook diva Sandra Lee? Sandra, what’s your connection to the White House Correspondent’s dinner? “Nice to meet you,” she said, tossing us an icy glare and walking away. (Nothing personal. She refused to be photographed with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. Go figure.)
Just down the street at the MPAA, actual politicians (Sen. Pat Leahy, former Sen. John Breaux) mingled with new head Chris Dodd. “I’m trying to bring some life back to this association,” he told us. “This is a way for me to thank all the people in this business and promote what we do.”
“Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers, tapped to entertain the crowd at Saturday’s dinner, was the guest of honor. Meyers said he was “nervous but excited” and said he’d been working hard to prepare jokes for his routine. “Thanks for inviting Donald Trump!” he said with a big grin when he found out we were from the Washington Post.
We followed the bread crumbs to the New Yorker’s rooftop party at the W Hotel, where we spotted Van Susteren and her husband for the third time. Van Susteren jetted in from covering the royal wedding in London in time for the DC follies. “I never get to go out nights,” she told us. “You never see me at parties.”
Twin DJ’s in pink chino suits, white glasses and iPads kept the club beat; they played a ‘Talking Heads” song when they saw David Byrne. Kind of amazing since the lights were so low it was hard to see much of anything. Ted Olson, Gene Sperling, Rashida Jones, Zach Galifianakis some guy from “Modern Family” and literally bumped into Jon Hamm, who thought it was deliberate. He was getting that a lot. Lara Logan, radiant in a black-and-white patterned dress, was making one of her first public appearances since her brutal assault in Cairo.
Hey, Sean Penn! We hear you were just at the White House, talking about Haiti. Get a good reception. “Everybody’s fighting the same machine,” he told us, “but we’re all in synch.” It sounded more profound the way he said it.
Why all the stars? Last year editor David Remnick tried to invite David Axelrod, only to find out he’s been booked since January. Thus the celebs. “I’m not against meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet,” said Remnick. “And I’m not against promoting the magazine. But it has become bizarro world.”