Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / December 18, 1997 / 19 Kislev, 5758
Bill's B-list Bacchanalia
Press and politicos get cozy... to a point
WASHINGTON-- Slowly, the line shuffled forward in the chill air. The most famous names in journalism waited semi-patiently outside the wrought-iron gates, looking longingly at the White House.
Inside the White House were long, white-clad tables groaning under heaping platters of shrimp and smoked salmon and baby lamb chops.
Outside the White House was the national press corps waiting to get inside to start demolishing it all.
For 364 days a year, the press criticizes politicians for the benefits they enjoy that ordinary citizens do not.
But on one day each year, the day of the White House holiday party, the journalists line up to scarf down as much free food and guzzle as much free booze as they can at a party to which ordinary citizens are not invited.
Not that it affects the way we conduct our business. That is the beautiful thing about journalism: In most professions, when you are bought, you stay bought. In journalism, you can enjoy a lavish party as a guest of the president one night and then turn around and slam him the next. (This is why it is truly said that ethics are to journalism what Velveeta is to cheese.)
So there was Sam Donaldson of ABC standing in line, and there was Tim Russert of NBC. And there were oodles of print and radio reporters.
And then there was the King. The biggest name of all: Larry King.
I walked down the line to say hello to him. (I attend these holiday parties strictly as an experiment: to see if I can drink like a fish and still remain objective. I can. I do not always remain upright, but I always remain objective.)
King was standing next to a very beautiful woman, who I assumed was his wife. (It is always safe to assume that if Larry King is with a beautiful woman, it is his wife. Or, if she's not, she soon will be.)
But Larry King was not happy this night. He had been told he could not get inside the White House until he cleared security.
It did not matter that the Secret Service agent telling him this recognized him. Rules were rules. And before any visitors can get inside the White House, their names have to be run through a computer to make sure they are not low-life scum. (Or, if they are low-life scum that at least they have made a sizable contribution to the Democratic Party.)
This clearance is supposed to take place days before the party, but through some screw-up, scores of people had not been checked in time and were told to wait in a little pen outside the White House gates.
"I can't believe this," Larry King said. "My wife is cleared through security, but I'm not!" (Various theories were advanced as to why his wife might have an easier time getting inside the White House than he, but none of them are printable.)
King was fuming, but at least, he was in good company. I heard later that Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was also kept outside in the cold. (Greenspan was invited because his wife, Andrea Mitchell, is a television reporter. Either that or Greenspan holds the mortgage on the White House.)
The next day, a lot of the people who had to wait outside for 30 minutes or more called the White House and complained. And Tuesday, at his press conference, Clinton did not conclude by talking about foreign or domestic policy. He concluded by apologizing to the party-goers.
"Some of you had trouble getting in last night," the president said. "I am really sorry about that. Shows I haven't solved all the administrative problems with the government."
In any case, King and Greenspan did eventually get inside and got to enjoy the beautiful decorations, the military bands playing show tunes, the chorus singing Christmas carols and, of course, the free food and booze.
The cost of all this is picked up, I am told, by the Democratic National Committee. It gets its money, in part, by the president flying around the country to attend massive fund-raisers while at the same time saying he wants campaign finance reform to end massive fund-raisers.
Which is why my favorite part of the evening came when the band played "Send in the Clowns."
Everybody, myself included, should have taken one step forward.