From its humble beginnings as a one night affair, the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner has grown into a nearly week long celebration of press, power players, celebrities and parties. A Politico reporter, Patrick Gavin, quits his job interviewing some of Washington’s top policymakers and exposes a private world of excess and extravagance that is like nothing you’d ever imagine.
Most Americans might think that the most important event each year in Washington, D.C. – arguably the world’s most important city and one built on public service – would resemble, say, a political rally, a bill signing or some compelling Capitol Hill testimony that moves lawmakers to action.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner, which began in 1921, was originally designed as a one-night occasion to honor the important work of White House correspondents and to also allow reporters and sources to briefly put down their guards and get to know each other better. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended these dinners at one point or another and no president has skipped it since 1981. At the dinner, the president tells some jokes — as does an actual comedian — in front of 2,600 guests who’ve shelled out $300 a ticket to attend. Over the past ten years, however, this dinner has turned into a nearly week long, boozy party of self-celebration in our nation’s capital every spring, featuring celebrities, athletes, lobbyists, journalists, politicians and businessmen from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. It’s come to be known as “Nerd Prom” thanks to both its prominence on D.C.’s social calendar and the wonkish ways of Washington. “Nerd Prom” is now the single most important event for Washington power players and those trying to influence them. This vaingloriousness comes, of course, during a time in which Washington’s image around the country couldn’t be lower.