Every Party But The Real One: A Night Chasing The #WHCD

Dinner guests after 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on Saturday, April 30 in Washington, D.C.

Dinner guests after 102nd White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday, April 30 in Washington, D.C. Meg Kelly/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Meg Kelly/NPR

The White House Correspondent’s Dinner-industrial complex has grown exponentially over time. Besides the dinner itself, the most high-profile annual social event in Washington, D.C., there are days of “nerd prom” events planned throughout the District — before and after the main event.

All the ramp-up parties hosted the week of, by the likes of Tinder and Google. The brunches on Saturday. The pre-parties on Saturday evening. The watch parties for those who can’t get in. The after parties Saturday night all around the city. The day-after “hangover brunches” on Sunday.

At the official ABC pre-party in the basement of the Washington Hilton Saturday evening, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright acknowledged that the correspondent’s dinner and all the hoopla that now surrounds it have grown over the years.

“I used to come 25, 30 years ago, and it was much smaller,” Albright told NPR. “It’s just different, very different. And I think people like coming and either looking at people or being looked at.”

She’s right. So much looking, and so much picture taking. Madeline Albright herself, selfie-ing with Scandal star Kerry Washington. Celebrity DJ Steve Aoki selfie-ing with comedian and Obama anger translator Keegan-Michael Key. “It’s pretty epic so far,” Aoki said. “It’s overwhelming. This is not my world at all.”

There’s reality TV star and Trump supporter Omarosa Manigault taking a phone from MSNBC host Chris Matthews to help him take more photos. Will Smith walking the red carpet, taking a selfie with all the photographers there, while they took photos of him taking the selfie. It’s hard to tell who the politicos are and who the fans are and who the celebrities are when everyone wants to be in everybody’s picture.

You could see this all as obscene excess — the establishment one-percent congratulating itself while the rest of the country languishes in a populist funk.

The very idea of “nerd prom” suggests it’s a party for people who shouldn’t really even be having a party. WHCD could be D.C. at its worst, or depending on how you look at it, D.C. at its best.

For Katie Caperones, a D.C. local who came to the lobby of the Hilton last night to people watch, it all made sense. “Because politics and Hollywood are almost the same thing now,” she told NPR. “The way that politics gets covered is like how Hollywood gets covered.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games. At the same time, just outside the Hilton, a few dozen protesters gathered to raise awareness of the plight of civilians in Syria, as that country’s civil war continues. “We’re here today because in the past 48 hours more than two hospitals [in Syria] were bombed directly by aerial attacks,” Mouaz Moustafa said, as police officers and yellow caution tape kept him away from the celebration. “The United States’ policy remains silent about the deaths of many, many civilians… We are here to make everyone that’s having a good time listen, and to remember that while we sit here and we dine and we joke, people and children are dying everyday.”

Such is nerd prom in Washington DC. An exercise in extremes. Protesters next to a party. Self-admitted nerds next to celebrities. So much excess, it makes sense to have so many events.

DJ Khaled and Arianna Huffington chatting with fans (L) and leaving the 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (R) on Saturday, April 30th in Washington, DC.

DJ Khaled and Arianna Huffington chatting with fans (L) and leaving the 102nd White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (R) on Saturday, April 30th in Washington, DC. Meg Kelly/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Meg Kelly/NPR

Even though they weren’t stars at the official dinner, Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, parading hip-hop producer DJ Khaled through the throngs, arm-in-arm, while a servant of some sort held an umbrella over her head, could have been the night’s best celebrity coupling. “He was the biggest star in the room,” Huffington said of her guest. “Everybody wanted selfies with him, pictures with him. Amazing.”

More amazing are all the people who sill celebrate WHCD even though they can’t actually get in. Ball gowns are purchased and tuxedos are rented just to attend ancillary events like the Politico watch party just down the street, or perhaps the most popular event of the night, The Onion‘s “Diamond Joe Biden’s Badass Balls-To-The-Wall Fiesta” held at The Newseum.

That event was in the spirit of The Onion‘s satirical depiction of the current Vice President, washing a Trans Am on the front lawn of the White House, or wearing a ponytail to the presidential inauguration. Attendees could take a picture with a shirtless Joe Biden cutout placed next to an empty pack of cigarettes and an unexplained pair of red panties, or walk through a fake Biden museum featuring his first marijuana joint. (NOTE: To be clear, the entire marijuana joint storyline was made up by The Onion.)

The entrance to the Onion’s “Diamond Joe” party that followed the 102nd White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday, April 30 in Washington, D.C. Meg Kelly/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Meg Kelly/NPR

Chad Nackers, head writer at The Onion, and one of the creators of “Diamond Joe,” said the persona he made for the Vice President isn’t true at all, and that’s why it works. “He’s straight-edge,” he said. “He’s totally straight-edge. He doesn’t drink!”

While a string quartet played 80’s rock hits, Nackers admitted that it is a bit ironic that one of the hottest tickets in town WHCD night would be put on by a fake news site, celebrating a caricature. When asked if it meant that The Onion was itself becoming establishment, he said, “Hell no. I think it’s great. I love it.”

For personal finance guru Suze Orman, who held court at multiple parties through the night, the entire scene is good — a chance for Washington to be something approaching its truest, kindest self.

“I think people play their roles very well on television,” she said, in between snapping selfies with fans. “I think when the TV comes off, everybody likes everybody,” commenting on the fact that at events like these you often see Republicans glad-handing with Democrats. “And I think they’re all good people… When it comes down to it, they’re nothing but people trying to make a buck.”

And for this crowd, part of making that buck is remaining famous, and being seen. Whether a Hollywood or D.C. celebrity, nights like WHCD might be a requirement for personal brand maintenance. And not just nights, but the days of run-up, and pre-, and post-, and reception. The entire WHCD-industrial complex.

Maybe it’s not a party for all these people. Maybe it’s just part of the job.

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From Tahrir To Tiananmen, 'City Squares' Can't Escape Their History

Cairo's Tahrir Square (seen here in January) isn't actually a square — it's a traffic circle. And today, years after it was the site of anti-government demonstrations, it's a beautifully manicured, sterile space.

Cairo’s Tahrir Square (seen here in January) isn’t actually a square — it’s a traffic circle. And today, years after it was the site of anti-government demonstrations, it’s a beautifully manicured, sterile space. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

From Mexico City’s Zócalo to Rome’s Piazza Navona, public squares have always been a vibrant part of urban life. After visiting Italy a few years back, editor Catie Marron began thinking about the different roles these public spaces have played. She asked some well-known writers to share their thoughts about famous squares around the world, and the resulting essays are gathered in a new book called City Squares.

Michael Kimmelman, one of the participating writers, says what’s important about a square is that it acts like a magnet, drawing people in. Unlike a park, where people go to retreat, a square is all about mingling with a crowd — it’s like a living organism in the heart of a city.

“For me a square is about a notion that we have of what an urban life can be and why we go to cities, what we look for in cities,” Kimmelman says. “And it has to do with a sense of community, a sense of shared values, a sense of greater possibilities and a sense of humanity.”

Kimmelman is the architecture critic for The New York Times, but he says the buildings that surround a square really aren’t that important. Just look at the squares of Rome: “There’s the Piazza Navona, an incredibly beautiful square with these great buildings by [Francesco] Borromini and sculptures by [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini,” he says. “But just a block or so away is the Campo de’ Fiori, which is to me one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. And there’s really nothing particularly distinguished about the buildings that surround that square, but it’s a hub of life. It speaks as much to what makes Rome a beautiful city and why people love it as does the Piazza Navona.”

Writer Michael Kimmelman says Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori is “one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. … It’s a hub of life.” Dan Kitwood/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Those Roman squares are places where people gather for pleasure — to shop at vegetable and flower stalls, to eat at nearby restaurants, to sit on the side of a fountain and talk with a friend.

Other squares aren’t so peaceful.

‘A Strange Emptiness’ In Tiananmen Square

On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops opened fire on demonstrators gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Seven years later, when City Squares contributor Evan Osnos went to China for the first time as a student, he headed straight to Tiananmen Square. “In some ways, for me, it was almost inescapable — that was the only place I could go first,” Osnos says. “I had to go to Tiananmen Square if I wanted to understand what China was and where it was trying to go.”

But Osnos was disappointed by what he found: China’s government had thoroughly reclaimed the space once occupied by protesters.

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos says by the time he visited Tiananmen Square (seen here in March) the government had erased all traces of the 1989 demonstrations.

The New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos says by the time he visited Tiananmen Square (seen here in March) the government had erased all traces of the 1989 demonstrations. Mark Schiefelbein/AP hide caption

toggle caption Mark Schiefelbein/AP

“At one point there were a million people in the streets of Beijing in and around Tiananmen Square, but then when I came to the place itself, any trace of those events had really been erased,” he says. “To the point that in fact the government had taken away whatever benches or shade trees there used to be around the edge because they really didn’t want people collecting in Tiananmen Square anymore. And so there was a strange emptiness about it.”

The Tiananmen Osnos discovered couldn’t tell him where China was going — it was forever linked to the past, to an event people still talk about in whispers and that the government still wants its citizens to forget. But the square itself is a constant reminder of what happened there.

“Squares retain their history,” says City Squares editor Catie Marron. “They really can’t escape that.”

The ‘Spontaneous Energy’ Of Tahrir Square

In recent years, social movements have gotten their start on the Internet (the virtual square) but they’ve quickly moved out into the streets. “Social media announced what was going on — it brought people to the square, it gave people information,” Marron says. “But where people made their protests, where they made their voices heard was not on the Internet; it was in the physical square.”

Back in 2011, when social media was spreading the word about anti-government demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Egyptian government blocked Facebook and Twitter. But City Squares contributor Jehane Noujaim says the government’s actions drew even more people to Tahrir to find out what was going on.

Noujaim made an Oscar-nominated documentary about the protests called The Square. She says, “I grew up 10 minutes away from the square and I had never experienced Egypt in the same way that I did when I went to that square. … I felt Egyptian. … I felt a pride in how people were standing up for what they believed in and really attempting to write their own story. And I’d really never seen such a large number of people talking together, sleeping, setting up tents. And it had this kind of spontaneous energy to it where people would come — come with a tent, come with a blanket, join — and you didn’t know how long it would last.”

That energy has given way to harsh political realities in Egypt. Noujaim says Tahrir Square is still meaningful to her, but now it’s a beautifully manicured, sterile space. And if there’s one thing that the writers in this book make clear, it’s that squares are always changing — just like the people who inhabit them.

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Who's Behind The Demonstrations That Stormed Iraq's Green Zone And Parliament?

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone on Saturday.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Saturday. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Highlighting the simmering political tensions in Iraq, hundreds of protesters stormed Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone Saturday and entered the country’s Parliament.

The breach of the Green Zone, which houses Iraq’s ministries and the U.S. Embassy, is “unprecedented,” Reuters says. Most of the protesters are supporters of fiery Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the breach happened after deadlock in Parliament continued to delay government reforms.

For now, at least, the demonstrators are withdrawing from the area, Reuters reports. They have vowed to “return by the end of the week to keep up the pressure” if their demands aren’t met.


This comes after an order from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “arrest and prosecute those among the protesters who had attacked security forces, lawmakers and damaged state property after breaking into the Green Zone,” The Associated Press reports.

Video from the demonstration shows hundreds of protesters waving flags, cheering and chanting inside the parliament building. A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad says the demonstrations “included property damage and violence against some individuals.”

The protesters appeared to make themselves comfortable during their time in the Green Zone; a Washington Post reporter noticed demonstrators enjoying a swim during their sit-in.

Some protesters having a dip at the parade ground in the Green Zone where Sadrists have set up camp. #Baghdad pic.twitter.com/aS8aeoZ2jf

— Loveday Morris (@LovedayM) May 1, 2016

These are not straightforward anti-government protests. The demonstrators are instead calling for Abadi to follow through on wide-ranging government reforms, including “measures to end sectarian quotas in politics and fight corruption,” The New York Times reports. The protesters also want to see technocrats replace politicians in several cabinet positions.

Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in the holy Shiite city of Najaf on Saturday.

Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in the holy Shiite city of Najaf on Saturday. Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images

The Times adds: “Rather than pushing for the ouster of Mr. Abadi, they have largely supported the prime minister as he has sought to make good on promises, still unfulfilled, to improve how the government works.”

The newspaper adds that “politicians dependent on patronage and government perquisites” have been obstacles to carrying out these reforms.

If you remember, Sadr’s Mahdi Army — an “anti-government, anti-America militia,” as NPR has described it — rose up in 2004. As the war continued, the group became increasingly sectarian and “was behind some of the most brutal killings during those years.”

Sadr returned to Iraq from self-imposed exile in Iran in 2011, appearing more open to working within the existing political system.

Since then, alliances have shifted. NPR’s Alice Fordham has reported that the Mahdi Army — now called the Peace Brigades — is fighting on the same side as the U.S. against Islamic State militants. It’s a reality that “all sides involved have reservations about,” as Alice reported.

Then came Sadr’s major political reemergence in February, criticizing government inaction on reforms. As The New Yorker writes, “Sadr knows how to choose his moments, and earlier this year he was back in the news, after a long and unexplained absence.”

He’s been rallying his supporters at protests sometimes hundreds of thousands strong.

The New Yorker says Abadi’s political survival could depend on Sadr:

“At the least, [Abadi] knows he will have to contend with Sadr in order to retain stability on Iraq’s streets, and power for himself. In the rumbustious mosh pit of Iraqi politics, knowing how to survive is everything. At the rate he is going, Moqtada al-Sadr could well end up as the last man standing.”

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Daniel Berrigan, Activist Jesuit Priest Who Opposed Vietnam War, Dies

Daniel Berrigan speaks in Colorado in 1974.

Daniel Berrigan speaks in Colorado in 1974. Jodi Cobb/Denver Post via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jodi Cobb/Denver Post via Getty Images

The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who became emblematic of the movement opposing U.S. involvement in Vietnam after an audacious act of civil disobedience, died on Saturday.

The Jesuit magazine, America, reports that he died at age 94 at the Murray-Weigel Jesuit Community in the Bronx, New York.

Berrigan was an acclaimed poet but he came to national prominence when he and eight others stole hundreds of draft records from the Selective Service Offices in Catonsville, Maryland.

They walked outside and set the documents on fire using homemade napalm.


Berrigan was taken to jail. During his trial, the burnt documents were trotted into court.

“They introduced those in evidence as though they were important,” Berrigan said in the documentary Investigation of a Flame. “And they were nothing. I mean we had burned papers instead of children. That was our crime.”

The New York Times reports that Berrigan was convicted of destroying government property and he was sentenced to three years in prison. He tried to evade authorities but was eventually caught.

The Times adds:

“[His brother] Philip Berrigan had been the main force behind Catonsville, but it was mostly Daniel who mined the incident and its aftermath for literary meaning — a process already underway when the F.B.I. caught up with him on Block Island, off the Rhode Island coast, on Aug. 11, 1970. There was ‘The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,’ a one-act play in free verse drawn directly from the court transcripts, and ‘Prison Poems,’ written during his incarceration in Danbury.

“In ‘My Father,’ he wrote:

I sit here in the prison ward
nervously dickering with my ulcer
a half-tamed animal
raising hell in its living space

In recent years, America Magazine reports, Berrigan continued his anti-war activism. He protested the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Malia Obama Will Attend Harvard, White House Says

President Barack Obama jokes with his daughter Malia Obama as they walk to board Air Force One from the Marine One helicopter, as they leave Chicago en route to Los Angeles last month.

President Barack Obama jokes with his daughter Malia Obama as they walk to board Air Force One from the Marine One helicopter, as they leave Chicago en route to Los Angeles last month. Jacquelyn Martin/AP hide caption

toggle caption Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Ending months of speculation, the White House has announced that Malia Obama will attend Harvard starting in Fall 2017.

A statement from the office of the First Lady reads: “The President and Mrs. Obama announced today that their daughter Malia will attend Harvard University in the fall of 2017 as a member of the Class of 2021.”

The statement says Malia, the elder of the two Obama daughters, will take a “gap year” before starting at Harvard – a break that the school encourages in order to “travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way.”

Both Barack and Michelle Obama graduated from Harvard Law School.

Malia’s college application process and decision have long been the subject of rumors. She was reportedly seen wearing a Harvard shirt during her school’s college signing day, setting off a flurry of excitement from the Harvard community.

According to The New York Times, she toured a range of schools, including at least six Ivies: “Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale,” along with Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. The Times reports she also visited New York University, Tufts, Barnard and Wesleyan.

The Los Angeles Times reports that her grades and test scores have “been a closely guarded secret,” though as the newspaper reports, Obama has said she is a “hard worker.”

President Obama has been openly emotional about Malia getting ready to depart for college. “Malia is more than ready to leave, but I’m not ready for her to leave,” he said during a February interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

He adds that he turned down a request to speak at Malia’s graduation from Sidwell Friends School in Washington this spring:

“I was asked if I would speak at her graduation and I said absolutely not. Because I’m going to be sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing. She’s one of my best friends, and it’s going to be hard for me not to have her around all the time. But she’s ready to go. You can tell, she’s just a really smart, capable person and she’s ready to make her own way.”

Malia has shown an interest in filmmaking and had an internship on the set of HBO’s show “Girls” last summer.

Other children of world leaders have attended the school. According to The New Yorker, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s daughter is a recent Harvard graduate. The magazine reported that she lived “under an assumed name,” with only a handful of people aware of her identity.

Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, also attended Harvard.

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With Primary Season In Final Stretch, Sanders Reports Slowed Fundraising

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in Pennsylvania before the state's April 26 primary.

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in Pennsylvania before the state’s April 26 primary. Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders monthly fundraising totals for 2016.

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Bernie 2016 campaign

The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders announced on Sunday that his campaign raised $26 million in April, fueled largely by small donations, a drop-off from the $46 million he raised in March and $42 million in February, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The slowing pace comes as the primary season heads into its final month, with Sanders practically out of reach of the Democratic nomination.

Sanders has outpaced Clinton in fundraising, though. His campaign pointed out that the $26 million he raised in April exceeds the $21 million she raised in March. Clinton’s campaign has not yet released April fundraising numbers.

Sanders often points out on the campaign trail that his average donation totals $27, but in April his campaign says the average donation was $26. Clinton’s average donation has remained above $40.

In total, Sanders has now crossed the $200 million mark for the campaign — with a fundraising sum of $210 million. As of last month, his total fundraising was outpacing Hillary Clinton by nearly $20 million.

Sanders is vowing to continue his campaign to the end, and the continued flow of money, even if it’s slowing, means he can. The Sanders campaign announced last week that it was slashing its staff to about a third of its size from a month ago, with most primaries in the rear view mirror and prospects for a general election campaign for Sanders evaporating.

Aside from fundraising totals, Sanders has a less favorable picture when it comes to the numbers that decide the nomination: Delegates. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, now has more than 90 percent of the delegates she needs to clinch, with superdelegates included. Clinton has a lead in pledged delegates of more than 300.

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