A media dinner money can’t buy
VUSLAT DOĞAN SABANCI
Hürriyet newspaper chairwoman Vuslat Doğan Sabancı poses with Robert De Niro at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s 100th Dinner.Is there anything on earth that money can’t buy? I’m not talking about those things such as honor, pride, love, etc., that do not have a price tag on them. There are those things also that have a price, an actual ticket, but when you try to buy it they are nowhere to be found.
For a member of the media, the White House Correspondents’ Association’s 100th Dinner is one that you cannot buy with money.
This year, for this dinner more than 2,500 tickets were on sale but it was not possible to find them anywhere because major media organizations bought these tickets and gave them to their special guests. They were selected from media outlets well-known in the world and influential in their countries.
This year it was only Hürriyet that was invited from Turkey to join the other invited global media giants in this dinner.
The factor that makes this annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner so important is that the U.S. president once a year goes on to the stage in front of all media and makes fun of all that has been written about him all year long. He makes fun of himself and the media.
For me these speeches are those significant moments when the culture of living together is embraced as well as freedom of the press and democracy.
Invited by one of world’s major news agencies, The Associated Press, representing Hürriyet, me and my husband Ali Sabancı flew to Washington last Friday. I was excited to be participating in such an evening, however, I was slightly sad at the end of the night. I had experienced very much live a culture that strongly adopts freedom of expression that provides the opportunity for everyone in America to speak up.
Barack Obama harshly criticized the media and the media Obama, but the language of criticism sent 2,500 people bursting into laughter. While we were saying goodbye to our hosts, I was thinking, “Such a night would suit Turkey so much.”
Like the set of the film ‘Scandal’
I was excited because I would be participating in this 100th annual dinner, which I had been watching from the media for years. However, while we were checking in at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, my excitement doubled. The hotel was like the film set of these popular series such as “Scandal,” “House of Cards” and “Veep.” Important names from U.S. politics and the media world as well as Hollywood were there.
Hair stylist of the Washington elite
My hair stylist in Istanbul had told me that he arranged that my hair and make-up would be done in the hotel we were staying. It turned out to be that Washington’s most famous hair stylist is İsmail, who left Istanbul 15 years ago. He styles the hair of several celebrities from Madeleine Albright to Ariana Huffington. I was comfortable knowing that I was in good hands. İsmail’s make-up artist, Chris, was at the same time doing make-up for Michelle Obama. He said he would go to the First Lady after me. I asked him how often he did make up on Michelle Obama. He said 365 days. She often takes him on international trips.
Most elegant lady: IMF Chair Lagarde
The evening started at 6 p.m. as every year at the Washington Hilton Hotel – where Ronald Reagan was shot. We first participated in the special cocktail of The Associated Press. Together with us was AP’s Turkey Representative, Zeynep Alemdar. We were the only three Turks among the 2,500 guests. Even though most of the guests were Americans, there was a strange disconnection. There is absolutely no harmony between sparkling Hollywood stars and conservative Washington politicians. One of the most elegant women of the night was IMF President Christine Lagarde with her pink stone-embroidered dress with a low cut on the back. I told Alemdar, “Well again, the French elegance…” Zeynep told me, “You’re right but the length of her skirt could be a bit longer.” We laughed ourselves into the hall.
The flow of the evening
American media named Obama the “Killer Comedian.” What everybody was talking here was that President Obama has become the most effective president ever using humor.
- LIVE FROM THE RED CARPET: Just like the Oscars, Live from the Red Carpet started here this year. CNN Television this year broadcast live from the red carpet the evening where 2,630 tickets were sold and several Hollywood stars and honor guests were hosted.
- SELFIE SESSION AT THE RED CARPET: President Obama with First Lady Michelle Obama was at the Hilton Hotel on 7 p.m. There was huge applause at the entrance to the hotel. People tried to shoot selfies. At 7:15, they sat at the table reserved for them in the hall at a high platform.
- NEW TITLE FOR OBAMA: THE KILLER COMEDIAN: The American media named President Obama the Killer Comedian since from the time Obama took office, he has performed an impressive stand-up show at the stage every year at White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The reason for this was that previous presidents generally only made fun of themselves. However, Obama changed the rule of the game in 2011 and in his speech he started mocking the guests in the hall. His speech three years ago making fun of property tycoon Donald Trump has taken its place among the unforgettable moments of the history of balls.
- DALLAS’ BOBBY EWING: Among the celebrities who came to the ball this year were actor Robert de Niro, the director of the Oscar-winning film “12 Years A Slave,” Steve McQueen, five-time Grammy-winner singer Gloria Estefan, Dallas’ Bobby Ewing and Patrick Duffy.
- FUN: Obama made fun of three news channels. What the American media calls “The Nerd Prom” President Obama made a wonderful stand-up show for 20 minutes, ridiculing news channels.
For the endless coverage of CNN on the missing Malaysian aircraft, he said, “I think they’re still searching for their table.”
About the drop in MSNBC’s ratings: “They’re a little overwhelmed. They’ve never seen an audience this big before.”
On Fox News’ constant criticizing of him appearing on Zach Galifianakis show, “Between two ferns”: “And to be fair, I am not the first person on a television between two potted plants.” He showed the photo of Fox and “Friends” host Elizabeth Hasselbeck sitting between two men.
About the propaganda that he was born in Kenya generated by the Republicans: “It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”
Joke of the evening
The presenter of the 100th Annual White Correspondents’ Dinner was popular comedian Joel McHale, 43, known for hosting “The Soup” on E! since 2004 and also known for his pop-culture satires. He owes his fame to his role on the NBC sitcom “Community.”
Just imagine that in Turkey, the Association of the Prime Ministry Correspondents organized such a dinner and that the evening was hosted by the head of the “Zaytung Haberler…” Even the thought of that would be worth the entire world…
The joke of the evening was this wonderful one of his about Hillary Clinton being elected the first female president of the U.S.: “As our first female president, we could pay her 30 percent less,” he said. “That’s savings our country could use!” McHale was referring to women being paid less compared to men doing the same job.
McHale’s speech was merciless. He delivered biting humor from Obama to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. As a matter of fact, at the end of his speech, he said: “And here’s why America is the best country in the world: A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy, and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I am going to the Vanity Fair after-party. “
White House conspirators
Lately, there has been a boost in television/Internet serials depicting Washington politics such as “House of Cards,” “Scandal” and “Veep.” The actors in these shows were the stars of the night. Robin Wright from “House of Cards” and actors from “Scandal” were there as well as the leading actor of “Veep,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The White House is not complaining about having been made fun of or that it is being talked about even if it is in conspiracies.
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) is known as an association that was born of a rumor. In 1914 during the President Woodrow Wilson era, when rumor spread around that a parliamentary commission would select the correspondents who would participate at press conferences, the capital’s journalists formed an association to oppose that.
The annual dinners of the WHCA started in 1920. Until 1962, it was only men participating in these dinners. That year, one of White House’s first female correspondents, Helen Thomas, wanted to take part in the dinner. When President John F. Kennedy said he would not participate if the female correspondent was not admitted, the ban against women was de facto lifted.
The biggest issue was going to the bathroom during the meal. The WHCA Dinner is known to be one of the world’s strictest security receptions. Almost all the tickets are bought by major media organizations and are used to treat important guests. Guests have to show their tickets and an official photographed identity card at the entrance of the hotel.
Without any exception everybody goes through a metal detector. After the gong, all guests pass through a second checkpoint under the supervision of the White House Secret service.
The ballroom is two floors below the ground floor of the hotel and most mobile phones do not work here. And this is considered a good thing in terms of security.
The guests are especially warned about this: If you need to step outside to the bathroom or to make a phone call, you have to take your ID with you because on your way back you will again be checkrf by the secret service.
There are interesting characteristics of guest lists.
Government officials are written with their titles. Media guests are stated according to the companies they work for. Guests that are not media are listed under the cities they live in.
As is done each year, this year also a guest of honor that sat at each table. This year the distribution of honor guests was as such:
- NBC Table: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough
- ABC Table: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew
- Yahoo Table: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
- Atlantic Table: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
- CNN Table: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, considered a strong candidate for Republican presidential candidate in 2016