News & Politics

More Hollywood Glitz Comes to the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

We probe the arrival of the “gifting suite.”

Chace Crawford and Pamela Brown at a WHCA dinner after-party at the French ambassador’s residence in 2012. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

When we heard there would be a “gifting suite” at the annual White House Correspondents’
Association dinner, we were intrigued. Over the years, the dinner has become more
of a Hollywood event rather than one about Washington and reporters, and the addition
of a gifting suite would complete the transformation. These posh emporiums of free
stuff are routine at awards programs such as the Oscars and Golden Globes and films
festivals such as Sundance. But Washington? There’s the occasional bag of swag after
a dinner, but no lounges packed with a smorgasbord of watches, jewelry, trip offers,
beauty products, and electronics—and they certainly have not been part of any media
dinners we know of. Particularly because the quid pro quo is that when a guest chooses an item at the suite, the guest is then expected to give the item a verbal or photographic endorsement. Can reporters do that?

The actual invitation to the gifting suite is worded carefully. “Gifting” is nowhere
to be seen. The name of the suite’s host, Creative Coalition, appears in the middle,
not at the top. The text begins: “GBK invites you to pay it forward for the arts.”
The gifting suite is called the Thank You Lounge. And there are conscience-mollifying
caveats. Invited guests can, if they want, donate their chosen gifts to charity, and
a donation will be made in each guest’s name to the Creative Coalition Arts Advocacy

While the Creative Coalition is in charge of the list of invitees, the event is being
produced by GBK, a Los Angeles-based group that specializes in this sort of thing.
GBK provides many services, but the service it lists first is “celebrity gifting.”
At the bottom of her e-mail,
Julia Rimes, GBK’s talent coordinator and senior account executive, notes “upcoming events” as
“the Creative Coalition White House Correspondence [sic] weekend gift lounge” and, soon
after, the Cannes Film Festival. The two seem to have little in common—save the celebrity

It’s worth a visit to GBK’s website
to view the “gifting suites” video, complete with TCC president
Tim Daley autographing what appears to be a sauna,
Malin Akerman attesting to the “great products,”
William Shatner “endorsing” a bed, and
Jaime Pressly, giggling, “I’ve had an amazing time, and I’m leaving with a 500-pound bag and a
couple of trips.” In frame after frame, it’s one celebrity after another, smiling
and posing with products. Try to imagine an esteemed White House correspondent in
the same role.

The invitation includes logos from the St. Regis hotel in Bora Bora; Jorg Gray watchmakers,
which specialize in a “Secret Service watch,” so called because the company says President
Obama’s security detail gave him such a watch; Lovelinks by Aagaard, a jewelry maker;
Eye Walker Elements, a perfumery; and Made by Survivors, a jewelry company that describes
itself as an “international nonprofit organization which employes and educates survivors
of slavery and other human rights abuses.”

But no matter how many clever words or mind-easing qualifiers, a gifting suite is
still a gifting suite. So we wondered: Is the Washington version just for celebrities,
or for journalists, as well?

We reached out to Rimes at GBK, asking for a list of Washington people who have been
invited to visit the Thank You Lounge. Her response was enigmatic. “Those that were
invited were those attending the [White House] Correspondents’ Dinner to be ‘gifted’
. . . Any respectful news outlet to ‘cover’ the event.” We wrote back asking for clarification
of whether only actors and actresses were invited or whether the list also includes
journalists. “It definitely includes journalists attending the dinner,” she replied.

Even if you receive an invitation, it does not reveal the location of the gifting
suite. It gives the dates—April 26 from 1 to 6:30 PM and April 27 from 10 AM to 4
PM—but the intensely guarded address, we were told, is “provided upon RSVP.” And an
RSVP only elicits an assurance of the address details at some point in the future.

It’s been a busy week at the White House and tough to track down White House correspondents
who are focused on the WHCA dinner.
Ed Henry, the organization’s president, did not respond to e-mails. A regular in the White
House press room seemed completely befuddled by the idea. “They’re doing what? A gift
suite?” And yet another longtime White House correspondent said the gifting suite
invitation was received, one of many WHCA-related invitations, but it was also immediately