Hollywood and Washington will mix again at the annual White House Correspondents Assn. dinner on Saturday, and the influx of stars, media types and politicos is certain to create its own share of surreal moments.
The purpose of the dinner is to honor White House correspondents in a relaxed atmosphere, but the event has long outgrown the focus on scribes on the beat to become a promotional platform for media outlets and, as such, a spectacle of status, stature and, occasionally, the superficial.
Perhaps no moment captured that facet better than last year when Obama threw out zingers at an ever-so-serious Donald Trump, who appeared none-too-pleased at his table amid what turned out to be the peak of GOP presidential speculation. The irony was made all the more apparent the next day, when U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden.
Organizers said that this year some 2,700 people are expected at the Washington Hilton for the event, which has sold out for the 20th year in a row. Jimmy Kimmel is the headliner entertainment and President Obama will again deliver a monologue of his own.
A big tradition is for media outlets to draw celebrities and administration officials to their table, and interest in the event has not waned this year. A sampling:
•George Clooney and girlfriend Stacy Keibler, and Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, are among those who will be at Time’s table, along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
•The ABC News table will include members of the cast of “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town,” Elizabeth Banks from “Hunger Games,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, National Security adviser Tom Donilon, former White House senior adviser David Axelrod and Gen. Ray Odiero.
•The CBS News contingent will include Claire Danes, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger III, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) Christine Baranski, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Daniel Dae Kim and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
•Newsweek and The Daily Beast will host Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis and JR Martinez along with California Gov. Jerry Brown, CIA director David Petraeus, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
•Others reportedly on tap include Uggie, the dog from “The Artist” (a guest of the Washington Times); Sandra Fluke (a guest of the Huffington Post) and a smattering of young actors hitting their moment, including Josh Hutcherson (a guest of People).
The events preceding the actual dinner start much earlier. On Thursday, Elle magazine, the Creative Coaltion and Lanmark technology host a leading Women in media party. On Friday, The New Yorker hosts a party on the rooftop of the W Hotel, in view of the White House: People and Time host a reception at the St. Regis Hotel; and the National Journal, the Atlantic, Funny or Die and the Impact Film Fund host their annual First Amendment party. Reflecting its growing influence in Washington, including a victory in sidelining SOPA, Google is hosting a WHCA-eve party with The Hollywood Reporter.
One of the longest-lasting traditions is the Saturday garden brunch, which started at the home of producer Tammy Haddad but has grown to the historic Beall Washington House. The event is co-hosted by Haddad, Hilary Rosen, David Adler, Mark Ein and a number of others, and will honor Steve and Jean Case and Susan Axelrod. It is a benefit for CURE Epilepsy and the White Ribbon Alliance.
After the dinner, MSNBC is hosting an after-party at the Embassy of Italy; and Bloomberg and Vanity Fair are hosting an event at the French Ambassador’s residence.
And even then, the weekend isn’t entirely over.
The next day, John McLaughlin of “The McLaughlin Group” hosts a brunch, another longtime tradition that will almost assuredly include a number of professionals who can sometimes get lost in all of the hubbub: actual White House correspondents.