For those of you who don't partake of this sort of thing, let me clue you in on a behind the scenes detail of so-called "events" in Washington: attending them as a labeled member of the "media" can often be humiliating and frustrating -- but, most of all, humiliating. The organizers treat people who write and shoot pictures for a living as an alien race who must be controlled and segregated, at all times, from the superior humans, which often, in addition to assorted A, B and C entertainment and business celebrities plus tax-payer paid public servants, include fellow members of the Washington media, who want to be celebrities. Oh, Lord. You know who they are. Reporters on one side of the rope are expected to interview and photograph reporters on the other side. It's a bizarre phenomenon of DC.
That's just the beginning of the whackness. I've been to events where even media spawn are presented as celebrities for the "scrum" to report upon -- and, sadly, they do.
So, what does that have to do with tonight's otherwise honorable dinner on behalf of AIDS, embodied by amfAR? Not much, except it was celebrity studded (STUDDED!!!) and there were, at the outset, lots of rules for the branded and segregated media (really, the PR abuse has reached a level where slapping an "M" on reporters' clothing would accurately reflect the discrimination doled out). Nothing to do with the amfAR people exactly. The funny thing was they managed the evening in a loosey-goosey manner, and I was appreciative. For every rule they enforced they let another be forgotten. Here's a funny contrast: working photographers, with serious camera muscle, got pushed back by handlers protecting Bill Gates and Anderson Cooper, while those of us with our iPhones were able to move in close.
What knots my knickers? Getting kitted out on a Saturday night, schlepping to an "event," and then finding my seat is with other writers, who (btw) feel the same as I do. We may get along but we didn't come out on a Saturday night to sit at a round table and stare at each other. Dear Event Planner: How, oh, how, do we write about your givers and believers and awesome staff and great accomplishments if we're seated on the sidelines at a table of people who have nothing to do with your cause? I've never, ever understood this logic and generally just get up and leave. I didn't tonight, because ... who knows why. Maybe because it was early. Maybe because that hot man item, Bill Gates, was in the room.
But seriously. Dear Event Planners, do you think this is anything but work for me? It's not. It's work. I enjoy the work, or I wouldn't be there, and especially when I'm given the privilege of experiencing the event, but If you want interesting and useful coverage you will seat me in the warm, moist center of your cause....because that is the story. This is not my social life. It's your social life, and the social life of your guests arrayed around the room, the paying customers, the folks who would like to talk about why they are there. Mix me up with them. Unless, of course, you want me to write a story about The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Washington Life, Capitol File, Bloomberg, Agence France Presse, Associated Press....etc. In other words, my table mates.
The good event planners and hosts understand, but the good are few.
Further, if you want good pictures, stop with those assinine backdrops. Stop fencing in the photogs. I can tell you, the public are weary of the tedious & endless same-same and boring photos shot before a "step and repeat." Be the first to kill it. You would get such better shots of your paying principals if you invited the photogs, the good ones, to roam during the cocktail hour and the seating of dinner. People look better in candids. For one thing, they look alive. The reading and viewing public are drawn to "real" moments. A backdrop photo is just about as original and fresh and unique as last night's lap dance.
So, I hope you've enjoyned my guerilla pics from tonight, in which Bill Gates mostly seemed to want to talk to Anderson Cooper, but politely got up as needed to be honored, to be photographed, and to wrap his arm around Sharon Stone. He did not wrap his arm around Nancy Pelosi, who smartly moved in for a prime photo at a prime moment. I know this because I got up from my table on the outer border of the dinner and walked over to where the action was, the Gates-Cooper-Stone table, to observe the goings on with my own two eyes. That's what made the amfAR people cool. They didn't deck check me.
Funny observation: When Bill and Sharon got up to talk and moved elsewhere, and Anderson was left with no one on his immediate left or right, he had only William Cohen, and they did their best to hit it off in the same way as Coop and Gates and Gates and Stone. At least Sharon's jacket was still there on the chair between them, suggesting something ... but what?
Before the political speeches began -- meaning the speeches by politicians -- I drifted from the big dinner only a few steps to a much smaller party nearby. It was for ONE, another foundation, created by Bono and supported by Bill and Melinda Gates, and where my friend Michael Elliott is CEO and President.
I ran into Michael almost immediately. He's an O.G. We met long ago over dinner at the N Street home of Trish and Mark Malloch Brown, another O.G. Mike was with Time at the time, and we had that in common, but now he's with Gates and Bono, two more O.G.'s. You choose. Also at the smaller ONE party was Barbara Bush, looking summery and comfortable in a tomato red dress. That small group were soon off to an AIDS concert at the Eisenhower Theater, joned by the folks from the larger Gates-Stone-Cooper dinner, which also included a bearded John Corbett.... and other celebs too numerous to get into right now. This will all be covered in full on washingtonian.com on Monday! You betcha.