He only stayed a few minutes, but at last night's fifth anniversary party for USA Today, a few chipper presidential paragraphs and one concise political zinger were certainly more appropriate than a lengthy executive soliloquy.

At a predinner reception at Gannett headquarters in Rosslyn, President Reagan praised USA Today and its founder, Gannett Chairman Allen Neuharth, offered up the requisite jokes ("When you get to be my age, it feels good to be celebrating somebody else's birthday"), and then turned to Supreme Court Associate Justice Byron White and said that he thought Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork had done well in his first day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

"He's up against bush leaguers," Reagan said.

And then he left, but for USA Today, the party went on.

For, as the relentlessly upbeat newspaper might put it ...

We Are Just About Ecstatic With Joy

To call it simply the USA Today party is to do an injustice to what was more like a corporate love-fest. Yesterday's paper ran a four-column graphic on the front page announcing "We're 5! Let's celebrate," as wellas a special section on the paper's history, workings, future and general gestalt. Staffers arrived at work yesterday to find waitresses in USA Today sweatshirts offering cupcakes iced with the number 5. Last night's dinner for a select 200, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Walter Cronkite and Malcolm Forbes, was preceded by a buffet on the Mall to which 1,000 others were invited. A party was held in Los Angeles the night before, and New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Detroit are still to come.

"We're just trying to be with a few of our friends around the country," said Neuharth at the larger reception. "It's a big country, so we need a lot of parties."

In USA, the Commercial Never Ends

The USA Today robot, operated by a microphone-toting man leaning ever-so-casually against a tree, welcomed guests to the blue-and-white tent on the Mall. (Microphone-toting man -- "He's been to more than 40 states, 120 cities. He's been on the road 207 out of 245 days this year.") Silver stars that matched the USA Today tower in Rosslyn, as well as the oversized silver invitations, hung down. Tent poles bore red roses that quickly drooped in the heat, as did some of the Gannett editors and executives, business associates and Hill people.

"Today" show weatherman Willard Scott, who appears in USA Today advertisements, was there to introduce Neuharth, whom he called "the gentle giant." Even though he joked that the paper had based its influential colored weather map on his own TV visuals, Scott said that he was pleased to be "working for one of the greatest organizations of America ... I don't think in my lifetime I've seen a company with promotion quality like USA Today."

Escaping from a filibuster on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Robert Byrd waxed euphoric in his speech (not forgetting to mention "my own West Virginia Gannett paper, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch"), to such an extent that Neuharth commented, "That was a better commercial than anything I've ever seen."

"Yeah," said Scott, "but the man can't be bought, so you've got to hire me."

34 Percent of Us (Give or Take a Lot) Are Eating Hors d'Oeuvres

To be precise: blinis with red and black caviar, crab cakes, shrimp, vegetables and dip, assorted things dipped in chocolate.

The other 66 percent (give or take a lot) on the Mall are too hot to eat.

USA Ready for Fall

"Do you smell something burning?" one guest at a reception before the Rosslyn dinner asked another, not noticing the two closed-circuit television sets in the corners that showed pictures of a room around the corner with a blazing fire in a large fireplace.

When Reagan arrived, he was ushered into the executive office and placed directly in front of the burning logs.

"There's nothing like an open fire on a cold day," he said.

We Like Seeing Each Other

"Mister Chairman!" boomed USIA director Charles Z. Wick when he saw Malcolm Forbes.

"I woke up with you this morning and now I see you again!" said Forbes to Walter Cronkite, with whom he had appeared on a New York morning television show.

While John McLaughlin lectured Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk, Bob Gray and Sheila Tate conferred and old Washington hand Robert Strauss talked about the Bork hearings.

"I'm more convinced than I've ever been that the country is not well served by a nomination that controversial," he said. "But I think it was a simply brilliant political move by the president. It changed the subject -- moved Irangate and the deficit and other problems the administration had off the front page. And it put the president on the offensive, where he does so well, rather than on the defensive, where he doesn't."

We Are Getting Free Books

A copy of "The Making of McPaper: The Inside Story of USA Today" by USA Today editor Peter Pritchard was handed to each departing reception guest. Pritchard wrote the book at Neuharth's suggestion. He was interviewed in yesterday's edition of the paper, and the book was described in another story.

"It's not the easiest thing in the world to write about a company and work for it at the same time," said Pritchard, "especially if you're honest."