Don Lemon reading his phone said it all.
The CNN anchor, along with CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, was grooving to the surprise performance of R&B artist Miguel in the cozy VIP section of Playboy’s maiden afterparty to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday — until the singer hit the midsection of his single “Come Through and Chill.”
While the chorus (“I wanna f— all night”) repeated two, three and then 10 times, Lemon was suddenly absorbed by something on his phone and then ducked out altogether, squeezing past a half-dozen dancing Playboy bunnies in their iconic strapless corset-teddies and not-to-be-messed-with rabbit ears. (“Would it be possible for you guys to put your ears down?” asked the event photographer unable to get a clear shot of Miguel. “No,” came the firm reply from a 6-foot-tall blonde.)
“Is it too much?” Miguel asked before launching his next number. “Is this not the right place?”
“We’re here to celebrate the First Amendment and freedom of the press,” Hefner, 26, told PEOPLE over the music. “That’s been a part of the company history for over five decades.”
The eyebrow-raising spectacle of Playboy at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (Hefner attended the black-tie dinner earlier Saturday with playboy.com’s first-ever White House reporter, Brian Karem), had journalists from The Washington Post and other more traditional news outlets lining up in a cold rain outside for a chance to join the crowd inside the Josephine Lounge, just six blocks from the White House.
“This just shows the crazy experience of being in Washington these days,” said Jordan Klepper of Comedy Central’s The Opposition, who vied with Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards and her husband Mauricio Umansky for the unofficial title of hottest non-D.C. celebrity at the party. “It does feel like Donald Trump has ushered in a whole lot of new things for Washington, D.C.,” Klepper added.
(Richards, in leather leggings and a little worried about being underdressed among the black-tie crowd, said she just happened to be in town to tour colleges with her 18-year-old daughter who wants to study business.)
But while the dozens of young women in rabbit ears at Saturday’s party had to be flown in from Los Angeles and New York, Hefner suggested Playboy is putting down roots in the Washington arena — with or without Trump, whose alleged affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal in 2006 and 2007 burst into headlines this year, drawing for the first time a straight line between the magazine and the office of the presidency. (Trump himself has a long history with Playboy.)
“It’s interesting, as a Washington outsider, to see the brand pop up in ways you wouldn’t expect it to,” Hefner said.
And he wants Playboy to do more in politics. “Us having a White House correspondent now is a reflection of my interest,” Hefner said. “I’m a history buff. I love government. And to not have a conversation about D.C. and what’s happening here right now is, for any content company or brand is a mistake. This is not a reflection of Trump as much as it is a desire for us to talk about politics more and also celebrate the fact that the First Amendment is ultimately, first.”
While he added that he hasn’t spent a lot of time in the nation’s capital, so he didn’t have a read on how unusual a Playboy party might be here (“Is it?” he asked), Hefner said he was surprised when House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, 78, told him at Friday night party at the British ambassador’s residence that she would be at the Playboy party Saturday night.
Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican from Arizona recently profiled on playboy.com, also responded to the invitation that he would come, Hefner said. But Flake’s press secretary contacted PEOPLE Sunday night to say Flake never accepted Playboy’s party invitation and instead sent his regrets by email. (That email, dated April 26 and citing Sen. Flake’s “scheduling conflicts,” was forwarded to PEOPLE as proof.)
“It’ll be funny — that would be great if they came,” Hefner said at the party nonetheless. “But Washington, D.C. is a very buttoned-up place, and I’m sure there are still some taboos around lawmakers getting photographed with a Playboy bunny.”
Indeed. Neither Pelosi nor Flake ever showed. And, when PEOPLE later caught up with Lemon over at MSNBC’s rival afterparty and asked about the Playboy soirée, the CNN anchor replied sheepishly, “I think I’m in trouble.”