By Emily Heil & Danielle O'Steen Posted April 28, 2008, 5:35 PM EDT
The cocktail parties before the White House Correspondents Association dinner, held at various sites throughtout the Washington Hilton terrace and lobby, kicked off a long night of shoulder-rubbing and celebrity sightings (with hundreds of tourists and locals waiting outside to get a glimpse) on Saturday evening. News outlets competed to get the best crowd into their rooms, relying on sparse decor, heavy branding, and the tabloid-friendly roster of celebrities they were able to lure—everyone from the Jonas Brothers and Perez Hilton to The Hills' feuding starlets Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag made the rounds.
Thomson Reuters suffered from crowd-flow issues due to a bottleneck (and the large check-in table) at the adjacent Newsweek fete. That said, the company did put some thought into this year's decor scheme. “After having done this event for a couple of years, we knew we wanted a fresh, clean lounge,” said Thomson Reuters marketing communications executive Iris Puerto, who worked with New York-based Watson Productions to create an all-white space, from the short shag carpeting to the low leather seating. Flat-screen monitors showed off the company’s brand-new orange and white logo, while pink lighting gave off a girlish hue.
Atlantic Media also went beyond the bland standard this year at its usual poolside spot, housed under a large white tent (closed on all sides, in case of expected rain) from HDO Productions. For the first time, sponsor British Airways influenced the design. “We wanted it to feel as if you were in a gorgeous first-class lounge,” said Atlantic event manager Bonnye Hart about the black-and-white decor, complete with low white leather couches and metal-and-glass coffee tables from CORT Event Furnishings. The flight attendants (or British Airways ambassadors) on hand added to the sponsor's subtle branding. Newly announced Atlantic publisher Jay Lauf (previously of Wired magazine) was also a star attraction for the company.
As in previous years, Newsweek kept its reception space simple, with poster-size covers (most of which referenced the presidential candidates) and red, white, and blue balloons spaced throughout the room. The CNN/Time/People/Fortune to-do went the minimalist route, too, with white wall curtains and large palms dotting the space and a long white bar (accented with square grass centerpieces) separating celebrities like BJ Novak, Marcia Cross, and Colin Firth from everyone else.
Those who couldn’t sneak past the Atlantic check-in mingled outside the various open-to-the-public rooms taken over by the remaining participating news outlets, such as Business Week and the Associated Press. The smaller rooms were bare, beyond a bar and the same cheese and pâté hors d’oeuvres provided by the Hilton for all the other spaces. Even the Bloomberg staff seemed more interested in saving its energy for their big bash later that night, with nothing more than a bar and DJ Jeffrey Tonnesen spinning a mix of Brazilian jazz and indie rock.
The dinner itself featured a sea of tables stretched far in the hotel's vast International Ballroom. Decor was almost nonexistent, with basic, nondescript linens and centerpieces. President Bush, in his last performance headlining the annual dinner, reminisced about years past, before surprising the crowd by conducting—white baton and all—a Marine Corps band. Late-night host Craig Ferguson hit some crowd-pleasing notes, specifically targeting Fox News, The New York Times, the presidential candidates, and the president himself.
The menu provided standard black-tie dinner fare, with a salad of lettuce, yellow tomatoes, candied pecans, and blue cheese followed by a surf-and-turf combo of beef filet and seared salmon on a bed of citrus-scented risotto, withand white chocolate mousse for dessert. Also, in a nod to the Passover holiday, each table offered up matzo along with the standard rolls.