A sample gag during cocktails:
Two men meet in an alley. One has a gun, which he waves menacing at the other man."Reagan or Carter?" he demands. Raising his hands in despair, the other man cries, "Shoot!"
A sample gag during dinner:
"We've got problems in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Cuba and Colombia," says the president. "How could you have gotten me into this fix, Dr. Brzezinski?"
"Well, Mr. President," Brzezinski replies, "I never promised you a Rose Garden."
As curtain lines for the windup session of the 1980 American Society of Newspaper Editors last night at the Washington Hilton, they may not have had everybody rolling in the aisles. But they pretty much reflected the skeptical nature of many of the 700 homeward-bound editors after four days of top-level briefings by big guns in and out of the administration.
Last night it was Zbigniew Brzezinski's turn, pinch-hitting for his boss, the president, who earlier in the day had been pinch-hitting for what some editors jokingly saw as his boss, the national security adviser. Ergo, the Rose Garden joke by Des Moines Tribune and Register editor Micheal Gartner, program chairman, when introducing Brzezinski to the black-tie crowd.
Brzezinski played along with the gag -- about his only bid for laughs in his 45-minute speech, which became an extension of President Carter's earlier foreign-policy address.
They had heard Carter, Ted Kennedy and Henry Kissinger earlier in the day, Brzezinski said, and two of the men want to be elected president -- "or perhaps it's even three. Out of fairness to Dr. Kissinger, looking to 1984, I do think we should amend the Constitution to allow people not born in the United States to run. I think that might open up some interesting possibilities -- and not just for him."
After that, it was all uphill as Brzezinski climbed into his now-familiar professorial chair to deliver a serious and thoughtful message on the perils and responsibilities of U.S. relations abroad.
"Tedious," moaned one guest later. "I can't believe this administration and their sense of timing. Can't they read an audience?"
Brzezinski seemed to think he could.
"The intellingent part of the audience responded enthusiastically," Brzezinski said when it was all over, in response to a question about how he read the audience reaction.
It was vintage Brzezinski. Earlier asked how the president liked the editor's reaction to his speech, which he was able to deliver without interruption by appluase, Brzezinski replied:
"He liked it as much as they liked the speech" -- (pause) -- "he was enthusiastic -- be sure and say 'enthusiiastic'," he coached.
Richard C. Garvey, editor of the Springfield, Mass., Daily News, got a different impression.
"I don't think it was politeness that restrained the editors from interrupting the president with applause today," mused Garvey, who had hoped to go home with a better idea of who he would vote for next November. But after a week of listening to candidates, from Ronald Reagan and George Bush to John Anderson, Carter and Kennedy, he was undecided as ever.
"I had no strong feeling of an Alexander Hamilton hiding behind a potted palm," said Garvey.
Donald W. Gormley, editor of the Spokane Spokesman Review, said he had failed to undergo any great transformation of mind.
"I was depressed about the choices, but I was depressed before I got here.
I didn't get the feeling that the best candidate is in the race. There's got to be somebody better," said Gormley.
Which may have been why the gag about the two guys in the alley started making its rounds over cocktails.
ASNE also presented $1,000 writing awards to three reporters: Cynthia Gorney, of the Washington Post Style section; Ellen Goodman, of the Boston Globe, and Carol McCabe of the Providence Journal.