Dan Rather broadcast last night's edition of the "CBS Evening News" from just up the street. Bill Kurtis gave up some shut-eye just to be there. Sam Donaldson prepared a speech in case anybody asked. And The New York Times, well, The New York Times sent a substitute.
It was the Washington Journalism Review's first annual journalism awards ceremony at the Regent hotel. As Art Buchwald described the winners in 17 categories, so judged by nearly 1,000 WJR readers in a poll last fall, "the best and the brightest in the business -- whatever the hell that business is."
For the 700-plus losers whose names were submitted by mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, secretaries, bosses, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, grandmothers, grandfathers and themselves, the consolation prize was having their names on WJR's February cover.
Buchwald said the reason he agreed to emcee the proceedings was that WJR publisher Jessica Catto, editor Katherine Win- ton Evans, art director David Kidd and managing editor Jacquelyn Powell had promised to put him on the cover. What they didn't tell him was that he would be one of 700 names.
To make up for it, Buchwald gave not only the keynote speech but also the acceptance speeches. It wasn't exactly what Sam Donaldson, who won the award for best television White House correspondent, had in mind.
Donaldson had been ready to acknowledge before his peer group that he owed everything to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. "Why, in India," Donaldson said later, "Jimmy Carter and I were standing on the edge of a manure pit where they were showing him how they made methylene gasoline. I said, 'Mr. President, if I fall in would you pull me out?' He said, 'Certainly, after a decent interval.' "
ABC Sports' Howard Cosell, who won for best national television sports reporter, didn't make a speech either, but the audience wished he had. "It means more to me than an Emmy. I've got lots of Emmys," Cosell said to a small group hanging on every word. "This has to do with mentality. An Emmy has to do with popularity."
Mingling in the crowd of about 200 were Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, ABC's David Brinkley and Ann Compton, CBS' Bill Plante, Deborah Potter and George Herman, NBC's Roger Mudd, American Film Institute's George Stevens Jr., U.S. News' Harold Evans, the Washingtonian's Philip Merrill, "Entertainment Tonight's" Barbara Howar, columnist Jody Powell, commentator Hodding Carter and viewer-readers Ethel Kennedy and Evangeline Bruce.
Buchwald did what he could to put the evening into a little perspective. Setting the record straight, he said it isn't true that the media is one big happy monolith. "The print media has no use for the electronic media, and the electronic media has contempt for the print media."
Bill Kurtis, who flew down from New York to accept the award for best morning national news show and was flying back with the bosses so he could sleep a little before getting up at 3:30 a.m., said, "We're all looking for respect from the print media."
What really scares Buchwald about television, he said, is that anchormen don't just interview leaders, they get them to take a course of action. That scenario, as played back by Buchwald, went like this:
"The anchorman first brings on the foreign minister of Argentina and says, 'The British say they're going to blow your planes out of the sky. What have you got to say to that?' The foreign minister says, 'We'll blow all their ships out of the water.'
"Then the anchorman brings on the British foreign minister and says, 'Well, you heard him -- are you going to nuke him?' And suddenly you're watching World War III on the evening news."
Dan Rather, who shifted his New York operation to Washington for the evening in order to pick up his award for best evening news anchor, didn't get into war stories. He said he owed everything to his wife and his mother. He also said winning "beats not winning."
Some of the winners, like ABC's Ted Koppel and WDVM's Gordon Peterson, arrived late. Some never got there at all. Some, according to one report sweeping the ballroom with the intensity of radar, were so mad at WJR that they sent a substitute. That speculation centered on WJR's January cover story on "The Royal Succession" at The New York Times and The Washington Post. In fact, a WJR spokeswoman said that yesterday The Times' Washington bureau chief, Bill Kovach, told the magazine he was sending B. Drummond Ayres in his place to accept the award for best-edited newspaper.
Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee accepted awards for several absent Post reporters.
Others receiving the awards were:
Best newspaper political reporter: David Broder, The Washington Post.
Best newspaper business reporter: Hobart Rowen, The Washington Post.
Best newspaper White House correspondent: Lou Cannon, The Washington Post.
Best newspaper sports reporter: Tom Boswell, The Washington Post.
Best television political reporter: Roger Mudd, NBC News.
Best TV business reporter: Dan Cordtz, ABC News.
Best local TV evening news anchor in New York: Chuck Scarborough, WNBC.
Best TV news anchor in Washington: Gordon Peterson, WDVM.
Best local TV news anchor in Chicago: Walter Jacobson, WBBM.
Best local TV news anchor in Los Angeles: Jess Marlow, KCBS.
Best interviewer: Ted Koppel, ABC News.
Best writer on any subject: George Will, Washington Post Writers Group.
Best columnist: Mike Royko, Chicago Tribune.
Best newspaper editorial cartoonist: Pat Oliphant, Universal Press Syndicate.
Best news or news-oriented magazine: Newsweek.