Politics as Reality Show: THR and Google Party Blends DC & Hollywood
The first annual pre-White House Correspondents Dinner party brought together leading lights in entertainment, news and government.
The connection between Hollywood and Washington D.C. has seemingly never been stronger. Celebrities double as advocates for causes and candidates; films and TV shows are teeming with sociopolitical messages; and the most powerful people in the world hold exclusive dinners in hopes of mining the deep pockets of industry stars and executives. Hollywood's real contribution to the DC scene, however, just may be the blurring of fact and fiction that has turned government into its own reality series.
As people poured into the lower level of the W Hotel in Washington DC, top-level executives in news media, big name actors and members of the Obama administration were steered onto a red carpet to pose for eager photographers and entertainment news reporters. Shutters clicked, cabinet members answered more questions about wardrobes and gossip than policy, and reality stars rubbed elbows with news anchors at the party hosted by Google's Eric Schmidt and The Hollywood Reporter's Janice Min.
There was Steve Schmidt, the former John McCain adviser, standing next to Woody Harrelson, the man who played him in the HBO movie about the surreal 2008 campaign, Game Change. The two posed together for the cameras and then spent time inside the party, drinking and socializing, a political star and his Oscar-nominated, TV movie doppelganger.
"It was a surreal experience, kind of like an out of body experience," Schmidt told THR about seeing Harrelson play him on TV. "Woody, I've gotten a chance to get to know through this, he's a great artist, he's a great actor, a great talent through all the movies, and he's a real nice guy. I was just honored by his presentation."
As for the 2012 GOP race, he said it produced the strongest candidate in a process that was a "reality show disguised as a presidential primary," which only underscored the theme of the night. Politics and the people who cover it have become celebrities, acting in their own enhanced worlds, with headlines grabbed by making splashy proposals, serving outrageous proclamations and claiming hyper-sensitive offense.
Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host, said that the most bizarre thing he's had to cover this year has been the odyssey of a campaign run by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; "It's an absurdity. He goes to zoos every week. He's gone to like 50 zoos. You explain that to history. Here's a guy who campaigns at zoos," Matthews marveled. He later predicted that Gingrich would finally end his doomed run for the Republican nomination for president on Tuesday -- at a zoo. He shook his head at the thought of it all: a publicity-desperate former Congressman hanging out with animals in enclosures, ready at all times for human observation.
Then there was Kerry Washington, who works as a campaign surrogate for President Obama and stars in a White House-based fictional ABC drama. But she was there in no official campaign or television capacity; it was a night off to spend with friends, she told THR, before heading off to party with political operators and those that play them on TV.
A large contingent from the ABC hit Modern Family made the rounds, but at least in part as political advocates, not TV stars. Jesse Tyler Ferguson was in town to work on behalf of the Creative Coalition, while Sofia Vergara attended with her boyfriend Nick Loeb, a candidate for Congress.
Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian clan, took congratulations over both her impending new granddaugther -- daughter Kourtney is pregnant with her second child -- as well as her family's new, lucrative deal at NBC's E! network. She also answered questions about her daughter Kim's alleged interest in the mayoral job in Glendale, California. Jenner said it wasn't Kim's idea, but she had no idea that her daughter would make a good mayor.
In fact, when THR asked various celebrities which Hollywood star they thought would make a good president, Kardashian's name came up half of the time (even if it was in sarcasm).
Perhaps she got some campaign advice from the professionals; Obama advisers such as David Axelrod and Bill Burton made their way around the party, while top-level government officials such as General Colin Powell, Sen. Ron Wyden, Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Commerce John Bryson also attended. Recent THR columnists New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom glad-handed with politicos, media members and entertainers, whose world they straddle.
Maybe Jenner prefered to trade words with Fashion Star's Elle Macpherson; they were wearing the same shoes.
Downstairs at the party, neon lights lined the walls of the main hall as waiters slipped between power players, carrying appetizers and then miniature cakes. Bars were located in the dark of the banks of the big party space, located beyond short passageways that rewarded only the most dedicated and desperate to find chair or soft leather bench. It was for many a needed refuge, so packed was the main floor with media members and government officials.
No fewer than four New York Times reporters were in attendance, while the top editors of DC's The Hill and Politico newspapers and broadcast hosts such as Piers Morgan (who told THR that he thought he had the comedic chops to host the WHCA dinner himself while boasting that his CNN was the most fair and unbiased news network), CBS's Gayle King and Current's Bill Press spent time with both actors and policy makers. Old friends Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington, the latter fresh off her publication's first Pulitzer, made the rounds, while THR publisher and senior vice president Lynne Segall and THR's parent company Prometheus Global Media's chairman Jimmy Finkelstein greeted guests through the night.
A DJ at the back played songs that belonged on mid-1980s mixtapes and college kids' ironic dance party iPod playlists -- by the end of the night, those that remained sang and dance to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," unaware -- and unconcerned -- with who might be watching. In a town that is often marked with cynicism, it was the purest moment of the night.