CBS anchor Dan Rather had a coming-out party at Decatur House last night, which meant that correspondent Ed Bradley substituted in New York. This caused pranks in Washington.

"Saw Bradley on the show tonight," Washington Star reporter Jules Witcover said to Rather. "He was terrific."

"Little worried about that," said Rather.

Five minutes passed.

"I gotta tell you," John Mashek of U.S. News & World Report said to Rather, "Bradley was great tonight."

"He's a young fellow I hired just for the time being," Rather responded.

Another five minutes.

"Saw Bradley today," Bob Healy of The Boston Globe said to Rather. "He was terrific."

"That wasn't Bradley," said Rather, who'd caught on.

And so it went at a steamy party full of fancy food, Republican politicians and local glitteries. Even the waiters were exotic: struggling young artists, actors and designers, hired by the New York caterer CBS imported for the occasion. "They're the best-looking waiters I've ever seen," said one enthusiastic female guest.

The exact reason for the party was obscure. Rather took over months ago for Walter Cronkite, and he works out of New York. But CBS News president Bill Leonard lives in Washington, and so do the new administration members everyone's courting. And even senior presidential advisers like to get a look at a guy who's on the air more than they are.

But as Leonard's wife, Kappy, explained it: "It's no big deal. There's no inner meaning for this." She stopped. "Oh, no, it is a big deal. We just wanted Don to meet some of the people in the new administration. . . . He really is one of the best-looking men, isn't he?"

The new administration was well represented in the stripped, humid party tent sent up behind Decatur House: presidential counselor Ed Meese, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Health and Human Services Secretary Richard Schweiker; White House political director Lyn Nofziger; Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes; Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; and Sarah Brady, wife of recuperating White House Press Secretary James Brady. Last night was one of the first times she's been out on the party circuit since her husband was shot March 30.

"I think I'm ready for this," she said, "and I know Jim is going to want to hear all about it."

Naturally, there were television celebrities. "Aren't you Aaron Latham's wife?" a CBS vice president asked CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl. She is.

Nobody seemed much inclined to mention Rather's ratings, particularly since they've slipped slightly from a year ago when Cronkite was around. "I don't want to talk about that," Leonard said. "This is a party ." "

"I was told before I went into the broadcast that I would hit the trough," Rather said brightly, "and so I expected the worst. But the worst hasn't happened."