President Obama’s first White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has the feel of a political convention with a touch of Oscar glamour.
Excitement surrounding the Obamas’ entrance into the White House has turned next Saturday’s dinner into a weeklong parade of non-stop parties, A-list celebrities, dinners and brunches.
Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Natalie Portman, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Val Kilmer, Bradley Cooper, Kyra Sedgwick, Tyra Banks, Kerry Washington, Anne Hathaway, Eva Longoria Parker, Kevin Bacon, Jon Hamm, Forest Whitaker, Ed Westick, Jessica Szohr, Jon Bon Jovi and Kate Walsh are just a sampling of the bold-face names scheduled to attend.
And that might not be everyone who’ll be in town next week. Several news organizations have declined to release their guest lists — mainly because they’re waiting on the celebrities to confirm. Last-minute attendances and day-before cancellations are all part of the headaches that go into planning the high-profile event.
The battle over A-list guests begins long before the date of the dinner is set and often leaves news organizations complaining — all off the record, of course — about who stole what guest and which celebrity bailed on them.
This year, news outlets are grumbling in particular about ABC’s impressive roster of White House guests — senior adviser David Axelrod, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, adviser Valerie Jarrett, Michelle Obama Chief of Staff Jackie Norris, CIA Director Leon Panetta and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
Traditionally, the White House divides its staff among the various news organizations after looking through its invitations. But several people pointed to ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos’s close friendship with Emanuel, and questioned how the network got so many big names.
ABC disputed the questions about Stephanopoulos’s involvement and said it was their hard and early work that resulted in the guest list.
The network pointed out it was ABC senior political editor Virginia Moseley who invited Emanuel, while correspondent Jake Tapper invited Axelrod and anchor Terry Moran invited Jarrett.
“That rumor needs to be ‘shot through the heart,’ but the only guest George booked for this White House Correspondents Dinner was Jon Bon Jovi, and to quote the singer, we weren’t exactly ‘livin’ on a prayer’ booking guests. We started earlier, worked harder, and these are the results,” said ABC News spokeswoman Emily Lenzner.
The White House refused to get involved in the dispute. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told The Hill he hadn’t “seen the lineup of who’s going where.”
The celebrity factor is bringing the dinner back to the glory days of the Clinton years, which goes to show a Democrat helps bring in the Hollywood crowd.
“Compared to last year, less people are canceling,” said one party planner who deals with the celebrity guests. “They are all saying how excited they are.”
Associated Press correspondent Jennifer Loven, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, agreed.
“This year there was more demand,” she said. “There is a little bit more of the Hollywood portion.”
Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, noted the dinner is a must-attend event.
“There’s definitely excitement,” she said. “But the White House Correspondents Dinner is always exciting. It’s the best of Hollywood and politics.”
Even though the dinner is next Saturday, the week leading up to it is filled with parties.
Things get started Tuesday night with Running Start’s 2009 Women to Watch Awards, which honors “Meet the Press” executive producer Betsy Fischer, Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen and CNBC anchor Erin Burnett.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and the Center for American Progress are holding a Wednesday night gathering at the Newseum.
Thursday night will feature a version of political “Jeopardy!” hosted by National Journal and The Hotline. The mock game show will be held at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall and will test several familiar faces, including NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd and CNN correspondent Dana Bash, on their political knowledge.
Also on Thursday night, the 30th annual Refugees International gala will honor CNN founder Ted Turner along with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). Actor Sam Waterston will serve as master of ceremonies.
The political satire website FunnyorDie.com confirmed to The Hill it’s co-hosting an event, but details were not available as of press time. FunnyorDie.com co-creator Chris Henchy is attending the dinner as the guest of People magazine. His wife Brooke Shields is scheduled to join him.
And the Friday before the dinner has turned into a prime party night. In previous years, the night before was a time to rest and prepare for the big event. But People magazine changed that last year with a high-profile, A-list party. This year it has some competition.
Also throwing a party that night is the Creative Coalition and Capitol File magazine, which will host the D.C. premiere of documentary “Poliwood.”
The same evening, Atlantic Media will host a “Mexico and Modern” themed dinner at the home of owner David Bradley.
Saturday afternoon features Haddad Media founder Tammy Haddad’s annual brunch. Haddad’s gathering has grown from a few intimate friends to one of the can’t-miss events of the weekend.
But the biggest, most-coveted invitations of the evening are the after-dinner parties. Bloomberg and Vanity Fair, which used to each hold an exclusive bash, have teamed up this year to host an even smaller event at the residence of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
“Bloomberg asked if we’d co-host a party and we agreed — given the times, it seemed like a great idea to partner, and we’re delighted to be doing the event with them,” said a spokesman for Vanity Fair.
The guest list is expected to contain about 200 names and is one of the most closely guarded secrets in Washington.
“There is greater interest, and much excitement, around this year. We’re really looking forward to it,” the spokesman added.
Capitol File began its own after-party a few years ago and the event has been steadily growing. This year’s party will be at the Corcoran Gallery with a political-heavy guest list including Jarrett, White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, Tim Daly, Ellen Burstyn, Dana Delany, Connie Britton, Matthew Modine, Rashida Jones and Tony Goldwyn. Comedian Wanda Sykes, who is entertaining at the dinner, is also expected to attend.