Could the revolt of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner be imminent?
Media participants have grumbled for years about how the event has been ripped from
the hands of legitimate White House reporters and put into the spin machines of celebrity
wranglers. The dinner itself, the presence of the President and First Lady, and the
bestowing of awards to worthy journalists are almost entirely overshadowed by the
attending celebrities—mostly B- and C-list with some aging A-listers thrown in—and
the associated parties designed to feature the celebs.
So far this year, the White House Correspondents’
Association itself has balked at
some of the hoopla, in particular an effort by a Los Angeles
marketing group and the
Creative Coalition to make the affair even more Hollywood, with
a lounge offering
free swag (for an endorsement) to the
WHCA leaders marshaled their forces behind the group’s lawyer
to block any random
use of the WHCA name and logo in an effort to protect the brand
and tamp down the
When I contacted a former dinner regular for an opinion in advance of the weekend,
I received a clear, blunt response: “Frankly, I just don’t care about all the Hollywood
and reality show trash who get invited to this event by immature, uncultivated, silly
reporters trying to win the ‘prize’ for the most grotesque guest list at their parties
and tables (supposedly to ‘honor’ the President of the United States).” Another attendee
recalled, “I went as a guest of the
Financial Times, but it is a bit of a monster rally, isn’t it? People shoving past Colin Powell to
catch a glimpse of Serena Williams.”
While there will be a lot of before- and after-parties, the number seems down from
last year. Yes, celebrities invade en masse, but personally, I would prefer they were
here to shoot their TV shows and movies on the streets of DC and to employ local actors
and to make use of Washington that way. Still, there’s no harm in gaping, if that
is your idea of a fun distraction. The celebrities would not be coming to our fair
town if they didn’t want the attention, which can get a bit ridiculous: A hair salon
in Georgetown sent out notice that it “was just asked by the White House to do
Barbra Streisand’s hair for the dinner and parties.” One might ask why the White House would be booking
Streisand’s hair appointment. It’s more likely someone at the White House may have
recommended the salon. This is called spin.
So, where to spot the celebs? Easily the most popular spot is the venue of the dinner
itself, the Washington Hilton Hotel on Saturday evening, starting at about 5:30. A
lot of security surrounds the building’s entrance on Connecticut Avenue, but it is
a public place, and regular folks are able to enter the lobby, sit in the bar, and
line up behind a velvet rope to watch the dinner guests arrive. It’s a bit of a mosh
pit but also kind of a fun circus. Last year a Washingtonian told me he and his friends
got a table in the bar area, which during the dinner began to fill with various celebs
who decided to bolt from the crowded ballroom. So that’s an option—but be prepared
to spend some money on drinks to hold your table.
Celebrity spotting is almost a feature of the Bourbon Steak bar at the Four Seasons,
especially after a celeb-studded event. Many of them stay at the hotel, and, given
that many of them are on West Coast time, they end up there after the after-parties
and before bedtime. Some show up for breakfast, too. If Streisand is having a Georgetown
salon do her hair, it is not illogical to think she might be staying at the Four Seasons.
The same can be said for the lobby bar at the Mandarin Oriental, and the lobby lounge
and Degrees bar of the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton—two hotels that have sway with the
celeb set but are easily accessed by stargazers. As it happened, I was at the Ritz
on Tuesday night and bumped into actor and producer
Mark Wahlberg. He said he was in town to go to the White House the next day but did not mention
the WHCA dinner. One of the people sitting with him, hunched over talking on a cell
phone, appeared to be
Another spot that may provide some celebrity action is the new Capella Hotel, just
up the street from the Ritz. Its sophisticated Rye Bar has become a late-night scene,
and there’s also a rooftop deck with a pool and bar. The hotel says the roof is only
for guests, but it’s always interesting how the velvet ropes come down for a little
bit of clout or a famous name.
While many visiting celebs don’t have to spend a dime on food and drink, some do venture
out to see the neighborhoods. It seems that every WHCA dinner weekend there are sightings
on the streets of Georgetown, or at Cafe Milano.
Bradley Cooper, for example, is practically a WHCA dinner regular; he’s a Georgetown University
alum (and also waited tables at now-defunct Pizzeria Uno) and likes to wander his
former ’hood whenever he comes to town. Georgetown is the location of one of the big
late-night pre-parties on Friday evening—at the Powerhouse on Grace Street. There’s
also a celebrity brunch on Saturday at the mansion owned by Mark Ein on R Street at
29th, and another big brunch on Sunday at the Bowie-Sevier House on Q Street between
31st and 32nd, owned by Politico’s
Robert Allbritton. There’s security, of course, but folks can’t be prevented from standing—and staring—on
the public sidewalks.
Another tipoff to the presence of a celebrity is a gaggle of professional autograph
hounds. They can be a little gruff and overbearing, but if you ask politely they will
tell you whom they are staking out. The same can be said of TMZ.
So, last but not least, who’s expected in town this weekend in addition to Streisand
and Cooper? In a timely way,
Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson in the well-reviewed
42, is coming to town as a guest of
Vanity Fair. He qualifies as new and fresh. After Hours has a rundown of more celebrities who
have confirmed, which include dinner host
Michael Douglas, and many more.
Happy spotting. Enjoy it while it lasts, because, as previously stated, this celebrity
media fest in its present form could be facing an evolution, if not a revolution.
We’d ask you to let us know who you spot, but by Monday morning the tents will be
folded, the circus will have moved on, and Washington will be back to the serious
business of trying to run the country.