Washington Dossier magazine was once so fawning about Washington's famous and powerful that its present executive editor, Bill Thomas, described its past form as "a high school annual for rich people."

But lately, under Thomas' mischievous hand, Dossier has begun taking a few pokes at the very people once pictured adoringly between its ads for caviar, caterers and real estates.

Talk show host John McLaughlin, for example, is identified on the cover of the March issue as "The Father of Yeller Journalism."

Inside, in a spread reminiscent of Esquire's "Dubious Achievements," a photo of magazine publisher Bill Regardie wearing a striped shirt (and sport coat) says simply "Bill Regardie in Leavenworth Penitentiary."

Regardie's friends and supporters say the picture is his publicity photo. Regardie himself says he was indeed in jail when the picture was taken, but not doing time. He was chasing a story, he explains. But Dossier readers may never learn that, unless perhaps they read the letters column next month.

A column called "Educated Palate" occasionally gives seating charts at Washington's favorite restaurants, a guidebook to power lunching at such places as the Jockey Club.

Michael Kinsley, editor of The New Republic, says he was startled to find himself and his conservative columnist Fred Barnes listed as regulars at Galileo, an Italian restaurant where Kinsley said he has never eaten lunch and where Barnes has dined once.

In a recent issue CBS media star Bob Schieffer was identified as John Chancellor -- a mistake Thomas acknowledged in the next issue under a correction labeled "Anchors Awry."

Schieffer said he thought almost nobody read the magazine until his appearance as Chancellor, but got at least 75 phone calls from merciless friends, most of whom said they also thought nobody read it.

"We identified them properly in the next issue," said Thomas. "At least I think we did. When it comes to television stars, I'm never sure."

Thomas, who joined Dossier in July after editing the now-defunct Washington Weekly, said the magazine was redesigned in November under the direction of Carla Frank, a former member of The Washingtonian's art staff. He said that he and Publisher Jonathan Adler are trying to make the magazine more like the Tatler & Bystander, the English journal made successful by Vanity Fair Editor Tina Brown, or similar to another British magazine called Harpers & Queen, which he describes as "a lot like Monty Python."

There are those in Washington, however, who say Dossier looks increasingly like The Washingtonian -- a comparison Thomas summarily rejects.

"I want to inject a little irony and humor and a sense of fun in this," said Thomas. "We're looking at Washington as a form of entertainment." The Washingtonian, he contends, aims for the more serious crowd.

The old scrapbook of pictures is still a Dossier staple, now mostly tucked away in the back along with real estate deals over $300,000.

Thomas, who is obviously enjoying himself in this new role, says the magazine will never stray too far from its societal fold.

"My only problem now is that I can't recognize anybody anymore unless they're wearing a tuxedo," he said.sk sw

Columnist Sydney Schanberg, who lost his column in The New York Times last August after criticizing The Times' coverage of the proposed Westway highway, is expected to resurface soon as a columnist for Newsday, according to sources close to the negotiations.

The spiking of Schanberg's column at The Times drew hundreds of letters from angry readers, many of whom viewed his column as one of the few strongly liberal voices on New York's paper of record.

Others felt that Schanberg, whose reporting and departure from Cambodia became the subject for the movie "The Killing Fields," deserved to keep his column after 26 years on the paper.

While Schanberg's detractors at The Times viewed his columns as too strident and too narrow, his supporters inside and outside the paper see his switch to the competition as a coup -- both for Schanberg and for Newsday.

Schanberg, who remained at The Times until the end of January, declined to comment on the possibility that he will begin working for the Long Island paper. Newsday is expected to make a widely advertised push onto Manhattan newsstands next month.

Don Forst, editor of the special version of Newsday now being offered to Manhattan readers, said yesterday that although the possibility of Schanberg writing for his paper "looks good, the details aren't ironed out yet. We haven't come to the final handshake."

As everyone in the media knows, President Reagan last week cut off questions at a photo opportunity, turned away from a gaggle of reporters and could be heard in an open mike saying "sons of bitches," an obvious reference to his loyal press corps.

Spokesman Larry Speakes later had to assure White House reporters that the president was not referring to them and that what he really said was "It's sunny, and you're rich."

In retaliation yesterday, some correspondents whose offices are in the subterranean press area of the White House (once a swimming pool) wore yellow T-shirts with large blue letters that spelled "S.O.B." In tiny letters, they identified themselves as "sons of the basement."

*When journalists start talking nostalgically about their days on the wire services (the training ground for many of the nation's best reporters), they are talking about guys like Arnold Sawislak.

A 37-year veteran of United Press International, Sawislak is full of great yarns about deadlines made and missed. He knows the tales about masterful reporters, spinning their verbal magic in the space and time allotted to the wire story.

And best of all, he can tell the stories beloved among the UPI alumni -- stories with a general theme of how the lean, hungry, underpaid UPI reporter somehow manages to derail and generally humiliate the big bruiser from the Associated Press.

Such a guy deserves a promotion at UPI, so managers decided recently to make Sawislak their Washington news editor, the man in charge of day-to-day Washington and political news.

"I am the sergeant major," says Sawislak.

An author as well as a daily journalist, Sawislak has written one book that may be the toughest to ask for in a general-interest bookstore. It is called "Dwarf Rapes Nun; Flees in UFO," a novel about tabloid journalism.

Sawislak said one burly UPI reporter made the mistake of asking for the book in a Seventh-Day Adventist shop.

"They said, 'Of course not. We wouldn't have that book even if we had that book,' " Sawislak said.