The question facing media organizations thinking about their White House correspondents’ dinner plans seems simple: to party or not to party?
Many news outlets host events around the dinner, from pre-dinner cocktail parties to hangover-recovery brunches — a growing phenomenon that has turned what used to be a simple dinner into a week-long frenzy of open bars and schmoozing.
This year, though, the decision of whether to host a soiree pinned to the April 29 dinner is just a touch more … complicated than in the past. Although the dinner is put on by the White House Correspondents’ Association and is ostensibly about raising money for scholarships, some media types worry about the appearance of yukking it up with a president who has been openly hostile to the press (make that “failing piles of garbage”) and are thinking harder about their party plans.
“I can understand how the media, which host the dinner — that serves a philanthropic purpose — are struggling,” said one person at a news organization that typically hosts a WHCD-related event.
Vanity Fair and the New Yorker have pulled out of their traditional parties this year, the New York Times reported on Friday. The soirees hosted by those publications are among the most glittery celebrity draws of the weekend — the kind of confabs where you might spot Robert DeNiro chatting with John F. Kerry or run into Emma Watson at the bar — some dinner observers think their decision to cancel was at least in part influenced by the fact that a WHCD under a Trump administration will attract few Hollywood types. (Bloomberg News, which had co-hosted with Vanity Fair, will reportedly continue to host its after-party.)
Other events are continuing apace: Capitol File is planning to uphold its tradition of hosting a party, a spokeswoman for the glossy magazine said, though she wouldn’t elaborate on details. “Status quo,” said a spokesman for Politico, which typically sponsors a Sunday brunch where the dinner gets a thorough postmortem by top journalists and establishment types over mimosas. “Moving ahead,” was the response from a rep for the Hill, whose splashy party is usually held at the Canadian Embassy.
The White House Correspondents Jam, a concert where moonlighting journos and actual rock stars perform, will be back for a third year, organizers say — Billy Bob Thornton’s band, the Boxmasters, are headlining.
Even Voto Latino, a nonprofit for young Hispanics, is continuing its annual Friday night reception honoring diversity in the media — this despite Trump’s controversial moves on immigration and comments about Mexican immigrants. “Perhaps events like these are more important than ever given we now have an administration that has made it a point to attack the media, and ignore Latinos and the countless contributions that we’ve made to this country,” said Jessica Reeves, the organization’s chief operating officer.
Reps for some said their plans just hadn’t come together yet, including a spokeswoman for The Washington Post, which typically hosts a pre-dinner cocktail party. But some media organizations are at least taking a pause before booking venues and hiring caterers.
And whether there are fewer parties, the biggest change in the festivities might be a lower wattage of attendees. The celebrification of the once-staid media dinner has been going on for years, but the Hollywood imports reached an apex during the Obama administration, with red carpet-fuls of A-listers eager to be associated with the president, even from seats a football field’s length away from POTUS’s spot on the dais.
That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of celebrities in town for that weekend. Environmentalists are planning an April 29 march on Washington to protest climate policies, an event that’s expected to draw VIP allies. Also making the cut for boldfacers’ daybooks is the alternative-to-the-WHCA dinner that comedian Samantha Bee is hosting on the same night, with proceeds going to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
But over at the ballroom of the Washington Hilton? Not so much.
“I think we’ll go back to the way things were under the Bush administration, where the biggest names were Pamela Anderson and some ‘American Idol’ contestants,” said one party veteran. (Sadly true: Back in 2007, Sanjaya — remember him? — was the toast of the dinner.)