The events surrounding this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner on April 27 — the annual blitz of parties that at its most bloated had stretched to a week-long binge of pregame cocktail parties and hangover-nursing brunches — will be a lot less glitzy and a lot more D.C.
No, dear reader, you are not experiencing deja vu. We said this same thing last year. And the year before. The dinner, which ostensibly has always been a celebration of the First Amendment and the hard-working folks who cover the White House but somehow always ended up being something else, has been on a course-correcting path for some time now. No longer is the weekend a celebrity Super Bowl on the Potomac with a smattering of actual journalists gawking from the sidelines. These days, it really is all about the freedom of the press and the people who exercise it.
Starting the Friday before and ending Sunday, with the rubber chicken dinner and awards ceremony at the Washington Hilton in between, Correspondents’ Weekend 2019 will see even fewer also-ran soirees than in years past as President Trump’s presence in Washington keeps the Hollywood types at home washing their hair and the reporter types with their notebooks ready.
There’s no official word from the White House on whether Trump will skip the dinner for the third year in a row — and the clock is ticking on the president’s RSVP deadline because of security concerns. But there’s still time for the tweeter in chief to announce a pit stop at the Hilton on a hot Saturday night.
Oh, and the other major nail in the coffin of glamorous dinners past? There’s no comedian this year. After Michelle Wolf’s controversial 2018 set that roasted everyone in the swamp from CNN to Sarah Sanders, the Correspondents’ Association announced that it would be breaking a years-long tradition of having a comedian “entertain” the stuffy crowd and would instead invite historian Ron Chernow to deliver the night’s keynote address.
Another contributing factor to the low-wattage weekend is the Creative Coalition’s absence. The advocacy organization, which reliably brings A-listers lobbying for the arts to town, is postponing its scheduled events and day on Capitol Hill for May because Congress won’t be in session.
“It just doesn’t make advocacy sense,” said Robin Bronk, the group’s CEO. “We love and support everything that the correspondents’ dinner stands for.”
Gone for good, it seems, are the Oscars-esque rarefied air of the Bloomberg/Vanity Fair, People/Time and Google affairs. The Correspondents’ Jam hosted by Rolling Stones touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell, which featured bands fronted by journalists and a few celebrity ringers, is a no-go this year because of the band’s previously scheduled tour.
That’s not to say, though, that there’s no party circuit to gird for — plenty of the weekend’s traditional fetes are still on. On Friday, the tent will again go up in the Embassy Row backyard of Atlantic publisher David Bradley, who hosts a dinner for Official Washington that’s simultaneously a highbrow gathering and a good gossip sesh for those lucky enough to score invites. And the United Talent Agency, which reps Hollywood types and D.C.'s top TV talent, will be back at Fiola Mare in Georgetown (although it won’t have a comedian client performing at the 2019 dinner, as in previous years).
In the past, the UTA party was the most packed with actual famous people and not just famous-for-Washington folks. If you can snag an invite this year, expect to see former politicians turned talking heads and the entire cast of CNN, MSNBC and maybe even Fox News.
And for some counterprogramming, comedian Samantha Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is back,” even though the comedian had vowed never to host another NWHCD again. It seems Bee, the host of TBS’s “Full Frontal,” couldn’t stay away for long, especially since the 2019 dinner axed the comic relief. “The White House Correspondents’ Association has left me no choice — it is now up to comedy journalists to take care of real journalists,” Bee said in a statement announcing her second anti-dinner, which will be held at DAR Constitution Hall on Friday, April 26, and air on TBS at the same time of the actual dinner on Saturday.
Ditching their usual party in collaboration with Extra and the Canadian Embassy, this year, the Hill newspaper is going big with a Friday soiree at the National Portrait Gallery featuring famous DJ Questlove, who has been a fixture during previous WHCD weekends. According to their announcement, the party, dubbed “A Toast to Freedom of the Press,” is a celebration “of politics without prejudice.”
On Saturday, the traditional pre-dinner cocktail parties hosted by media organizations will turn the hallways of the Washington Hilton into a crush of dinner attendees looking to pregame before the big event (because you never know when the waiters pouring the wine in the ballroom will just disappear).
Perhaps in a nod to the toned-down party circuit, local glossy Capitol File is switching things up in 2019 and again hosting its big event immediately after the dinner as opposed to the night before. This is a big-girl time slot usually reserved for Vanity Fair and Google. But with those mega festivities gone the way of the condor, Cap File has stepped in with an after-party hosted by Michael Kelly of “House of Cards” at the Dupont Circle Hotel just down the street from the Hilton.
MSNBC’s after-party will again be one of the hottest tickets of the weekend. No word on details for this year’s incarnation, but previous years have seen host Rachel Maddow playing guest bartender and media types inhaling wee-hours snacks to fuel their dance-floor workouts.
And what’s the point of sitting through dinner if you can’t meet up with friends to post-mortem it the next morning?
Brunch options include CNN’s day-after hangout for weary journos, a tradition that will continue this year with a new, yet-to-be unveiled theme and location, we’re told.