An Insider's Guide to the White House Correspondents' Dinner

Expect a "bravura" performance from President Obama at his final bow Saturday night.
Getty Images

Olivier Knox, chief Washington D.C. correspondent for Yahoo News, has been covering U.S. politics for nearly two decades. He's also served on the White House Press Association board since 2013. The Hollywood Reporter checked in with the veteran journalist to get the scoop on what will be President Obama's final White House Correspondents' Dinner, taking place on April 30 at the Washington Hilton.

• The dinner, which typically features a "surf-and-turf menu," is completely sold out. Actually, Knox says 900 people have already been turned down. "We're booked up and we've returned those 900 checks," he says, adding that 105 media outlets will be represented. Lucky guests who did make the cut include 18 scholarship winners who will be honored at the event.

• In addition to featuring remarks from Obama, 2016 host Larry Wilmore and WHCA president Carol Lee, the organization honors its mission by presenting academic scholarships to aspiring journalists. (Sidenote: the WHCA's directive is to lobby for greater information, transparency and access to government policy makers, starting with the president.) Also doled out is special trophies for working journalists: the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for White House coverage; the Merriman Smith Memorial Award for deadline work in print or broadcast; and the Edgar A. Poe Award for coverage of news of national or regional significance.

• The Washington Hilton is notable for the good — having the largest ballroom in the nation's capital — and the not-so-great — it's the same hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981. Furthermore, Knox explains, the "cell service is frequently intermittent in the giant cavernous ballroom," much to the dismay of social players. "For a lot of Twitter addicts, the dinner can be a difficult few hours," he laughs.

• In addition to a heavy Secret Service presence, security measures include requiring guests to go through magnetometers to gain access to the ballroom. "There's a long line of betuxed and begowned guests emptying their pockets. It's a fairly entertaining scene. Also there are crowds in the lobby — guests of the hotel and random tourists — looking to see if they can pick out celebrities of the Hollywood or D.C. variety.


Olivier Knox and wife Jennifer Lewis attend the Yahoo News/ABC News White House Correspondents' dinner reception preparty at the Washington Hilton in D.C. on April 25, 2015. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo)

• Forget security and celebrities, one of the more buzzed-about topics that is the opposite of hush-hush is decibel level. "One thing you can't really tell by watching is how loud it is in that room," says Knox. "It gets very, very loud — possibly because of all the drinks consumed during the predinner cocktail hours."

• The main event may be on a Saturday night, but like any big awards show in Los Angeles, D.C. gets blitzed by a string of high-profile piggy-back events. "What used to be a sleepy office party has grown into a weekend event," says Knox. "There are events and parties as early as Thursday night, then definitely Friday night is a busy night, Saturday features the prereceptions, the dinner and afterparties, and there are brunches on Sunday."

• Speaking of afterparties, Knox says the toughest ticket in town is the joint bash thrown by Vanity Fair and Bloomberg. "That's the hardest one and the most packed with celebrities of the Hollywood variety," he says.

• Even Washington insiders are on the edge of their seats awaiting Obama's final bow. "Considering the performance that he gave last year, with the anger translator, we're all wondering how he will top it," Knox dishes. "As they get closer to the finish line, presidents tend to get looser, more frank and a little more energetic and fired up. I think that will translate to a bravura performance from the president."

comments powered by Disqus