Silicon Valley Buys D.C. a Drink at Annual Party Weekend
Silicon Valley companies may not like official Washington sometimes, but they’re increasingly happy to throw it a party.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft and a handful of other tech companies are hosting bashes in honor of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this weekend, an annual schmooze- and selfie-fest that started as a dinner and has grown into a four-day party marathon for politicians and journalists.
Tonight, nine parties are planned, including an event at the Institute for Peace co-sponsored by Google and Netflix which will include actors from Netflix’s “House of Cards.” Across town, Microsoft and AOL are helping sponsor a “New Media Party” that will feature craft cocktails, “spheres over the dance floor enabling guests to download music” and miniature talking robots.
There has never been a shortage of companies willing to host lavish parties for lawmakers and administration officials. But there has been a noticeable shift this year toward Silicon Valley firms throwing some of the largest bashes.
For firms like Google and Facebook, the parties represent a chance to gin up some goodwill among lawmakers, administration officials and journalists. Other tech companies, such as BuzzFeed and Yahoo, are using the weekend to draw attention to their burgeoning new media operations.
BuzzFeed and Facebook have teamed up to throw a six-hour party Saturday night, “Bow Ties & Burgers,” at a saloon a few blocks away from the Washington hotel that’s hosting the official dinner.
“The whole weekend is about being VIP and hard-to-get-on lists and we wanted ours to be more open,” said Ashley McCollum, vice president of development and communications at Buzzfeed. “The juxtaposition of celebrity and serious is very Buzzfeed-y in a way.”
It’s the first time Facebook has hosted an event during the party-heavy weekend in Washington. Neither Mark Zuckerberg nor Sheryl Sandberg is expected to attend, a company spokesman confirmed. The head of Facebook’s Washington office, Joel Kaplan, will help host the event, which is expected to draw upward of 700 people throughout the night.
“Co-hosting the party is just another way for Facebook to do what it does best: Connect people. And who wouldn’t want to throw a party with BuzzFeed?” said a Facebook spokesman. Party planners are expecting several celebrities to show up, including actress and producer Mindy Kaling and thespian Patrick Stewart.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will be at one of the company’s six tables at the dinner. Yahoo is also helping sponsor a pre-dinner party with ABC News and a post-dinner brunch on Sunday morning at a downtown museum.
Twitter opted against a party this year, a spokesman said, although the company is installing a Twitter Mirror at the Washington Post’s pre-dinner party Saturday night so guests can instantly tweet out their selfies via @PostPolitics.
Uber will be providing rides for guests to MSNBC’s* post-party as well as co-sponsoring a cellphone charging station for guests, a spokeswoman said. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is expected to attend the dinner itself as a guest of Time magazine.
Theoretically, the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner is supposed to be about honoring reporters who have done exceptional work the year before and raising money for journalism scholarships. In practice, it’s a chance to hit a bunch of open bars and gawk at random celebrities who show up.
This year, cast members from ABC’s political drama “Scandal” are expected to be in attendance, as well as Kristen Bell from the Disney movie “Frozen” (also, “Veronica Mars”), singer Jessica Simpson, Indianapolis Colt quarterback Andrew Luck and recent Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o.
Some news organizations invite mostly celebrities and advertisers (along with a smattering of Washington politicians and a reporter or two) to perch at tables scrunched uncomfortably close together in a large ballroom. Other news organizations allow reporters to invite sources to sit with them for an off-the-record dinner that they hope will lead to future scoops.
It’s a polarizing event. For every politico or journalist eager to take a selfie with Sofia Vergara, there’s another rolling his eyes and avoiding the whole scene. There are many critics of the dinner, who complain it’s wrong for reporters to party with the politicians they’re supposed to be holding to account.
The New York Times stopped attending the WHCA Dinner years ago because editors there felt the dinner had turned into an unseemly celebrity event. But that has left more space for other news organizations hoping to cram more bodies into the cavernous hotel ballroom where the dinner is held. The event sold out again this year.
* NBCUniversal is an investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.