It may go down as the greatest government search of the newsroom ever, and it turned up some pretty unusual material.
"How are you? It's a real pleasure, good to see you looking so well," said Rep. John Anderson, shaking the hand of President Carter, who was slowly working his way around the sparkling new Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times last night.
"A real pleasure," said the president.
Carter decided to attend the newspaper's big bash for its new offices, which attracted more than 700 media and political heavies, on one side of the better days for the Carter administration in a month weighted down by the "Billygate" brouhaha. Earlier in the day, a jubilant Jody Powell had produced the much discussed cable dealing with Billy Carter's visit to Libya and said there was no indication the president had seen them or shown them to his brother. Close to midnight, Powell, still festive, led the remaining party-goers in "Amazing Grace."
According to Hamilton Jordan, the president probably decided to come to the Los Angeles Times party because "You don't get to see the people who manage the Times."
Or some of the other guests, he might have added.
Moments before the president approached, Anderson had turned away to try to move out of range. "I'm not moving in his direction," he remarked. tBut an enterprising secret service agent put his hand on Anderson's shoulder and the congressman changed his mind.
"I look forward to seeing you in the fall," said Carter to Anderson, clasping the congressman's hand, their smiles equally fixed.
"In a debate?" asked Anderson.
"Yes," responded the president, who moved on.
A number of familiar faces confronted the president just around the first corner of the newsroom.
"How's it going?" the president asked Henry Kissinger, accompanying a vigorous handshake with an enormous grin. "Been reading about you lately," the president said, and they both laughed loudly.
The president was led along the newsroom aisles by Jack Nelson, the Los Angeles Times bureau chief, known as a newsman with good friends in the Carter adminstration. "Sometimes I read excerpts from it," Carter said of the paper.
"I don't tell him anything," the president replied when asked if he gives it all to Nelson. "I don't know where he learns it," he said, grinning again.
The chief's lieutenants also naturally thought that last night would be as good a time as any to confer with the press. Secretary of State Muskie, Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, White House counsel Lloyd Cutler, Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell all made appearances. So did Rosalynn Carter, who got cut off from her husband in the crush. She caught up with him near the elevator where as he was leaving, he told Washington Star editor Murray Gart, "I'll watch for your headline in the morning."
Powell stayed long into the night, listening to the blue grass music played by the aptly named Informed Sources band, composed in part of newsmen.
"Just because I have my hands in my pockets doesn't mean I'm scratching," Powell told some folks, apparently feeling pretty loose. Asked why the president had come, Powell deadpanned: "I think he wanted to meet Henry Kissinger."
The Times switched to the 11th-floor offices at 1875 Eye St. NW because, as publisher Tom Johnson explained simply, "We lost our lease." With it they also lost their treasured view out over the old Executive Office Building. But the staff put the best face on it last night.
Along with talk of other woes, there were remarks about a problem of reporters whose home base is 3,000 miles away -- readership in Washington.
"It would be difficult to be widely read here," said Johnson, "but the product of the Times is read through the news service."
Otis Chandler, editor-in-chief of Times-Mirror publications, came up with the idea for the party as part of the Times' campaign to make more Easterners aware of the paper's "editorial excellence" and its commitment to quality coverage of Washington with its bureau of 27 reporters and editors. t"People come in here and see that's a big goddam bureau, that it has impact," agreed Jack Nelson.
"It has an impact," said Chandler. "But it certainly can't compete here -- because of where we're located." The paper, he noted, which has a daily circulation of over a million and which has long been a powerful factor in California politics, doesn't arrive in Washington until mid-morning.
The illustrious guests spoke kindly of the role the newspaper plays in their daily lives. "I read it three or four times a week," Kissinger said.
"I don't read any newspaper everyday. I don't have the time," Secretary of State Muskie said, but quickly added, "The Los Angeles Times is placed on my reading table every day."
Moving swiftly through the pack that had slowed the president, Muskie said he knew nothing about a "Muskie for President" press conference some said would be held the next day. "It's a very bad idea," he said.
Most of the non-working press sampled either Southern California fare -- tamales, tacos, guacamole, and tostadas -- or scallops, beef, chicken, oysters, clams, cooked shrimp, cheeses and even a mountain of free-standing strawberries on a table. With no deadline for ending the party, some swirled near the hexagonal news desks, sectioned into sixes and separated by green or aquamarine partitions.
anderson dropped political tidbits as he moved around the newsroom. "One more month," he said when asked about his choice of a vice presidential candidate. On the "open convention" movement brewing in some Democratic circles, he remarked: "I believe not only in open conventions but in open administrations."
Anderson also chatted with Kissinger about his recent trip to Europe and the Middle East. "Your name came up," Anderson told Kissinger with a smile. Then he added, "I'd like to have a chance to sit down with you sometime if you have time, which I'm sure you never have."
"Give me a call, "Kissinger responed.
Of course, Anderson said, he reads the Los Angeles Times. "The 48 electoral votes in California," he emphasized, "are indensable to my strategy."
They went their separate ways. Anderson talked to a reporter, Kissinger walked up the hallway, but was buttonholed. "I'm on the last 50 pages of your book and believe me, it's not easy reading, " the man began.
Elsewhere a walking who's who of Washington marveled at the newsroom and the turnout.
"It looks like a trading floor." Sen. Jacob Javits said admiringly of of the roughly 50-yard-long newsroom.
"This is journalistic incest," I. F. Stone commented about a reporter taking notes. "You'd better think of something better than that, " his wife said reprovingly.
Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, once a partner in the O'melveny and Meyers law firm in Los Angeles, had his answer ready when his turn came at the "Do you read the Los Angeles Times?" question.
"I read it everyday between 10:30 and 11 a.m.," Christopher smiled.
The music and partying continued late. At midnight Jody Powell brought things to a climax with his rendition of "Amazing Grace," the words of which go something like this:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
'Twas grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.