Press Group Honors Katharine Graham

May 29, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press benefit dinner Cipriani 42nd Street Tuesday, 05.22.01, 6:30 onward
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Sometimes a venue like the splendid--if often used--Cipriani 42nd Street doesn't need much decor to sparkle. And the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' 30th anniversary dinner brought out a galaxy of stars of the journalism world, who competed with the vaulted ceilings and glorious marble pillars of what used to be the Bowery Savings Bank.

With The Washington Post's Katharine Graham (the honoree) and CNN CEO Tom Johnson (the dinner's chairman) as drawing cards, the glitterati of print and television came out with enthusiasm. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and the conversation was intense about news and the business of news--and naturally, lots of gossip. Turning heads in the crowd were Ben Bradlee, Walter Isaacson, David Gergen, Lesley Stahl and Greta Van Susteren, among others.

Beginning with the greeting of two gentlemen in black-tie who held umbrellas to keep arriving guests from the rain, the service of Cipriani (under the direction of banquet manager Louis Rose) was superb. The cocktail period, which stretched from 6:30 PM until 8 PM, had a large retinue of wait staff passing a wide variety of hors d'oeuvres, in addition to a table in the bar area that held various platters. A woodwind quartet of Julliard School graduate students played softly.

As event planner Inez Weinstein told us, the mandate was simplicity because the organization wanted the $650,000 raised from ticket sales to go toward its work protecting the First Amendment interests of the news media. In keeping with that philosophy, flowers were simple--just small, tasteful centerpieces of various colorful flowers by Sung Jung of Doro's Annex. There were also no gift bags; leather coasters with the organization's logo were left on the tables as gifts.

The anchors of the three main networks, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings, made fashionably late entrances (they have other jobs to do, remember) and were co-hosts of a program that was crisp and enjoyable, both for its brevity and humor. The laughter quotient went up even higher with guest speaker Calvin Trillin.

A silent auction of cartoons, many of them by Pulitzer Prize winners, raised more money for the Reporters Committee, which has provided free legal defense and research assistance to working journalists. The evening included a spirited live auction of cartoons led by Harmer Johnson, who had to work a bit to get the journalists to loosen their checkbooks, but ended with a bidding war for a Garry Trudeau original.

--Susan Silver

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