In The Know

White House correspondents’ dinner returns to a changed world

To party or not to party, that is the question in Washington, where a pandemic that doesn’t let up is forcing D.C.’s movers and shakers to choose whether or not to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner and related events.

It’s a high-class problem, to be sure. But COVID-19 is clouding what was supposed to mark a return to pseudo-normalcy in the nation’s capital social scene after two years of cancellations over public health concerns.

If not for the vaccination and testing requirements that have become nearly universal fine print on invitations, a typical District party-hopper might never know about the pandemic based solely on the number of invites flooding their inboxes this year for events tied to Saturday’s dinner at the Washington Hilton.

Following two years of a nearly silent social scene amid the coronavirus pandemic, this year more than 20 WHCA-related shindigs are dotting the party landscape.

“This is why we all put a needle in our arm three times,” says Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and dinner regular who estimates he’s been to the event seven or eight times over the years.

Another sign of normality after six years: The sitting president will be at the dinner, the White House announced earlier this month. Former President Trump — who often viciously sparred with the press and called “fake news” the “enemy of the people” — bucked tradition and didn’t participate in any of the correspondents’ dinners when he was in office. 

Famous faces are also making a comeback. While the journalist- and lawmaker-filled affair attracted the likes of George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and John Legend years ago, Hollywood largely stayed away from the gathering while Trump was in office. This year, Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson will reportedly be among the VIP crowd as guests of ABC and Disney at the dinner, which raises money for journalism scholarships.

But the fallout from another swanky Washington soiree — the annual Gridiron Club dinner — nearly upended many news organizations’ WHCA dinner plans.

More than 70 Gridiron guests tested positive for the coronavirus in the days following the early April event, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, among others. Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams dubbed the Gridiron a “public health disaster.”

“With Gridiron, it seemed like every 30 minutes another member of Congress was testing positive,” exclaims Heye, which he says led to some “foreboding” among his friends.

Greta Van Susteren, who’s been to more than 20 correspondents’ dinners, says the Gridiron was the dealbreaker for her.

“I am not going this year. I had considered it, but having read about the Gridiron being a ‘superspreader,’ and it is much smaller than the WHCD, I decided to take the year off even though I am double vaxxed and double boosted,” Van Susteren tells ITK.

The host of Gray Television’s “Full Court Press” isn’t completely bailing out of the correspondents’ party circuit, saying she plans on going to Tammy Haddad’s annual Garden Brunch, which she calls the “most fun event of the weekend.”

But Van Susteren, who in the past has brought big names such as Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan and Ozzy Osbourne to the dinner as her guests, says for her, being among the more than 2,600 attendees expected at the dinner is a no-go.

“I have luckily dodged the COVID bullet, so why take the chance at a potential media superspreader?” she asks.

The District, along with the rest of the country, has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. But so far hospitalizations have continued to decrease.

People who are vaccinated, especially those who are boosted, have strong protection against severe disease. Yet no vaccine has been approved for children age 5 and under, which leaves many parents of young children uneasy about hitting the town.

Journalist Kasie Hunt, a mom to a 2-year-old, spoke generally about the pandemic predicament on her CNN+ show last week, telling her audience, “Everybody else might’ve moved on, but people with little kids just have not been able to.”

CBS News Radio journalist and WHCA President Steven Portnoy told ITK earlier this month that this year’s dinner is completely sold out and will include a same-day negative COVID-19 test requirement for all attendees. Portnoy noted at the time that the testing protocols were the same as those for any member of the White House press pool. The WHCA later added a vaccination requirement for guests.

“The Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah will headline this year’s dinner.

Jordan Klepper, a “Daily Show” correspondent, tells ITK that even though he’ll be performing in Washington at the Freedom Forum’s Free Expression Awards on Thursday ahead the WHCA gathering, he won’t be staying for the much-buzzed-about festivities two days later.

The comedian says the return of the dinner is a sign that the “normal workings of society” are coming back.

“I think it’s nice to hear about people ultimately getting together and celebrating the free press and freedom of expression that night,” says Klepper. “And I hope it goes off and everybody stays safe.”

The following is a list of the WHCA-related shindigs taking place around Washington this week. All of the events listed are invite-only.

Wednesday, April 27

Bipartisan Policy Center and The Hill’s “Punchlines and Politics”
Bipartisan Policy Center
6 – 8 p.m.

Thursday, April 28

Story Partners and Washingtonian’s Washington Women in Journalism Awards
Larz Anderson House
6 – 9 p.m.

Bytes and Bylines
Residence of the Ambassador of Ireland
6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Friday, April 29

Punchbowl News
Punchbowl News Townhouse
12 – 2:30 p.m.

A Salute to World Central Kitchen
Rooftop of AC Hotel Capitol Hill
5 – 8:30 p.m.

NBCUniversal News Group celebrates its Capitol Hill bureau
400 North Capitol St., NW
6 – 9 p.m.

Elle Magazine and CHIEF reception in honor of women leading Washington
VERSUS’s Ciel Social Club
6 – 8 p.m.

Voto Latino’s “Our Voices”
National Archives Museum
6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

The Washington Diplomat Media Bash
Embassy of Argentina
7 – 10 p.m.

The Creative Coalition “Right to Bear Arts” gala dinner
YOTEL Washington, DC
8 p.m.

“Politics & Inclusion” hosted by CNN’s Abby Phillip and ColorComm’s Lauren Wesley Wilson
7 p.m.

United Talent Agency’s “Celebration of America’s Journalists”
Fiola Mare
9 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Funny or Die and People Magazine’s “Washington’s Funniest Party”
The Reach at the Kennedy Center
9 p.m.

Saturday, April 30

Garden Brunch honoring the press and our military veterans
Beall-Washington House
11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

White House Correspondents’ Association dinner
Washington Hilton
8 p.m.

Vice News’s “Break the News”
Wild Days at Eaton Hotel
9 p.m. – 1 a.m.

“An Evening of Magical Realism” produced by CRAFT
Residence of the ambassador of Colombia
10:30 p.m.

MSNBC After Party
The Reach at the Kennedy Center
11:30 p.m.

Paramount After Party
Residence of the ambassador of France
11 p.m.

VERSUS’ Vinoda Basnayake’s WHCD After Party with Julian Casablancas
Ciel Social Club
11 p.m.

Sunday, May 1

CNN’s Political Hangover Brunch
10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Updated Thursday at 4:34 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic Correspondents dinner COVID-19 Donald Trump Doug Heye Greta Van Susteren Greta Van Susteren Gridiron Club Gridiron Dinner Jerome Adams Kasie Hunt Kim Kardashian Nerd Prom Trevor Noah WHCA White House Correspondents Dinner White House Correspondents Weekend White House Correspondents' Association White House Correspondents' Dinner

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