“I feel about Washington the way my mother used to feel about me. She used to tell me: ‘I love you, I just hate the things you do,’” said David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s senior advisor.
It was Friday night on the rooftop at the W Hotel, at The New Yorker‘s first-ever party on the White House Correspondents Dinner weekend. Though The New York Times made a big stink two years ago about how it didn’t want anything to do with the dinner, this other venerable institution did not follow its lead. With Obama’s second year under way, and with David Remnick’s Obama book out, here was The New Yorker making itself a very visible part of the circus.
“I’m sorry! Did I cut you in line?” said Gayle King, Oprah’s best friend, to an Observer reporter at the bar.
“Do you want to meet Tony Romo?” Mr. Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, said in a hoarse voice to The Observer.
Rosario Dawson and Judd Apatow mingled with the likes of Jeffrey Toobin and Sy Hersh. Legal scholar Cass Sunstein literally swept Samantha Power off her feet until Mr. Sunstein lost his balance.
“I’m sorry!” said Ms. Power, as she nearly fell into Mr. Remnick.
Mr. Sunstein tried again and cradled Ms. Power, successfully. She laughed long and hard as they went toward the elevators.
“I can’t call him. I’m too nervous. I have his number, but I’m too nervous to call him,” Mr. Axelrod was saying nearby.
Who exactly was he too nervous to call, we asked?
“Sandy Koufax,” he said.
While we chatted with Mr. Axelrod, person after person came up to say hello.
“This is Carl Hulse of The New York Times, a friend of Rahm’s, and a friend of mine,” said Mr. Axelrod.
“Washington is a fucked-up town,” said Zach Galifianakis, the actor. “It’s a very odd existence, this hobnobbing and rubbing of shoulders. It’s kind of how TV shows are made.”
Kal Penn approached Mr. Galifianakis to ask if he’d be going to an after-party. A woman with Ms. Penn pointed at The Observer‘s tape recorder.
“Isn’t this an off-the-record party?” she said. “I see his recorder is on. I think it’s an off-the-record party.”
“It started out as a party,” said New Republic editor Franklin Foer to The Observer, discussing the spectacle that this weekend has become. “And then it became a party plus an after-party. And then it became a party plus an after-party plus a pre-party.”
Say, Mr. Remnick, why is The New Yorker having one of these pre-parties anyway?
“It’s no secret that magazines once in a while want to raise their head up for promotional reasons,” he said. “And there are times when you, as an editor, would love it to be some long-ago age when maybe just editing was enough when business is concerned.
“We don’t do much of it,” he continued. “It’s at the impetus of the business department.”
The fact that The New Yorker was even having a party was a topic of interest for the media set.
“I’m surprised [The New Yorker] is spending any money on it,” said Atlantic senior editor Corby Kummer. “It’s not like The New Yorker.”
Mr. Kummer was speaking to James Bennet, the Atlantic editor, hours earlier at Atlantic owner David Bradley’s house, where yet another pre-party was held.
“To spend money on a party?” said Mr. Bennet.
“Yeah,” said Mr. Kummer. “The New Yorker is trying to muscle in on the Atlantic territory. That’s the only reason anyone would do such a thing.”
Mr. Bennet and Mr. Kummer, along with several dozen people, were coming in from the driveway. In the past, Mr. Bradley has opened up his beautiful house near the Naval Observatory for parties like this one. But this time, the attendees crammed into a tiny front yard and a driveway, alongside two Audis. The sponsorship deal seemed obvious enough. We asked Mr. Bennet if the Correspondents Dinner—always a packed and crazy affair—seemed a little more insane this year.
“I was invited to a couple of places where I was told to bring the invitation, which actually is a change,” he said.
In previous years, parties on this weekend were free-for-alls. This year, clipboards were out, and lists were checked. IDs were asked for. There were threats all weekend of “off the record” parties. The New Yorker party, supposedly, was one of them. And then—of all places—the off-the-record threat hung over Tammy Haddad’s pre-dinner brunch.
“Everything under the tent is off limits,” warned an official guarding “press passes” to Ms. Haddad’s event.
Among reporters, there was a rumor circulating that Ms. Haddad wanted to put all reporters in a bullpen, away from the party.
“The whole party would be in the pen,” joked one reporter.
Then again, who actually cares about the reporters?
“Have you seen Kim Kardashian!” said one breathless middle-aged lady in a tight short garden dress to The Observer at Ms. Haddad’s.
No, but one of the Jonas brothers was standing nearby a few minutes ago.
“Go find him!” she said. “I’ll take your picture!”
Ms. Haddad also had some sponsors for her event. Among them? Audi.
“YOU GUYS ARE partnered up with Jay-Z?” said Tracy Morgan.
“That’s right!” said talk-radio maven and Fox News contributor Ellen Ratner.
It was about 7 p.m. on Saturday, and in the halls of the Hilton Hotel, all was abustle an hour before the start of the Correspondents Dinner. But Tracy Morgan, a guest of The New Yorker, relaxed against a wall at the magazine’s first-ever cocktail hour and chatted with Ms. Ratner, who was recruiting him as a booster for the Nets, Brooklyn’s soon-to-be basketball team, which—for the moment, at least—is still owned and controlled by her brother, Bruce.
“I was born and raised in Brooklyn, so I gotta represent,” Mr. Morgan said.
Ms. Ratner took down his cell number and his agent’s name. That Mr. Morgan now lives in Manhattan did little to damper her enthusiasm.
“My brother will be so excited. Am I right?” she asked a group of men with her. “Won’t my brother be excited? We gotta get you guys”—she wheeled her arms—”moving!”
“I want to be courtside,” he said. “I wanna be down there like with Spike Lee.”
“I think since the inauguration of Obama, Hollywood has been more desirous to come here,” said ABC star Jake Tapper nearby in the the network’s pre-party cocktail room. “It’s no secret that Hollywood leans a little left, and that’s had an impact. And, you know, people in Hollywood like this president.”
Outside the ABC room, the network was promoting Mr. Tapper as an award recipient with a big placard of his face as we walked in. Katie Couric, when she walked by, burst into laughter at seeing the sign.
“I’ve got mixed feelings about this dinner,” said Mark Knoller, the CBS radio veteran, in his booming radio voice.
“Unless you’re bringing an Oscar-nominated actress, people look down their nose,” he said. “This is a journalistic gathering, you know?”
“How can you be a journalist and advocate holding a party at a public place and saying it’s off the record?” he said. “I don’t get it. When the Gridiron puts its dinner off the record, that’s wrong. They’re journalists, they ought to be fighting for open coverage, not off the record. You want to do something off the record, hold it in your living room.”
A few minutes earlier, in the back of CBS’s room, a bartender poured a Bud Light for everyman senator Scott Brown, a guest of Mr. Tapper and one of the few politicians turning heads. Mr. Brown pounded what was left in the bottle, grabbed the glass of beer, and another of white wine.
Did he have a second for The Observer?
“Let me deliver this drink,” he said.
“Yeah, we’re not doing interviews tonight,” said a spokeswoman who hurriedly intervened after the wine had been delivered. “The senator is going to be with his family.”
Mr. Brown was flanked by his two daughters—the ones he had famously offered up a few months prior—and by his wife, who was showing off a tan that would make John Boehner jealous. “Are we in the ABC room?” she whispered to a woman next to her.
A few hours later, his daughter, Ayla Brown, was at the Bloomberg and Vanity Fair after-party at the very Eyes Wide Shut–like home of the French ambassador. Adrian Grenier, a.k.a. Vinny Chase, walked around with his hand on the small of her back.
The Vanity Fair party last year was a tiny and intimate affair. This year, it was mobbed. The invite list seemed to have doubled. Everyone stayed well past 2 a.m. There was Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli only a few feet away from the guy who fired him from his old job at the Journal, Rupert Murdoch. Maureen Dowd was poolside, and slipped her heels off and walked around barefoot. Jimmy Fallon and Judd Apatow stayed for hours in a corner. New Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb were chatting with Mr. Murdoch. Then they chatted with Charlie Rose.
“Jessica!” screamed Tammy Haddad. “Have you met Tony Romo?”
Ms. Haddad, 12 hours later, was still networking. This time she was introducing Jessica Alba to the Cowboys quarterback.
“And this is Chace Crawford,” Ms. Haddad said.
“We’ve actually met before,” said Mr. Crawford, grinning.
Ms. Alba smiled stiffly. Seconds later, she turned to the man who was accompanying her.
“Are we ready to leave?” she said.
Mr. Crawford and Mr. Romo chatted a bit more and bro-hugged as they said goodbye. Mr. Romo left with Mr. Crawford’s sister, former Miss Missouri Candice Crawford.
Across town, in the Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue, Rachel Maddow was still tending bar at the MSNBC after-party.
“This was my deal with them. They asked me to go to the dinner and I said no, and they said you have to do something, so I said I’ll do this,” Ms. Maddow explained. “I’m like a dog. Dogs are happiest when they have a job to do.”
But her arms were getting tired. There was a bar at each corner of the dance floor, but no one bothered with those. Instead, “Maddow’s Bar” was stacked three deep all the way across. The choices: a Pimm’s Cup, a daiquiri, or a Vieux Carre.
Chuck Todd angled his way to the front of the bar and told her to make him something. He said his mom was crazy about her.
“Like, she loves me? Or like she might try to kill me?” Ms. Maddow asked.
“She loves you,” he said.
“I made you a manly drink,” she said, and presented him with a daiquiri.
Earlier in the night, Andrew Breitbart had come through her line.
“I didn’t recognize him. But he said something to me about some news story or something,” Ms. Maddow recounted. “And I said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.’ And he said, ‘I’m Andrew Breitbart,’ and I said, ‘Oh. Nice to meet you.’”
“I ordered a Valerie Plame and she looked at me like I was an idiot. And I said I’m just kidding,” Mr. Breitbart said. “So I said”—he made his voice sound boring—“‘I’ll have a Pimm’s cup.’ And I just looked at her. And then she just looked at me. It was weird. And then I said, ‘I’d like an Acorn-Pimp-Hoax.’ I was just trying to get her goat and she just looked at me. And I thought, ‘Okay, fine, you don’t have a sense of humor.’ I mean, look, she’s a working girl and she’s serving drinks. I admire her gumption so I’m not going to get upset with her that she’s in a hard-core focus making all these free Maddow delicacies and that she didn’t get it.”
As for the drink?
“It was pretty good. She makes a pretty good Pimm’s cup.”
“I love that, I love it,” he said as he looked up at the massive black-and-white promos for each show, which hung between the room’s towering columns. “I mean, look at these Ionic columns. How can you not like all these Caucasian superstars from MSNBC?”
Sometime after 2 a.m., Ms. Maddow finally gave up her gig behind the bar. The massive hall was starting to clear out.
TV actor Steven Weber came over to say goodbye to Mr. Breitbart.
“Goodbye. Goodbye until I see you in L.A.,” Mr. Weber said.
“Tinkles,” said Mr. Breitbart. “See you in L.A., baby.”