Unpersons at the White House Guest lists: Who was that with Ms. Big Shot at the president's state dinner?

November 22, 1997

THE TRUE SCANDAL in the Clinton White House, to hear some tell, is the antediluvian format of guest lists at state dinners. One line describes the accomplishment or reason-for-being-there of the invited guest, and none -- zilch, nada -- about the escort, the person on that person's arm. Just imagine!

So, at the state dinner for President Jiang Zemin of China, Peter A. Kann was identified as chairman of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal but Karen Elliott House, the person with him, was left undescribed.

Those Chinese not sufficiently briefed were left uninformed that Ms. House is president of the international division of Dow Jones and is also what is still described in some circles as Mrs. Peter A. Kann.

Katharine Graham, chairman of the executive committee of the Washington Post Co., being the invited guest, was so identified. Nothing about the gentleman with her, a Mr. David Rockefeller. Presumably those Chinese who needed to know would have been apprised through their own channels that he is the former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank.

This is no longer the gender issue it might once have been. Nowadays, the power figure is as likely to be Ms. Big Shot, with her little man. No, this is about the dignity and importance of the individual of either gender.

Look at Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's escort, Mr. Patrick Stewart. There was nary a word, beyond his name, about the transgalactic thespian come down to earth.

One may worry at long-term implications of the tendency of persons invited to White House state dinners to marry or consort with persons of similar predisposition. Such inbreeding could endanger the gene pool of the elite, making a revolution in the power structure more rather than less likely.

But that's another issue. Of concern here is due deference, which like due process and due course, is overdue.

At least this is one tasteless outrage that cannot be laid at Bill Clinton's door. The buck stops on the desk of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This is no way to represent the nation and its etiquette, as though Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge were still First Lady. Other organizations important enough to have their guest lists published in the feature (formerly society) pages, have moved with the times. Surely the White House can as well.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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