White House Correspondents’ parties: Bigger than the dinner?

April 29, 2013

The moment around 2 a.m. at the MSNBC after-party when people began taking off their shoes. (Sarah Voisin / The Washington Post)

Washington’s media-political class began its groggy annual recovery Sunday from a four-day binge of Hollywood-celebrity stalking, high-end gate crashing, late-night cocktail shmoozing, shoulder-straining swag hauls and. . .


Bill O’Reilly and Sofia Vergara at the Bloomberg/Vanity Fair after-party. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

Wait, what’s that? A dinner? Oh. Yes. That happened, too.

The annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has been slowly eclipsed by the glut of events that once piggybacked it. Coveted tickets to Saturday’s main event are now secondary to landing on the more exclusive party lists.

At the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg after-party, the surprise hit of the night was Robert Griffin III. Redskins owner Dan Snyder proudly ushered his 23-year-old prize quarterback around the elegant mansion of the French ambassador, as one A-lister after another approached.

“Who’s that?” Gerard Butler asked us. RGIII, we explained. With that, the brawny Scottish star ditched us to go meet him.

“He’s, like, heroic,” gushed Kevin Spacey. Wouldn’t have taken the double-Oscar winner for a Skins fan? “It just goes to show you,” he told us, “not to make assumptions about anybody.”)

And yet . . . Griffin was a no-show for the actual dinner with the president at the Hilton, opting to head to Cafe Milano with the Snyders. (Read more: RGIII on WHCD weekend)


Barbra Streisand and Mike Bloomberg at dinner. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

One of the hotter tickets in town: A party hosted by social-media upstart BuzzFeed, not before or after the dinner but at the same time — a rowdy “viewing party” at the Adams Morgan saloon Jack Rose, where few of the young media/policy gadflies even bothered to look up from the dance floor when POTUS appeared on the big screen.

Even for those attending the dinner, much of the focus seemed to be on recording the night — photographing the stars, Facebooking the highlights — rather than, you know, being there. (“If any of you are live-tweeting this event, ” joked the night’s entertainer, Conan O’Brien, “please use the hashtag #incapableoflivinginthemoment.”)

Bradley Cooper and Eliza Warner (Mark Warner)
Bradley Cooper and Eliza Warner (Mark Warner)

“Tonight, I was not a senator,” Sen. Mark Warner told us. “I was a slightly pushy dad.”

He and daughter Eliza spent the night cajoling Hollywood types to step in front of their camera. The 18-year-old showed us her photos with Tracy Morgan, Bradley Cooper, Jon Bon Jovi, Barbra Streisand, Donna Karan, Michael J. Fox. No politicians? “They’re old news,” she said.

Well, not if you’re Chris Christie, in an exceptionally fine mood working the VF crowd for hours. His third time at the dinner, he was the butt of two jokes (his weight, check; his weak GOP credentials, check). Offended? Hardly. “You didn’t hear any other governor mentioned, did you?” he said.

Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde at a pre-dinner reception. (Neshan Naltchayan)
Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde at a pre-dinner reception. (Neshan Naltchayan)

But other pols — aside from a few brand-name administration types — were scarce at this most elite of after-parties. Bradley Whitford, of “West Wing” fame, recalled earlier dinners when Hollywood guests were limited to those with strong political involvement; now it’s a free-for-all for any cable-drama star of the moment. “There’s a tangible uptick on the hype of it all,” he said.


Rachel Maddow serves a drink at the MSNBC party. (Sarah Voisin / The Washington Post)

Just ask one of the few dinner denizens who has dual citizenship — Ronan Farrow, who knows both show biz as Mia and Woody’s kid, and Washington as a former State Department aide.

“It’s an odd union of the two worlds,” said Farrow, 25, back in town between terms as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. “There is a way in which it is frivolous,” he said, noting Tom Brokaw’s blistering criticism of the weekend’s celeb-mania. “On the other hand, everyone needs a laugh.” (And yes, he live-tweeted the dinner. “I guess I’m part of the problem.”)

We caught up with him at MSNBC’s loud, late-raging after-party at the Italian embassy, in the smoking tent where premium cigars were distributed. (More: MSNBC after-party: Starts late, runs late thanks to party-hoppers) Slim, handsome young men roamed in tuxedoed packs. One was Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter, geeking out over his Washington brush with media-nerd royalty.

“I got in Rachel’s line, even though it was the longest one,” he said, referring to the bar where star MSNBC host Rachel Maddow served drinks. “And I got up there, and she put her drinks down and said hello to me,” he added, clearly impressed. So what did you order? “Wine.” Sigh.

Sharon Stone and a friend at the MSNBC party. (Sarah Voisin / The Washington Post)

Sharon Stone snuggled in a white banquette — on display but hard to approach — and laughed electrically at something her date said. Michael Douglas and Ian McKellen arrived late from the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg party (the advantage of limo service) — and roamed around as if they were looking for someone. A dazzling blonde in a black dress turned heads — she’s someone, right? — but couldn’t be placed. She was Elin Nordegren, the former Mrs. Tiger Woods, enjoying an under-the-radar trip to the big Washington weekend.

Top White House advisors Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen relaxed at a nearby table and watched. “I just had fun,” Jarrett said. “I wasn’t worried about the president or stressed about how it was going. I just relaxed.”

Funny, of all the criticisms of the dinner, we never thought of it as stressful. What was different? “Second term,” she said.

(This story appeared in print Monday, April 29, and contains some elements of Web-only coverage previously published on this site.)


PHOTOS: The best of “The Grid” coverage of WHCD

Recap of the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Full party coverage on The Reliable Source

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