The only thing Washington loves more than dressing up for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is talking about how much of an “abomination” that same dinner is. The event that is known, a little sickeningly, as “Nerd Prom” among insiders is an “incestuous” slobber-fest, these self-hating guests will tell you.
They are likely to say this while a tuxedo-clad server at the Washington Hilton hands them their third glass of fourth-rate prosecco; or as they clamor for a selfie with a C-list celebrity or member of the administration to whom they usually lob confrontational questions. If it were WWE wrestling, this would be Washington’s chance to break kayfabe.
But that is another reason why people find the whole affair to be so revolting. It reveals that while reporters may ham up for the cameras by delivering a battering-ram of questions to the White House press secretary, every one of them — from the lowliest questioner right up to CNN’s Jim Acosta throwing his righteously indignant questions week after week at Jen Psaki — are all in on the joke. All the Washington Press Corps is indeed a stage and we are merely players; except we often play the American citizenry. No wonder they hate us so much.
Many of us denizens of the Washington Press Corps spend long hours away from home, grinding away. We rarely have any kind of social lives because of the 24-hour news cycle. I’ve literally walked out on a date before because I had to edit a piece by a former senator. On top of that, we’re often trying to stretch out our dry-cleaning bills (DC has a dress code, you know). Why shouldn’t we be allowed to let loose a little bit, to revel in the swamp that’s existed since time immemorial? If you look at it from that perspective, you too might be tempted to sashay on down.
So if you’re going to be a total swamp creature, here’s what to know about Washington’s festivities.
First and foremost, as much as Joe Biden wanted to “show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic,” and attendees had to show they were vaccinated and boosted, the app that we had to download on our phones was incredibly cumbersome. It took me the better part of an hour to download the app, upload my vaccination status and upload my negative test status.
Similarly, all that people needed to do was upload a picture of a negative rapid antigen Covid-19 test without supplying photographic evidence we actually took it or even registering the test. Somebody could have very easily had someone else take a negative test for them even if they were positive and uploaded it. I didn’t realize this until I had gone across town to get a PCR test that day and was worried that I wouldn’t have it return in time, only to learn I needed a rapid antigen test instead.
Secondly, the dinner itself is kind of overrated. I tend to prefer Capitol Hill to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. That being said, nothing appeals to me less than eating a reheated dinner, having to rent a tuxedo and then having to wait for the president to come in and out as a captive audience.
The pre-dinner cocktail parties and after-parties though? Count me in. They tend to have a better spread, sometimes an open bar, and are generally less restrictive. You also get a chance to mingle more with people. It was at a pre-party hosted by the Qatari Embassy at the US Institute of Peace’s building in 2019 where I ran into Sean Spicer — who seemed a little tipsy — while my friend and I got to taste some of the fantastic baklava that was being served.
I snuck another friend who had studied abroad in Germany into one of Bloomberg’s parties in 2018 and she wound up chatting with Trump’s ambassador to Deutschland. They wound up sharing a few jokes, to my surprise. I headed over to the spread that former Mayor Mike generously provided as they exchanged banter, and it was worth every penny.
Also? Men, you can skip the tuxedo unless you are going to the actual dinner. A black suit with a nice tie is more than enough. Just shine your shoes the day of and make sure you let the women who did put in hours, unlike us, know if they have lipstick in their teeth, and you should be fine. And don’t bug the celebrities too much, especially if you barely know who they are.
If you follow these rules, you probably won’t have to feel too guilty about being a dirty swamp creature who is the enemy of the people. So make sure to rent your best outfit, put on your most comfortable shoes, and I’ll see you at an embassy’s buffet table.