We knew we'd get you eventually, Clooney.
Saturday night was the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner down in our nation's capital, and while it is the big event of the Washington social calendar — the prom, they call it — it also entices a significant chunk of the Manhattan media world onto shuttles and Acelas to take part in the festivities. Determined to follow the New York mediaites wherever they go — and also tempted by a certain Times reporter who assured us she'd be our date and then subsequently announced she wasn't going, after all — we packed up our tux Saturday morning, hopped on an Amtrak, and set out to crash the big show. After the jump, our uncharacteristically wide-eyed and characteristically dorky recollections of a warm evening full of open bars.
Like at a prom, we arrive to find a long line of limos and Town Cars depositing tuxedoed men and gowned women at the front door of a Hilton. Unlike at a prom, there is a red carpet, and even more unlike a prom — and, actually, totally mystifying to us — is the crowd of people standing by to gawk at the red-carpet arrivals. Does Elisabeth Bumiller have groupies? Does Matt Cooper? Eventually, the jersey on some dude standing in front of us makes it clear: They're apparently here to see Ben Roethlisberger. This sort of bums us out: These people can be Roethlisberger fans whenever they want; shouldn't there be space reserved for those of us who just want to catch a glimpse of Mark Whitaker?
Intimidated by the red-carpet business, we walk back outside and just down the driveway a bit toward the hotel's back patio. There are earpiece-wearing types around, and we think someone might stop us from walking through into the party going on there. They do not. Turns out, these are the easiest open bars in the world: Just throw on a tux and show up. No one asks who you are until the actual dinner starts, and, till then, there are at least a dozen open-bar cocktail parties going on. It's the Atlantic Media partyin the backyard here — that's The Atlantic, National Journal, some other stuff. We have our first celebrity sighting, of Patricia Clarkson, and our second, of FishbowlDC blogger Garrett Graff. Slate editor Jake Weisberg walks past, alone — he seems OK with this, and, though each time we see him through the night he's by himself, he claims he has colleagues elsewhere. We go inside to find all the other cocktail parties.
So many media organizations we don't care about, so many parties we didn't go to.
The good parties — Newsweek's and Time's — are, inexplicably, in the basement.
At some point later on, we'll bump into New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer, who is also the queen consort of the paper's Washington bureau. She will tell us that she's never been to one of these events before and that, while fun, you must attempt to not look at them through a New York-party perspective. We will smile and nod, seemingly in agreement, when she tells us this. And we will spend the evening remarking on how things in Washington are different from things in New York. We first notice this on the escalator going down to the newsmags' parties.
At parties in New York, you do not find yourself on escalators behind clean-cut men with earpieces. You also do not find yourself on line for a drink next to men in military dress uniforms. (Sorry, Felicity.)
Downstairs, we walk past the Newsweek party — Ron Silver is holding court in the hallway in front of it, and it's amazing that he's willing to do this so soon after masterminding Arnie Vinick's unsuccessful 50-state strategy — and also past the Reuters pre-party and one hosted by something like the Columnists Guild, aiming for the Time fete. This is partially because we figure we'll start at the end of the hall and work our way back, but mostly because we're counting on exceedingly blond and yet charming and delightful Time publicist Ty Trippet to keep us entertained through the actual dinner. (We have invitations to pre- and post-parties, but we do not have one to the dinner itself.) We do not find Ty, but we see the sorts of people who get us excited: Andrew Sullivan! John Huey! Matt Cooper! Wolf Blitzer! The party is actually a joint Time/People/CNN event, but, sadly, we do not find Anderson. We are, however, gratified to find passed hors d'oeuvres, sushi stations and fruit and cheese, and two full bars.
For much of the night, this was our highlight: Ann Moore! Walter Isaacson! Together again! (These truly are the things that excite us.)
Making our way down the hall, we discover that the Reuters pre-party has a weird, Sleeperish futuristic theme — white cloth draping the walls, round, metallic bar in the middle — plus no food and few guests. Next door to Newsweek. We see George Soros. We say hello to Lloyd Grove. We bump into that rude internetty writer girl — what's her name, Ana Marie Cox? — and her husband. And then, there he is. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Clooney. He is surrounded by people looking on expectantly, who are in turn surrounded by people with digital cameras. We text in a Stalker sighting to our better half, back in New York. "4/29/06. 6:56 pm. Clooney. Ten feet from me. In newswk party, wash hilton." "Dare you to introduce yourself," better half texts back. We do not.
The ladies love him.
So does that goofy-looking guy on the right.
The Newsweek party, we notice, has tons of food. The little steak canape is delish. We bump into The Daily Show's Ed Helms, who tells us he has nothing to do with the Colbert shtick going on later. Helms is, apparently, traveling with both his agent and his producer. It's good to be a fake-news star. It's so crowded that we actually give up on waiting on line for a drink. We've never done that before.
Back upstairs and outside. We run into a trio of Observerites: media man Gabe Sherman, TV gal Rebecca Dana, politics guy Jason Horowitz. We see Daily News gossiper Chris Rovzar across the way. (He's very tall; you can always see him across the way.) We realize Chris is schmoozing happily with George Pataki.
Later, at the Bloomberg afterparty, we'll look to our right and realize we're standing next to Pataki. "Oh. Um, hi, governor," we'll say. "Hi." "Nice to meet you," we'll tell him. "Thanks." "Hope your gastrointestinal system is working well." "Spectacularly!" You heard it here first, folks: Pataki is now shitting spectacularly.
We cannot imagine someone wearing this dress unironically to a party in New York. (Sorry again, Felicity.)
The dinner is starting. We find Time's Ty, gather a few Observerians, and talk him into taking us up to the "Time Suite." We're told there is free booze there. There is. There are also a lot of ad guys, watching on TV as more important people enter the big dinner downstairs. "Scalia drinks Corona," announces the Observer's Horowitz, who is watching C-SPAN show the justice try to find his table. Political reporters are dedicated. We have no idea what we were imagining the Time suite would be like, but this is not it. Horowitz soon leaves.
C-SPAN in a hotel room, even with an open bar, remains as interesting as, well, C-SPAN in a hotel room.
We need to be fed. With some other folks, we walk to what we've been led to believe is a cute French place just down Connecticut. In fact, it's a cavernous theme restaurant that happens to have a French theme. Ah, Washington. It is filled with many other black-tied folks who were not invited to the big dinner. We notice a guy at the far end of the bar who we decide looks just like Maer Roshan. (This is the second time this happens; earlier we saw a man talking to Tucker Carlson who looked like Maer in 20 years. We didn't get our camera out in time.) The food is pretty good. But, then, we're starting to get somewhat drunk.
Leaving the hotel, we see the presidential limo parked out front. We assume we'll be chastised — if not worse — for daring to photograph it. We are not. In fact, it appears to be empty and largely unattended. We consider trying to open the door. We think better of it.
Now that we're sober, he looks much less like Maer. (It was the colorfully striped shirt and his swarthy complexion, we think. Neither showed up well in the photo.)
Rebecca Dana of The New York Observer will later have her dreams come true when she meets Alex Trebek. Here, she decides to do some reporting — reporting! — while waiting for her entree.
Ty pays. Thanks for dinner, Dick Parsons!
We finish up at the same time the big dinner does. So the crowds are just starting to get to the Embassy of Macedonia — where Bloomberg LP is holding its party, traditionally the fanciest and most exclusive of the night — as we arrive. It's the most complex I'm-on-the-list process we've ever seen, burly dudes with fancy touch-screen computer things who want to see our driver's license as we get checked in. We're on the list; some of our party is not. We have neither seen nor heard from those others since.
Town car gridlock in front of the Hilton.
The party inside is, well, weird. Lots of fancy people in fancy clothes in a dark enclosure — is this maybe actually the back yard? — with thumping music. There is a man with dreadlocks playing bongos or something. (We're not terribly conversant in percussion.) It is warm inside, and everyone is outdoors, smoking. There are even more men in military uniforms. Thinking about this, we imagine that late-night bathroom lines probably move much faster at Washington parties than at New York parties. You must walk through a smoke-machine smoke to get to those bathrooms, some sort of jungle motif.
It might be a hugely fancy and expensive party in some old embassy building, but there's no way to avoid it: The bathrooms are Port-a-Johns.
Fascinated by party guests in military uniform, we don't notice till much later that this shot also includes the top of Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney's head, foreground, and the entire head of John Miller — the sometimes crime reporter, sometimes police smokesman (we forget which currently) — at lower right.
There is a downpour effect. Indoors. It's like Three Days of Rain but better — no Julia Roberts!
That whole back wall is one big ongoing bar. The place is packed but, even so, it is perhaps the best bartender-to-drinker ratio we've ever seen. We knew there was a reason we voted for the guy.
There are all sorts of notable people here — cabinet secretaries and elected officials and the occasional TV star. We find ourselves telling Alex Trebek that both of our parents were on Jeopardy! back in the old days, when Art Flemming hosted it in New York. We find ourselves asking new Nightline anchor Terry Moran when ABC started allowing fatwas from the anchor chair. ("Strike a blow for human decency," he said back then. "Boycott Gawker stalker.") We find ourselves saying something to Maureen Dowd that, at the time, we thought was very profound. (We do not remember what it was, and we think we're glad.) Mostly, though, we hang out with the Observer kids and Chris from the Daily News and the Fishbowl boys and the Wonkettes. Throw in Greg Lindsay and Andrew Hearst, and it could have been any old media party in New York.
The next morning, we'll see a picture of Ed Helms and his producer, Rory Albanese, when we turn our camera. So they must have been the last people we talked to before we left. When we leave, we get in a cab to go over to the rival Reuters party. (We'd planned to split our time between both, but earlier, while inside Bloomberg, we'd received this text message: "Can you get me on list? Reuters is awful." It came from someone who went to the dinner — and who was put up for the night — as a guest of the newswire.) On the way there, we get a call from our last friends at Reuters, who have left. So we call it a night.
And here it is: Your moment of zen.