WASHINGTON — Social media is transforming the social scene in the nation’s capital with the hottest inaugural events coming from major media venues.
The problem is, party etiquette on the social media front doesn’t fare well. With so much time hooked up to their machines, guests when they finally do get together want to do nothing more than talk to each other. So when it comes time for party hosts to make their pitches, no one wants to behave.
Digital age etiquette was strictest at the Google party over the weekend, where a Stalinist approach to silence forced guests to decide what they’d rather do with their mouths: eat, drink and be merry, or zip it and listen. Cohosted by Elle on the top floors of the National Portrait Gallery — where pasty, top-down lighting made anyone over 40 look like a “before” photo in a beauty section — no one wanted to stop talking. But party host Susan Molinari, the former Republican congresswoman recently hired by Google to run its Washington office, is all about command and control. Each time a powerful woman showed up, guests were supposed to stop talking, listen up and take notes on what a girl’s got to do to make it in politics. After a few hours, the drill was beginning to get old. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius arrived, took the microphone and everyone listened. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice showed up and everyone quieted down. By the time Sen. Amy Klobuchar from the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party showed up, the crowd had turned testy.
“Sshhhh,” Molinari hissed into her mic, trying to clear the air for another pep talk. No significant reduction in volume. Two more rounds of shushing and the hostess was beginning to boil. “You guys, we’re going to close down the bar,’’ she threatened. Still the buzz billowed around her as Klobuchar waited to speak. More shushing and finally, the hostess lost it. “I will shut the bar if you don’t be quiet,’’ Molinari repeated before adding another threat: “We will stop serving food if you don’t be quiet.’’
As guests began to flee out the door while others presented their cell phones for party organizers to check the bar code that guaranteed admission, one guest whispered, “Doesn’t she know that the best way to keep people from talking is to put food in their mouths?”
When at last Molinari handed Klobuchar the mic, the senior senator from Minnesota decided to punt, softening Molinari’s eating and drinking threats with her own brand of Capitol Hill-style bathroom humor. “I was featured once in Elle, and I didn’t get to keep the clothes,” Klobuchar plunged in before moving on to observe that 20 women now in the Senate marks the “first time in U.S. history’’ for a “traffic jam in the women’s bathroom.” It may be time for the Minnesota farm girl to get a new schtick — back in 2006, Klobuchar’s Elle profile opened with the observation that with 17 women in the Senate, she accidentally walked into the men’s room in the Hart Senate Office building to find that the male version was “twice as big as ours and has a shoe-shine chair.”
Google rival Microsoft had its own inaugural bash in its K Street downtown office, inviting congressmen and their families along with school kids from the Duke Ellington School to celebrate scientific achievement. But what about Apple? “The company has lots of money,” said one IT executive, “but they haven’t doneanything much for the community.’’
All three companies have one thing in common: They’ve all faced and survived the threat of antitrust investigation, most recently with the Federal Trade Commission’s year-end decision to drop its probe of Google.
Over at Café Milano, at the Newsweek & The Daily Beast party cosponsored by Credit Suisse, Tina Brown and Eva Longoria were both struggling to make their voices heard. No shushing here meant that no one stopped talking long enough to catch their drift. Fortunately, both kept their remarks short, leaving guests plenty of time to strut their brands.
President and chief executive officer of Politico, Fred Ryan, who served as Ronald Reagan’s post-presidential chief of staff, took a break from his own company’s inaugural luncheon seminar featuring issues discussed by politicians including newly elected Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), to drop by and check out the competition. “Newsweek is a great brand and Tina is a genius to marry it with Daily Beast. It gives them an opportunity to cover a lot of different avenues with lots of different audiences,” said Ryan, definitely up for running the inaugural party gamut. “Hey, after years of covering the election, this is our Super Bowl,” he crowed.
So what about shedding a tear for the print version of Newsweek, killed after the Harman family decided to scale back its investment?
“Everyone is sorry in a nostalgic sense to see print media vanishing,” said Daily Beast D.C. bureau chief Howard Kurtz, former media writer for the Washington Post. “We all live online now and, no doubt, that’s where the future is.”
As for the role of new media in the high energy, high society platform in hostess-challenged Washington, he noted, “People from both parties and a gaggle of celebrities at a Newsweek-Daily Beast bash — that’s very good for business as it enters the digital age.’’
Clearly old media godfather David Bradley, 59, owner of Atlantic Magazine and the National Journal, never got the memo. Hosted with his wife Katherine, his inaugural party offered enough finesse, elegance and style to warm the heart of the most diehard techie. Across the street from the Clintons’ and the Italian Embassy, limos lined up waiting, while inside guests enjoyed the warm glow of luxe around a roaring fire in the kitchen.
“Let me know where you are running for election so we can send you a check,” doe-eyed Beth Dozoretz told actress Ashley Judd, whose ensemble included a string of fuchsia orchid blossoms from her temple to her cheekbone.
Judd, who is considering running for national political office from her home state of Kentucky, showed up with Mark Ein, owner of the World Team Tennis League’s Washington Kastles team. Ein, D.C.’s techie investment whiz, met Judd in Guatemala on an AIDS prevention trip sponsored by PSI, a global health organization, funded by USAID. PSI is known for its stable of celebrity ambassadors including tennis star Anna Kournikova, and actress Debra Messing and singer-songwriter Mandy Moore. Judd, who isn’t sure just what campaign race to run in, played it coy, saying cryptically, “You have great chiropractors out there.”