It was one-liners all night long last night at the 37th annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. President Ronald Reagan and comedian Rich Little supplied them on stage, but there were plenty more after their show was over.
In a crowd sparkly with administration officials, senators and broadcasting bigwigs, White House political adviser Lyn Nofziger stood with Charles Wick, Reagan's nominee to head the International Communication Agency. Nofziger was wearing a Mickey Mouse bow tie. "Symbolic of the business I'm in," he said stroking his beard.
National Security Adviser Richard Allen was in attendence too, as was Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who, upon entering, zoomed like a guided missile to the VIP reception downstairs at the Washington Hilton. HHS secretary Richard Schweiker was with U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had spent the morning at a National Town Meeting. "It went well," said Kirkpatrick. "But it's no fun any more." Presidential counselor Edwin Meese and press secretary James Brady were there too. Alexander Haig was not, but the White House gang kept a buttoned lip about that.
"What?" said Allen as he fiddled with his beeper. "What?"
CBS's Dan Rather strode in confidently, and close behind were ABC's Roone Arledge and NBC's Roger Mudd. They came alone, as did Sen. Ted Kennedy, George McGovern and Eric Sevareid.
After dinner, Reagan took the stage and launched into his senior-citizen routine:
"I can remember when the mail delivery was prompt and frequent," he said apropos of the new 18-cent postage stamp. "Oh sure, every once in a while the ponies tripped on a gopher hole," he continued.
Reagan chided CBS for its retirement rules and offered advice to Walter Cronkite, who didn't attend. "Sixty-five," he said, "is just the right time to launch a career in politics."
Little came on next. As Jimmy Carter. "Hi," he drawled. "Do you know me? I used to be a peanut farmer. Somehow I became President of the United States. Now I'm a peanut farmer again. doing what I do best. Nothin'.
"Most people know me for my brother Billy. That's why I carry the American Express Card. I can buy nuclear proliferation books for Amy, Nancy Reagan White House etiquette books for Rosalynn and coloring books for me."
"Tasteless," said one prominent network official later of Little's Carter routine. "And I wasn't a Carter supporter."
"I thought it was terrific," said economist Alan Greenspan. "I don't know if Carter would think so, but I did."
Little also staged an entire presidential press conference.
"Mr. President, is it true that you always answer questions with the word 'Well'?"
"Well, . . . no."
After everyone had finished chuckling and chomping on a six-course dinner that included salad suisse and filet mignon, they trooped out of the ballroom and headed for private parties given by the networks.
Lobbyist Paula Parkinson, whom the morning news shows are trying to lure on the air to tell about her reported escapades with various congressmen, was seen gadding about in a gold-colored dress, but no one wanted to claim her as his guest.
At the NBC party: "She didn't come with me," said "Today" show host Tom Brokaw, who was up way past his bedtime.
"I wouldn't know her," said ABC's Washington Bureau Chief Carl Bernstein.
And down the hall at CBS, all they could muster was "Paula who?"