King for a Day

* Courtesy of D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who got his colleagues to agree, our fair city today celebrates Don King Day. The controversial boxing promoter--who served prison time for stomping a man to death 30 years ago and has one of the sweet science's gamier reputations--will pick up the accolade in the council chamber this morning. Tonight, Evans will be King's guest at MCI Center for "The Return of the Kings," a night of bouts by Don King Productions.

"I am just so deeply grateful that they opted to give me this historic honor, despite the fact of the villainy and the character assassination that always goes with me," said King, who told us he'll be hosting a lunch this Sunday for Nigerian Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. "Yes, I am controversial, but this nation was born in controversy."

As for that hair, "it's standing up tall," he said. "It is reaching for the heavens."

And We Thought the Cold War Was Over

At yesterday's celebration for the new Berlin Wall exhibit in Arlington's Freedom Park, disgruntled NBC News ex-president Michael Gartner tartly dissed reigning NBC anchor Tom Brokaw over who played which key role in the network's historic scoop, providing live coverage of the 1989 fall of the wall.

Joking that he "went into the witness protection program" after losing his job at NBC in 1993, Gartner took the podium during a post-dedication lunch after attendees watched a Freedom Forum video celebrating NBC's 1989 performance and Brokaw's part in the triumph. "That was wonderful," Gartner told the crowd, which included former secretary of state James Baker, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert. "But if it ever gets on the bestseller list, I don't know if it should be in the nonfiction or fiction category."

Gartner then offered his own version of the scoop, claiming that he and then-NBC News executive Russert had the inspiration to go to Berlin and that "Brokaw agreed--not without certain hesitation." Heaping praise on Russert, Gartner twice invited him to the lectern, but Russert stayed put. "Tim still works for NBC," Gartner told the crowd, "but I'm just a pensioner, and I don't think they can take away my pension."

Brokaw reacted: "I'm surprised that Michael feels compelled to say those things publicly when it was nothing like that. . . . I'm not looking to pick a fight with Michael, and he should take his fair share of the credit. I'm just surprised, that's all. Anybody who knows me knows that I've never had to be kicked out of my chair to cover a big story."


* Now Andy Rooney says never mind his account of "the most beautiful woman in television news" and her plastic surgery in his syndicated newspaper column, which provoked speculation about his former "60 Minutes" colleague Diane Sawyer. It seems Andy didn't want us to take him literally. "I was speaking metaphorically," he told us yesterday--a point he previously failed to mention. "So you can tell me about journalistic ethics now?" he challenged. Hmmm. That's probably a job for the suits at CBS.

* ESPN will announce the top five "Congressional Athletes of the Century" Thursday on Capitol Hill. A panel of sports network experts picked these jocks-turned-politicians: No. 1 is basketball star Bill Bradley, No. 2 decathlon champ Bob Mathias, closely followed by baseball pitcher Jim Bunning and football players Jack Kemp and Steve Largent. "I'm honored only because it took them 100 years to actually find five congressional athletes," Largent said.

* Celebrity Tip Challenge Alert: Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, and an unidentified blond companion--not sometime gal pal Patricia Duff--left 18 percent at Ardeo Wednesday night. But that's peanuts compared with what Duff might get in her continuing divorce and custody battle with billionaire Ronald Perelman. The judge in the just-finished trial will decide the numbers in a couple of months, but Duff told us yesterday that custody of 4-year-old daughter Caleigh is her main concern. As for Torricelli's dining habits, "I don't want to go there," she said.