If you think comedy is dead, you should have been with me in Washington DC for the White House correspondents' dinner last week. Seeing Ronald Reagan giving an award to Bob Woodward for 'investigating situations of national significance where the public interest is being ill served' had me literally holding my side in case of cramp. But perhaps I should have been crying. Woodward and the Washington Post have tried harder than anyone else this side of Pravda to discredit the Reagan administration, and watching Reagan praise their political hatchet-jobs by calling them public interest was on a par with the Soviet KGB-spokesman who compared the Gulag with a ski resort.
Nancy Reagan was quite funny, too. Her fixed smile and glazed look give her an Alexis Carrington look, fuelling the rumours that she's one tough cookie, firing and hiring people in the name of hubbie- protection. But such are the joys of Washington, where everyone reveres pow- er, and where everyone is interested in pursuing self-interest under the guise of serving the national interest.
The dinner is an annual event, and as the boot-licking society gossip columnist Suzy would say, everyone who is anyone was there. My host was Arnaud de Borchgrave, the editor of the Washington Times, the newspaper one needs to read if one wishes to know the truth, rather than the pro- Castro and pro-Sandinista crap published by the Post. Arnaud has been a close friend for over 20 years, but when it comes to dinners he trusts me as far as I trust the Israeli secret services. He had placed me between Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci. And although both gentlemen's ancestors came from the land of Sophia Loren, they both acted as if they were Greta Garbo, i.e., they didn't spill a single bean, which made leaky Greeky very frustrated. Mind you, they were both very charming and friendly, as Italians tend to be, especially Judge Scalia, who listened intently while I regaled him with stories of the rough treatment I have received at the hands of English justice. (In fact he laughed like hell when I described what Richard Hartley looks like).
Throughout the dinner, I could see Arnaud watching me and straining to hear what I was saying. I also noticed his permanent sun-tan fade a bit when he heard the word Pentonville, and saw it disappear completely when the Secretary of Defence, Cap Weinberger, sat down to speak with Scalia but got a monologue from Taki instead. Our conversation went something like this: 'Mr Secretary, may I convey to you Mr Andreas Papandreou's best regards and fervent wishes that you stop tilting toward the Turks.' I'm sorry, what was your name again, and what is your position?' I am the personal envoy of the Greek prime minister to this dinner.' I see, well, are you at least enjoying it?'
As Weinberger was about to jump up and leave, I did manage to tell him that I would be enjoying it much more if I was eating a well-done Papandreou, rather than the excellent steak that I was. That got a very wide smile from Cap, and we parted friends. Borchgrave's tan came back, too.
Watching the Washington establishment — or the Congressional/bureaucratic/ special-interest axis, as Richard Viguerie calls it — is more fun than I expected. First of all, people are extremely polite to each other, as no one knows for sure who is in and for how long, and when will the outs come back in. Although I got very drunk for a change, I don't think I got the kind of looks I'm used to getting in New York, where people are simply getting rather tired of my incapability to speak late at night, as well as by my insistence on doing so. I imagine Washingtonians mistook me for a Kennedy, or even Henry Fairlie. The best surprise, however, was when I found the ex-sainted editor of the Spectator with his arms wrapped around the beautiful Fawn Hall, 011ie North's girl Friday. There were 1,000 hacks trying to get to her, and she chose my friend Alexander. When I congratulated him from afar by clasping my two hands in the manner of a boxer, he yelled, 'Susie is in New York'.