DC Journalists Get Together Naked to Sweat After Watching Wolf Blitzer

“He believes networking in the nude to be an absolute moral good.” Talk about the incestuous relationship amongst sources, policy-makers and members of the Washington press corps, a front page Washington Post story on Thursday, “A Hot Spot for Diplomacy,” uncovered how DC-insiders get together for a weekly sauna session in the basement of Finland’s embassy – with Wolf Blitzer on the TV beforehand as they sip vodka and munch on “a buffet of red gravlax and white trout, shrimp and Finnish meatballs.”

The Post’s Jason Horowitz revealed the activities of “the Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society of D.C.” which “counts among its 150 members the operatives who make Washington spin: Capitol Hill staffers, public-policy wonks, lobbyists, administration officials -- and reporters eager to pick up some off-message analysis.” The March 18 article named four participants from DC’s press corps: “Rick Dunham, the Hearst Newspapers bureau chief,” “Eve Conant, a Newsweek correspondent,” “Mark Landler, the New York Times diplomatic correspondent” and “Wall Street Journal correspondent Jay Solomon.”

The organizer, Kari Mokko, press secretary for the Embassy of Finland, is a journalist too: “On hiatus as the anchor of ‘Silminnäkijä,’ or Eyewitness, a Finnish Broadcasting Co. current-affairs program, he is at home with reporters, delighting in the exchange of phone numbers, story leads and private information at the sauna. He believes networking in the nude to be an absolute moral good.”

On its Web site, the embassy boasted of the story: “Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society praised by Washington Post.”

An excerpt from Horowitz’s piece:
....The society's private Facebook page, which Mokko maintains, expounds that the society's mission is to "exchange breaking D.C. news and hot scoops, create buzz and get refreshed in great company" and to "spread the word about the joys of Finnish sauna culture and other great achievements of Finns inside and outside the Capital Beltway."...

Melissa Merz, a principal at the public affairs firm Podesta Group, arrived with her husband, Robert Mackey, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and historian hired by the government to declassify documents. The group then grew to include Lynne Weil, the communications director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee; her husband, Nils Bruzelius, an executive editor at the Environmental Working Group; and Christine Mangi, a spokeswoman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) at the Senate Republican Conference.

"There's a client I'd love for you to meet," Merz pitched to a fellow guest, as Weil credited the sauna with creating "harmony in Washington" and advised everyone to "watch your alcohol intake before going in." Mackey talked excitedly about archival finds ("He's very excited because he saw J. Edgar Hoover's signature today," his wife said), and Mangi assured the society newcomers, "Your skin will feel wonderful for days."

A short time later, Mark Landler, the New York Times diplomatic correspondent, arrived with his wife, Angela Tung, a lawyer who wore a made-in-Finland Marimekko dress. Wall Street Journal correspondent Jay Solomon and Block, the AIPAC spokesman, followed. Conversation subjects included mosquitoes in Alaska and the difference between East Coast and West Coast Navy SEALs. Mangi told a story about how, the day after a sauna visit, she met a man at a party who commented that she looked a decade younger. "I said, 'God, that sauna does amazing things for the skin,' " she said....

At 7:30, Mokko led the group down three flights of stairs, past a sign on a door that read "Varoitus. Lattia Liukas!" (Warning, Floor Is Slippery!). The basement was decorated with brightly patterned Marimekko pillows on wooden furniture, photos of fair-skinned Finns stretching on rock beaches and a projector beaming Wolf Blitzer's "The Situation Room" onto the wall. A bottle of Finlandia vodka awaited guests on a bar across from a buffet of red gravlax and white trout, shrimp and Finnish meatballs....

When all the women had emptied out of the sauna, the men rotated into a changing room where piles of kulho (pots) and haude (grills) sat under shelves of folded towels. The society members disrobed under wooden pegs, shed their glasses, grabbed towels and brown pelfetti (sauna seat mats), and snatched beverages from an aluminum ice bucket brimming with beer cans and water.

At first blush, the sauna does not feel so blistering. ("It's got proper airflow so you don't feel like somebody is putting a blowtorch in your face," said Erik "Erkki" Lindstrom, who built the embassy sauna in 1994.) Its walls are built from Virginia pine logs, and its benches are made from boards of African obechi wood. ("It's cool to sit on," Lindstrom explained in a phone interview.) An electric heater in the corner warms 200 pounds of igneous rocks and, according to a thermometer on the wall, raises the room's temperature to about 190 degrees.

Dousing the rocks with water, or, as Mokko sometimes does, beer, causes an overwhelming wave of löyly ("the steam that comes off the stones," Mokko translated), but the temperature stays the same. ("It's like an August summer in D.C.," Lindstrom said. "When you have 100 percent humidity, it's going to get bad.")

The men picked out spots on the upper benches ("Whoa!" someone yelled. "Scorch them berries!"), and the sweating started instantly....
With John King, USA taking over the 7 PM DC time hour as of Monday, I guess that means the sauna participants will have a new CNN star to watch before getting hot and naked.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center