Every year, there’s enough hand-wringing over the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner to ruin a perfect manicure.
“Too chummy!” yelp the cable TV critics of the fancy-dress fraternizing between the Fourth Estate and the folks they cover. “Unseemly!”
It’s been said before and it will be said again. But that didn’t stop the bicoastal elite of Washington and Hollywood from congregating once more, the smell of mothballed tuxedos and hairspray and filet mignon filling the air.
There they were — the starlets and leading men, the media moguls and would-be billionaires, the politicians and the commander in chief and many of his men and women — packed into the ballroom of the Washington Hilton on Saturday night. There were all types, from the Robert De Niro-famous to the “Don’t-I-know him-from-somewhere” notables. And yes — spotted among the crowd in the cavernous ballroom were Actual White House Correspondents. (We know because at one point past and current correspondents were asked to stand for the requisite round of applause.)
And they didn’t just come to the dinner. No, they taxied and Uber-ed to pre-parties and pre-pre-parties and after-parties, sponsored by the New Yorker and the Hill newspaper and Google and Vanity Fair. They stuffed themselves on tuna tartare and cheap prosecco and selfies.
“It’s a fun time for a lot of people,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said. “It may be a little over the top, but that’s all right. The good thing is it’s a free country. If you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to.”
But all along, there’s that whisper in the backs of their minds that somehow this isn’t right, all of this, no matter how much fun it is to gawk at Lupita Nyong’o’s perfect skin or Instagram the plate of tapas-style desserts.
To assuage the guilt, this year the organizers of the dinner, the White House Correspondents’ Association, attempted to tone down the glitz by refocusing on the correspondents, not the visiting Hollywood royalty. Between the table-hopping and air kisses, the leaders of the organization screened a video produced by the History Channel and narrated by a serious-sounding Diane Sawyer. It told the story of the hardworking men and women tasked with “sending out the news in an ever-changing media landscape.” It got an “E” for effort and a “Y” for yawn.
What would it take to perk the audience up? A different video, this one featuring (actual) Vice President Biden burning rubber in a yellow Corvette and “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, grimacing, as she got “45” tattooed on her arm. (That’s “45” as in the successor to “44,” the current president. Get it?)
This is what everyone really came for, this and a chance to share the musty, perfumed air with the president of the free world, even if you were so far back in the cavernous room that you needed opera glasses to spy the dais. Hate to love it. Love to hate it.
“So far it’s kind of a zoo, but I’m thrilled to be here,” said “House of Cards” actress Molly Parker.
For comedian Kevin Hart, a rookie at the dinner and the weekend’s activities, it was a bit overwhelming: “It’s a lot. I didn’t know it was this intense.”
So is he done with the annual spectacle? “It’s my first, but I hope it’s not my last.”
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