article

05.10.09

Washington's Dreariest Ritual

Yes, Obama killed at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. But he didn't manage to improve the mise-en-scene of the D.C. bash, in which politicos mingled uneasily with Demi Moore, Howard Stringer got stiffed, and the food once again tasted terrible.

The first time I went to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, I went into labor. Bill Clinton will do that to a girl.

Last night was less dramatic but more fun.

OK, so it is still the dingiest, most depressing venue in Washington. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about the basement ballroom of the D.C. Hilton, even with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wafting past your table. The low-ceilinged, brown-carpeted mega space has a curiously Soviet feel to it. Think Politburo meets K Street without the benefit of vodka. The food is still borderline inedible. I've never understood the rationale behind putting fish and steak on the same plate, and there wasn't even any dessert, which is usually the only good bit of the meal. We were told we'd nobly donated that to the scholarship fund.

Click to View Our Gallery of the Dinner

correspondents-dinner

The odd mix of Hollywood and Potomac still has an oil-and-water quality. Nowhere else in the country would the crowd surrounding Sen. Amy Klobuchar dwarf that around Demi Moore. D.C. political types elbowed their way past L.A.'s glitterati to grab five seconds with junior White House staffers. And where else would ambassadors outrank Oscar-winners?

I had the pleasure of accompanying Sir Howard Stringer, CEO and chairman of Sony, and of watching as Washington's minor media providers brushed past the man running the biggest media company in the world. It is, as he pointed with humor, a funny, old one-shop town.

Video screenshot

Highlights of Obama's speech. Full video at C-SPAN.org.

We keep hearing that our new neighbors in the White House have changed all that. That the Obamas have finally made the capital cool. And while the Vanity Fair afterparty in the elegant pseudo chateau of the French Ambassador provided a welcome antidote to the grim Hilton, the evening didn't persuade me that D.C. is now the hip city we were promised.

But in a way I'm glad. It's fun having all these celebs in town for the weekend. But the curious charm of Washington is precisely its earnestness.

So even though, every year I go to the WHCD with an element of work-on-a-weekend resentment, I would miss that strange spectacle of worlds colliding.

And at least this year I wasn't pregnant.

Xtra Insight: The Daily Beast's Rachel Sklar: Why the Nerd Prom Matters

Katty Kay covers U.S. politics for the British Broadcasting Corporation. She is Washington correspondent for BBC World News America and has lived in D.C. for the past 12 years. She is the author, with Claire Shipman, of the upcoming book Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success.