There was a party in the East Room of the White House Saturday night, an affair attended by a reported 500 people, a lavish celebration with celebrities galore, appearances by some of the world's most popular performers, lots of dancing and powerful government officials, including, of course, the most powerful official of all, the President of the United States. And the White House wants to make sure you know as little as possible about it.
The event was First Lady Michelle Obama's 50th birthday party. According to reports in People, the Chicago Tribune, TMZ, US Magazine, and elsewhere, among of the attendees were, in no particular order: Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Janelle Monae, Mary J. Blige, Angela Bassett, Courtney Vance, Herbie Hancock, Samuel L. Jackson, Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning, Ledisi, Emmett Smith, Star Jones, Al Roker, Steve Harvey, Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King, Michael Jordan, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Gayle King, Ahmad Rashad, Kal Penn, and Ashley Judd. Among the current and former government officials attending were Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Rice, Eric Holder, and Kathleen Sebelius.
It's not easy to enforce discipline on successful, wealthy, and famous people used to having their own way. But the White House apparently did not want to see photos of the first lady's glittery gala circulating around the Internet. So it imposed a strict rule: No cellphones. "Guests were told not to bring cellphones with them, and there was a cellphone check-in area for those who did," reported the Chicago Tribune. "Signs at the party told guests: No cellphones, no social media." People magazine added: "Guests had been greeted by a 'cell phone check' table where they deposited their camera phones on arrival and it was understood that this was not an occasion for Tweeting party photos or Facebooking details." The publications cited sources who insisted on anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.
"So great was the secrecy surrounding the party," the Tribune reported, "that guests were handed an invitation — on their way out, the sources said."
So far, the crackdown appears to have been a success. Although a few attendees have tweeted that they had a great time, or that they danced until their feet could take no more, the Web has not been filled with photos of the first lady's extravagant celebration. Perhaps some will appear; maybe the White House will even release an official photo. But it's unlikely the public will see much.
Why the secrecy, especially for an event involving so many well-known people? Maybe the Obamas just wanted a little privacy for an important occasion in the first lady's life, although having 500 guests, including some of the most famous people on the planet, is perhaps not the best way to achieve that goal. Or maybe, since the president has announced he is devoting the rest of his time in office to an "inequality agenda," the White House felt photos of a champagne-soaked, star-studded party would be somewhat off-message. But the Obamas are well-off, accomplished people. They can have a big party if they want (and if they pay for it). Why hide it?