Jim Kuhnhenn, from the Associated Press, kicked things off, asking why the White House wouldn't provide more information about an event that has been widely discussed in social media, including by attendee Al Sharpton.
Leaving the White House party w/POTUS and FLOTUS. Awesome to see Prince and Stevie Wonder on keyboards together. Unbelievable experience.— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) June 14, 2015
"The White House did not verify a gathering here of 500 people, some musicians, even after this had gained quite widespread notice on social media," Kuhnhenn said. "And I wondered why the White House did not at least verify the event."
"Jim, I don't have a lot to tell you about non-public events that occurred at the White House," Earnest replied. "I think we have confirmed for you that the president and first lady did hold a private party here at the White House over the weekend. But given the private nature of the event, I don't have a lot details to discuss from here."
Roberta Rampton of Reuters tried another tack. "Were there any House lawmakers at the private event on the weekend?" he asked.
"I don't have a guest list for you, Roberta," Earnest said.
In subsequent questioning, Earnest said that "the president and first lady paid for the event," although he did not detail the exact cost.
The concert audience included prominent business leaders, celebrities, senior administration officials and fashion heavyweights close to the Obamas, according to The New York Post's Page Six. Among them were American Express chairman Ken Chenault, D.C. philanthropist David Rubenstein, fashion designer Naeem Khan and ABC stars Connie Britton and Tracee Ellis Ross.
The Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee, who will assume the presidency of the White House Correspondents Association next month, questioned why the administration decided to treat the concert differently from other private social events, such as movie viewings, and not post it on the president's schedule.
"So how do you justify that, and how is that in line with the president's commitment to transparency?" Lee asked.
"Carol, I think the fact that we're talking about a private event and the fact that details of this are known is an indication that the president is committed to being transparent," the press secretary responded. "At the same time, the president and first lady are going to reserve the right to host private parties at the White House, and they did it on their own dime. I think that's consistent with the kinds of values that they have talked about."
While Earnest joked at one point that reporters were clearly upset they weren't invited -- "There appears to be some angst about that," he said -- he emphasized that the event amounted to the Obamas “opening up their home to guests.”
"They're not close friends with 500 people, are they?" inquired Bloomberg's Margaret Talev.
Earnest clarified that the hundreds of concert attendees were "friends," not "close friends," of the president and first lady.