Journalists Attend the White House US-Africa Leaders Summit Dinner as Guests

Instead of covering the event, a few lucky members of the media were wined and dined alongside African heads of state.

President Boni Yayi of Benin laughs with President Barack Obama as they arrive at “Session 3: Governing the Next Generation” at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 6, 2014.
President Boni Yayi of Benin laughs with President Barack Obama as they arrive at “Session 3: Governing the Next Generation” at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 6, 2014. Jim Watson/Getty Images

8 From Fourth Estate Join 400 Honoring African Leaders

Members of the media are accustomed to being on the outside looking in when the White House hosts social events, but at least eight were invited guests when the president entertained African heads of state Tuesday night.

“I’m way more used to being with the [White House] press pool, cordoned off on one side of the room, for events like this,” Helene Cooper of the New York Times told Journal-isms by email. “I kept gravitating back towards them, knowing that’s where I belonged.”

April D. Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks said she didn’t mind being on the inside at all. “It was magical. It was beautiful,” she said by telephone on Wednesday. “You wouldn’t think that you were at the White House. Everybody was sitting with some head of state.”

Other journalists among the 400 guests were Vanessa Bush, editor-in-chief of Essence magazine; Tatsha Robertson, formerly of Essence and People magazines; Michelle Miller of CBS News; Paula Madison, businesswoman and retired NBCUniversal executive; CNN anchor Isha Sesay, and DeWayne Wickham, USA Today columnist and dean, Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism & Communication. Robertson said she was there as a guest, not as a journalist.

The dinner was part of a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit aimed to strengthen ties between the United States and the continent. It was the first event of its kind. Prominent Africans in other fields joined the heads of state and business leaders.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see friends there,” Madison said by email, “DeWayne, Michelle Miller and Marc Morial and Vanessa Bush. And the woman responsible for me becoming a journalist — LaFleur Paysour — was my guest. My very first White House dinner included POTUS and FLOTUS out on the dance floor!!!

“My fellow Chinese Jamaican and Heather Foster of the White House Office on Africa made sure I was in attendance and our network, The Africa Channel, is covering the African summit from beginning to end. It was a dream come true!”

Paysour works in media relations and public affairs at the Smithsonian Institution; Miller is a reporter for CBS News and Morial, her husband, is president of the National Urban League.

Robertson left People, where she was a senior editor, a month ago and is working on two books. She said she found the White House event “both jarring and incredibly thrilling.”

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