Blue plate special

Art Buchwald

March 18, 1993|By Art Buchwald

THE most important problem Washington faces right now is whether members of the Clinton administration can accept seven-course dinners from the Washington press corps.

During the next month or so, the elite White House Correspondents Association, the noble Radio and TV Correspondents Organization and the Gridiron Club will entertain the officials that their members write and talk about every day.

Which big shot a media organization snags for its table carries far more meaning to the news folks than any story they could dig up on that person. In fact, if a bureau chief is unable to produce an awe-inspiring guest list to impress his bosses, he or she could easily be looking for another job.

The fly in all this ointment is that the Clinton White House has ruled that federal officials can no longer accept more than $20 a year in food and drink from a private individual, or $50 from an organization.

While this may seem like a lot to the guy in Des Moines, it still doesn't cover the cost of a white bow tie in Washington.

Apparently, this year the Clintons have given a waiver to the press on how much they can spend on their turtle soup, but it will be for only one time, and that's why every newsperson in this town is running scared.

A group of us were sitting around the National Press Club bemoaning the restrictive regulations.

Martha Reese said, "How are we going to get any information out of our sources if we don't feed them?"

Everett Case replied, "There is this fat guy who works over at State, and he's been leaking to me like a sieve, but he says that it isn't worth it if there's only a Big Mac in it for him."

"If you really want to know," Ted Osborne declared, "it's Hillary. If she had her way we wouldn't be able to entertain any of the health nuts who work for Clinton. A reporter overheard a conversation between her and a press secretary. The secretary said, 'Madam, the Clinton people are starving.' Hillary replied, 'Let them eat Kentucky Fried Chicken -- the one that comes in the small bucket and only costs $8.95.' "

A member of the Gridiron was in despair, "I have written six songs and seven sketches for the Gridiron show. I just heard that the secretary of defense has canceled out of our table because the Wall Street Journal used him up in a Dunkin' Donuts joint in Pentagon City."

I said, "I think that I've solved the problem. There is a Pakistani restaurant on K Street where you get all you can eat for $5.75. I have a call in to Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. I have a hunch that he might be interested in joining me there instead of going to the Gridiron because that way he wouldn't use up his entire allotment in one meal."

The big question that arose was, could Washington news people do their jobs if they were unable to invite their sources to important affairs such as the major three media dinners?

The consensus was that they couldn't. It was strictly a question of feeding the hand that bites them.

Max Ramirez de Arellano joined in the conversation and said, "Good fellowship is the source of good news, and if you don't break bread and laugh it up with those who are running the government, then you shouldn't be in the news business at all.

"The Clinton people are wrong when they put a $20 limit on food and drink. It's OK for the few Clinton types who don't care, but what about the rest who love nothing more than to eat, drink and be merry with the press?"

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