WASHINGTON There was a security detail at the Beall Washington House, one of the D.C. Beltway’s most historic residences and for the past few years the locale of one of the most coveted preludes to the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner: a Garden Brunch. So when Tammy Haddad, one of the brunch event’s founders and co-hosts, introduced “the president,” telling the crowd of journalists, administration officials and celebrities to get their cell phone cameras out, more than a few paid attention in the bustle — just in case.
“The president” turned out to be Tony Goldwyn, who plays the commander in chief on ABC’s “Scandal.” People nonetheless paid attention as Goldwyn gave brief remarks from the stage in the tented backyard, perhaps because “Scandal” and a handful of other shows set in a D.C. “alternate universe,” as Goldwyn calls it, have a certain traction on the weekend.
The crowd seemed to part as cast members from Netflix’s “House of Cards” walked in, led by Kevin Spacey, before he had an extended conversation with Charlie Rose. Also present: Netflix’s Ted Sarandos. And Michael J. Fox, a star of the 1995 film “The American President,” was there, as were cast members from “Glee,” as well as director Jay Roach and actor Gerard Butler. Miss America Mallory Hagan represented the org’s foundation, one of two that the event benefited. The other was CURE Epilepsy, founded by former Obama adviser David Axelrod and his wife Susan.
The Beall Washington House, one of Washington’s most expensive residences, was once owned by Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham and is now owned by Mark Ein, the venture capitalist and owner of the Washington Kastles. On Saturday afternoon, however, it was transformed, with a dining room serving as the photo line, with a mix of D.C. and L.A. media, including E!, covering the weekend’s events for the first time.
This year the brunch was a shade less sensational and a tad more subdued, following the presence of Lindsay Lohan as a guest in 2012, which prompted too many guests to Tweet reactions. There is generally more self-consciousness among White House and other journalists this year, with some remarking that the Correspondents Dinner has moved away from its core purpose, or as one correspondent put it, gotten “a bit absurd.” Media orgs have taken to inviting advertisers to sit at their tables for the evening event, while the stars who trek to D.C. are hobnobbing with serious policymakers and drawing attention to their projects.
“I do think we need to remember it is the White House Correspondents dinner,” Fox News’ Ed Henry, the president of the WHCA, told the crowd at the brunch, a seeming reference to the many events that have popped all over the weekend.
“The weekend is like the Olympics,” Henry added. “It goes on and on.”
On Friday, at a Time-People cocktail reception at the St. Regis Hotel, “Mad Men” star Jessica Pare, a native of Canada, seemed a bit overwhelmed by the crush. She had just arrived, and it was like “going to Narnia,” she quipped as administration officials and other journalists sought to take photos with her. This was not just her first WHCA weekend — it was her first trip to D.C.
The Saturday brunch has become a tradition in its own right, extending back 20 years. But events now start on Thursday and run through Sunday afternoon, so in that sense, Henry is right: It is a marathon of mingling.
Oddly enough, what is new this year is a bit of counterprogramming.
As many prepped for a stylish night, on Saturday morning The Atlantic and National Journal packed a meeting room in the Ritz Carlton for a discussion about the state of the military, with speakers Rachel Maddow, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and moderator Steve Clemons.
“War in the United States has become a business,” Manchin said. “Is that a business we should be in?”
It was a serious moment amid a not-so-serious weekend of revelry. But it’s only a moment: Later on Saturday evening, at MSNBC’s party, Maddow was slated to tend the bar and mix drinks.