It was Friday morning at 8:28 a.m. in New York and The Observer scanned news of the Royal Wedding in London, which attracted approximately 22 million viewers in the U.S. As we prepared to head to D.C. to further inspect the Correspondents Dinner attendees up close, a meeting was taking place in the White House Diplomatic Room. Before boarding a helicopter to Alabama to survey flood damage, the president called his senior aides in and told them: it would be a helicopter strike. Security Adviser Tom Donilon; his deputy, Denis McDonough; and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan decided to move forward with Operation Geronimo, scheduled to take place on Saturday.
That evening in the W Hotel lobby, one of the first of the weekend’s various parties had begun. Around 8:30 p.m. Hilda Solis, dressed in fuchsia, was ushered past New Yorker party security. “Secretary of Labor,” her handler said to a young man with earpiece and iPad. Secretary Solis bounced in place to the elevator music. Forty-five minutes later editor David Remnick rested a plate of sushi on a table and debriefed The Observer. “Do you know about Mike Kelly?” In 1987, Kelly, then a reporter, set the precedent for outrageous escorts by bringing Fawn Hall, Iran-Contra femme fatale. Kelly was killed reporting in Iraq in 2003. Asked about the decision by his former employer, The Washington Post, to bring Donald Trump as its guest of honor, Mr. Remnick replied, “Well, that should be interesting because I just ripped his ass. I’ll have to stop by and say, ‘Hi’.”
About an hour later, The Observer intercepted the dinner’s emcee, Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Meyers, who provided intelligence on the impending roast of the president, a tradition of the annual dinner. Mr. Meyers was not nervous, “healthy butterflies,” he said. “It’s easier to make fun of a politician you do like,” he said. “It comes off as less angry.”
Saturday morning. Operation Geronimo had been rescheduled due to weather.
The weather was just fine at Tammy Haddad’s annual Garden Brunch–held at the former home of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, which is now owned by venture capitalist Mark Ein–the weekend’s festivities now in full swing. The Observer spotted New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich, who is reportedly working on a book about the incestuousness of beltway culture. Also in attendance were Olympic snowboarder Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White, Morgan Fairchild and Chace Crawford. Rupert Murdoch was ushered from the living room to the patio after being approached by reporter Gabriel Sherman, known to be working on a book about Fox News. Actor Tim Daly, in beard, shades and a threadbare velvet blazer, went largely unrecognized and explained to another guest that he wanted to meet Buzz Aldrin, who was being wheeled around the patio. He played [astronaut] Jim Lovell in the HBO series, he explained. Rosario Dawson, a guest of CNN, made sure to note that she was invited because of her advocacy work and not her celebrity status.
Mid-afternoon, REM bassist Mike Mills convinced an unidentified suit to submit to the powers of magician Gerard Senehi. “Mentalist,” Mr. Senehi corrected. “If you call me a magician again, I’ll kill you.” Mr. Senehi correctly guessed the foreign word the suit has written on the back of his MSNBC business card. It was already written on Mr. Senehi’s own business card, which he extracted from his wallet, to Mr. Mills’ delight.
The Palin family arrived surrounded by photographers and clamoring fans and a TV producer was seen bragging about having given Sarah Palin his card.
Later that evening in the reception room of the Washington Hilton, a throng of people, including Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Piven, began moving toward the main hall of the hotel for the White House Correspondents Dinner. Greta Van Susteren engaged Donald Trump as a crowd looked on. The Observer asked Mr. Trump who he was excited to meet at the dinner. “Everyone. Everyone,” he said. A Washington Times reporter thrust her comically oversize microphone at him: “Mr. Trump, what do you have to say about the rumor that Kim Kardashian will be your running mate?” He answered without looking at her: “That’s, uh, I can’t, that’s not true.” She persisted: “What about Khloe?” Trump and the throng trudged forward: “No, no.” The reporter grinned as she turned away, pleased with her line of questioning.
At approximately 8:30 p.m., the president arrived at the dinner. Shortly thereafter, he left the dais, following Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ lead. As revelers continued to sip their Champagne, the president was informed the Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi’s son had been killed by a NATO airstrike.
An hour later, the New York Times reporter Peter Baker won the Aldo Beckman Award for his “deep insight about how Obama operates, from his response to the terrorist threat to his struggles to contend with what the president himself called our ‘big, messy democracy.’”