With the pandemic mostly in the rear-view mirror and a president willing to play ball with the press, Washington appears ready to return to the star-studded event that “everyone loves to hate” — the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner.
Demand for this Saturday’s lawmaker-, celeb- and journalist-filled soiree at the Washington Hilton hotel is “painfully high,” said WHCA President Tamara Keith.
“I’m told that it is a good problem to have, but it still feels like a problem because we’ve had to turn so many people away,” Keith, NPR’s White House correspondent, told ITK.
The dinner is “completely sold out,” according to Keith, and organizers have “hundreds more requests than could be accommodated.”
“It’s post-COVID — people last year were pretty nervous about going into a ballroom with 2,600 people in it. And this year, they are climbing over each other to get there,” she said.
It’s not just the crowds that are returning to “Nerd Prom,” as the dinner has been not-so-affectionately dubbed by both its attendees and critics. For the first time since 2016, both the president and vice president will be sitting up on stage.
Former President Trump famously bucked tradition and skipped the dinner while he was in office. The 45th president dubbed the dinner “dead as we know it” in 2018, holding a campaign rally that year and the next on the same night as the Correspondents’ event in a counter-programming attempt.
Trump’s moves, Keith said, were “a challenge for the dinner, and it made the dinner somewhat less appealing.”
“Without a president, there was less demand, as I understand it,” Keith said.
“But we’re definitely back,” she exclaimed.
Hollywood seems to be back, too. Performers, who mostly stayed away from the nation’s capital in the Trump years, are once again joining in on the black-tie festivities, which is headlined this year by “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood, Jr.
John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, along with actor John Leguizamo, are headed to the dinner as guests of NBC Universal News Group. Rosario Dawson, BD Wong, Justin Hartley, Sofia Pernas, Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn are poised to rub elbows with the likes of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FBI Director Chris Wray, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) as guests of CBS News. “Vanderpump Rules” stars Lisa Vanderpump and Ariana Madix will trade reality TV for D.C. hobnobbing, snagging invites from DailyMail.com.
The party scene — dulled last year as many news organizations opted not to throw big bashes amid COVID-19 — is seemingly back to pre-pandemic levels, with more than 20 Correspondents’ dinner-related events being held.
Some of the hot tickets include Tammy Haddad’s annual Garden Brunch, which is marking its 30th anniversary this year, United Talent Agency’s Celebration of America’s Journalists bash at Fiola Mare in Georgetown on Friday, and the Comcast-NBCU News Group, CBS News and Time magazine blowouts that are all being held following the dinner.
“For better or for worse, this dinner is sort of a focal point in in the Washington social calendar. And I think two years without it due to the pandemic really made people appreciate its value,” Keith said, noting the journalism honors and scholarships that will be awarded as part of the ceremony at the nationally televised dinner.
“The White House press corps plays an important role in democracy,” she added.
“People love to hate this dinner, and that’s cool. But I actually do think that it serves a valuable purpose in bringing people together, in sourcing, and it’s also, frankly, something that can’t happen in a lot of other countries where there is no such thing as a free press.”