Dinner

Why a Legendary Washington Insider Dreads the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Why a Legendary Washington Insider Dreads the White House Correspondents' Dinner

After a career spent gathering ideologically mixed crowds on behalf of high-profile corporate clients, the Republican clerk-turned-PR professional worries that Washington is too eager to return to bipartisan socializing as usual — and, in her enthusiasm to break out of social lockdown, ignores what she sees as the lingering rot at the heart of democracy.

“It’s not broken yet,” she said. “His After broken.”

“This is the first time this has happened in the post-Trump era, where it’s really a moral issue in front of the country,” Glover said of the corporate-sponsored dinner and parties, where for years, reporters and advertisers have mingled with bigwigs from across the political spectrum. “The question is, can Washington normalize? In my brain and my body, it’s “I hope not,” because if it is, then we’re morally numb. On a press freedom weekend, is it okay to raise a glass and toast with a seditionist? »

She’s about people who have fueled, enabled or profited from a style of politics that destroys the very institutions the dinner is meant to celebrate. You cannot, after all, undermine the system and then fit into it. And for others to claim the dinner is a Big Tent spanning all of Washington’s power centers, the falsity of the image is baffling.

Among Washingtonians whose business is to work across party lines, Glover is unusual in her willingness to attach her name to sentiment. But I heard similar sentiments from a number of people this week as I spoke about the rituals of checking holiday schedules and tracking down stray cufflinks, tasks that have been interrupted for two years of pandemic cancellations, and which had previously been diminished by three years of relatively restricted holiday planning as the Trump administration largely boycotted events.

Now, all of a sudden, the status quo ante is back. And while it’s the embrace of a pre-Covid normal that commands attention – see how the revived Gridiron dinner turned into a super-spreading event, and the brouhaha about whether the WHCA appearance of Joe Biden will put him in danger – it’s the return of the pre-2016 version of Washington, the party city of media elite friendship, which stirs up complicated emotions: given what has happened since, is it acceptable to return to the old partisanship – stop-when-the-drinking-starts? model “everyone can come”?

Judging by the weekend social calendar, a sizable population of people seem to think the answer is: Hell, yes!

This year’s festivities appear to be the most elaborate since the Obama years. Familiar Stations of the Cross, like the annual Insider-attended Garden Brunch at Katharine Graham’s former home in Georgetown, will pick up where they left off. Other classics from the pre-Trump era are coming back to life after a longer hiatus. After Trump’s election, Vanity Fair and Bloomberg pulled out of the exclusive afterparty they traditionally held at the French ambassador’s residence. This year, the embassy evening is back, now under the aegis of Paramount.

And there are new events on the calendar, too: a get-together for the Semafor news organization thrown by former Bloomberg News chief Justin Smith and former New York Times media columnist Ben Smith, a rally at the glitzy headquarters of 16th Street from the Motion Picture Association, a space that opened shortly before the pandemic.

Ironically, tighter attendance caps in the name of pandemic safety have increased the number of jockeys gaining access to events like MPA, which is known for bringing Hollywood celebrities to DC “We got so many RSVPs unsolicited from people who weren’t invited,” says Emily Lenzner, the association’s head of public affairs. “I imagine the same thing happens in the other parties. And I’m like, ‘How can you physically hit all these parties?’ »

Of course, pretending to hate the WHCA falderal is as much a Beltway tradition as pretending to hate Washington itself. But what’s remarkable about the capital’s scrambled state in 2022 is how longstanding outside criticism – that there’s something unseemly about powerful people and dogs of guard journalists who all frolic in a morally neutral environment, with corporate sponsors footing the bill – dovetails with the concerns of someone whose business depends on privileged contacts like Glover’s.

Insider demonstrations will also be catnip for the right-wing media, where the working assumption is that the media elite are pulling punches in the name of their Democratic cronies, not just in the name of the status quo.