Washington Journalism Review, the feisty magazine that keeps an eye on the people who keep an eye on everyone else, last night presented its second annual "Best in the Business" awards at a party inarguably overflowing with -- well, some of the best in the business.
For the second year in a row, Dan Rather was named favorite network anchor, and for the second year in a row he thought enough of the award to move the "CBS Evening News" to Washington so he could accept it.
"I'm very pleased for those people who make me look good," Rather said after the ceremony. "The trick in this anchor business is to hire people smarter than you . . ."
About 200 chortling journalists sandwiched into the ballroom to warble into their scotch and down shrimp larger than NBC's peacock. Political columnist Mark Shields, in usual rare form, ran through his pocketful of one-liners at the Grand Hotel ballroom to a chorus of loud guffaws from the audience of bylines and well-placed faces.
"The hot political news from the White House is that the president is approaching 75 . . . Phil Jones said to me on the way in: 'That means 525 in dog years . . .' "
*"Bob Novak left the country the other day after the stock market took its biggest drop in history . . . He attributed it to an unwarranted peace scare."
*"How many Virginia politicians does it take to change a light bulb? One to change the bulb and the other two to reminisce about how great the old light bulb was."
The awards are based on a WJR poll of the magazine's readers. More than 1,000 people responded, most of them journalists, picking winners in 20 categories.
Editor Katherine Evans said the magazine changed the wording of the categories this year to give some other journalists a chance to win. Nonetheless, in addition to Rather, Washington Post political writer David Broder and ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson were repeats. Donaldson won with 21 percent of the vote in a field of 142.
On this one special occasion, he was almost speechless. But not quite.
"I get a lot of mail calling me a lowdown, rotten, worthless, incompetent journalist," he explained. "So this award from people in the business means a great deal to me."
In the category of "most respected network TV anchorman," Rather won with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel and, finally, Tom Brokaw.
Publisher Jessica Catto also presented awards to Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee for "the most respected newspaper editor"; The New York Times for "the best newspaper in the Northeast"; Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times for "best Washington newspaper bureau chief"; Tom Shales of The Washington Post for "best TV critic writing for a newspaper"; Larry King for "best radio talk show host"; and Bryant Gumbel of the "Today" show for "best morning network TV news interviewer."
"When Bryant first went on 'Today,' there were some unkind and unfair comments from the so-called priesthood of journalists," said Timothy J. Russert, NBC's vice president for news who, with "Today" executive producer Steve Friedman, came to Washington to accept the award for Gumbel. "Tonight his peers have recognized him for what he is: the best."
Suffice to say few were neutral about the awards. "The best honor one can get is honor from your peers," said King. "Lemme tell ya, there's nothing like it."
Other winners included:
Best Local Station for TV News in the West: WFAA, Dallas.
Best Local Station for TV News in the Northeast: WCBS, New York.
Best Local Station for TV News in the Midwest: WBBM, Chicago.
Best Cable News Program: Cable News Network.
Best Newspaper in the Midwest: the Chicago Tribune.
Best Newspaper in the West: the Los Angeles Times.
Best Newspaper in the South: The Miami Herald.
Most Insightful and Thought-Provoking Magazine: The New Republic.
Most Provocative Network TV Commentator: Bill Moyers, CBS News.
Best Weekend Network TV Talk Show: "This Week With David Brinkley," ABC News.
Best Network TV Magazine Show: "60 Minutes," CBS News.