White House Correspondents’ parties, Night One: Foreign Affairs, National Journal, Rock the Vote

April 26, 2013

Night One of White House Correspondents’ weekend is old-school Nerd Prom in its purest state. Mostly just us locals here so far Thursday night, partying in our inimitable Washington way.

Bay Fang of the State Department enjoys the libations and rooftop views at the Foreign Affairs party. (Amy Argetsinger / The Washington Post)
Bay Fang of the State Department at Foreign Affairs’ rooftop party. (Amy Argetsinger / The Washington Post)

First off, the reception thrown by Foreign Affairs magazine. Foggy Bottom rooftop with sunset views of the Washington Monument, clinking champagne flutes, Alan Greenspan, and yes, kids, just like we promised you — speeches! From NewsHour’s Margaret Warner, COO of the UN Foundation Rick Parnell, the White House’s Tony Blinken, Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of co-host Devex. Message: Journalism is a good thing, and Foreign Affairs is doing us all proud.

Hey, put down your phones and listen. They’re really talking about the craft here.

“Sometimes when I read the things written by our young assistants,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell was saying, “it’s like watching an episode of ‘Jaywalking’ on Jay Leno’s show.” Whoa, ouch! Hope none of them were there. The veteran correspondent emphasized that her own generation is hardly flawless, with botched reporting on WMD. But ending on a high note, she urged young journalists: “Don’t rely on official sources. Follow your heart and spirit and intellect.”

Of course there were Foreign Affairs cupcakes. (Amy Argetsinger)
Of course there were Foreign Affairs cupcakes. (Amy Argetsinger)

Heavy stuff for the increasingly gaudy celebrations that surround the annual media-political dinner these days, but this was the first time the policy journal got in on the WHCD party scene. Why? “We want to make Foreign Affairs less of a guilty pleasure,” editor Gideon Rose told us. “We took the brown wrapper off the covers in hopes people can read it and not be branded as an uber-nerd.”

Aw, surely you joke. Anyway, nice party. On the elevator ride down, an attractive couple plots their journey to the next, presumably swankier affair.

“I have no idea what they were talking about in there,” said the man. “What is ‘Foreign Affairs’?”

* * *

Across town, National Journal kicked off the weekend by convening the great political minds of Congress and the media for — well, basically bar trivia. And let’s hope for the sake of everyone involved this doesn’t air on C-SPAN. It got really real in there.

The lawmakers's trivia team at National Journal's "Political Pursuit" (Veronica Toney/Washington Post via Instagram)
The lawmaker trivia team at National Journal’s Political Pursuit (Veronica Toney/Washington Post via Instagram)

Who are the two elected officials in the legislative branch serving four-year terms?

“That Samoan dude!” shouted Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.). Er, yeah. What she meant: The resident commissioner of Puerto Rico serves a four-year term in the House, as the vice president does in the Senate. But in a room like that, they kind of knew what she meant. Pollster Kellyanne Conway tried to get around wrong answers by bombarding the judges with extraneous information (“I’m just trying to be relevant!”). The congressional team broke out official rules to contest a missed question — “I feel like I’m in the Judiciary Committee,” said some wit, triggering a wave of knowing laughter.

* * *

At a late-night party sponsored by Rock the Vote at Heist, a basement nightclub in Dupont Circle, there were dim lights, thudding music, a super-duper next-generation photo booth, and the tiniest, least nourishing cupcakes in the world. A suspicious number of attractive young people. (Hmmm, didn’t see you guys at political trivia. . . ) Who were they? Local socialites, some tech lobbyists, guys in fedoras. . . and oh, wait, now there’s an actual political journalist — Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman! His daughter, D.C. publicist Meredith Fineman, organized the event.

Instead of paper wristbands at the door, free watches with thick rubberized bands — and yes, you could keep them. These things were “huge at Coachella and South By Southwest this year,” organizer Jessica Hoy told us.

Daniel Dae Kim at the Rock the Vote party. (Cara Kelly / The Washington Post)
Daniel Dae Kim at the Rock the Vote party. (Cara Kelly / The Washington Post)

And just like that — feel that breeze in the air? It’s beginning now, the WHCD weekend in all its swaggy, promotional, utterly-meaningless glory. Former Miss D.C. Kate Michael and friends were walking out of the club with impressively well-stuffed gift bags from Henri Bendel — apparently if you got one if you’d tweeted from the party or something like that. Surely now, the celebrities can’t be far away . . .Yes, in the room now. The first official celebrity sighting of the weekend: Daniel Dae Kim, handsome star of “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-0.” And now, the second! Giancarlo Esposito, of “Breaking Bad” and “Revolution.” After some handshakes and chitchat, the stars retreated with their entourages to a VIP booth, body-blocked from the rest of the room by a protective flank of waitresses in black Rock the Vote t-shirts. And the party continued around them, unoffended and unconcerned by their distance.

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Amy Argetsinger · April 25, 2013