Diana McLellan, who built quite a career on high-level gossip (she wrote "The Ear" column for the Washington Star and the Washington Post and then "Diana Hears" for the Washington Times), has quit after a decade of nibbling her way to the top. "Gossip is now on the front pages," she says wistfully. An amateur artist as well as a wordsmith, she has gone on to paint and write novels.
Dinners at the White House these days are so tasteful that nobody rushes to a phone later to chortle about the peanut soup and catfish paté. Diana could spin one delicious backbite like that into a column. Now, she says, the absolute, ultimate social event in Western civilization is the small dinner given by Ronnie and Nancy in the private quarters. The one coming up for Britain's Charles and his Diana will, in McLellan's view, elevate the 80 participants to social sainthood.
The Reagan approach is even reshaping larger events, as witnessed last week at the United Nations' 40th anniversary. It was as if the world had been rolled back a century. Great leaders arrived in their glistening carriages to party and parley, the two activities being indistinguishable. Who said what about whom over the angel-hair pasta got as much notice as who said what in the chamber. After the Charles and Di outing in Washington, the power people will pick up their Louis Vuittons and head for Geneva and the U.S.-Soviet summit in November. The wits of Reagan and Gorbachev will be compared, but so will the coiffures of Nancy and Raisa.
Power attracts money, and even Communist countries have fattened diplomatic expense accounts and come to the party. That's the dividend: it's better to eat and talk than starve and fight.
McLellan judges that the level of lavish outlay reached its peak in the third year of the Reagan Administration. Probably never in U.S. history had so much been spent on caterers, limousines and designer gowns in pursuit of influence. There also was a great self-beautification movement. "When you go out now you barely see a nose you know," says McLellan. "They are deeply concerned with their exteriors."
By her measure, the Mercedes and the BMW have become the power cars, diamonds the only cover for naked earlobes. Dissipation, which used to go with the bulgy, rumpled political image, is about extinct. Big shots exercise.
"The rest of the country takes part," declares McLellan. The jets bring a lot of Americans in directly--businessmen, entertainers, what not. The others can watch on TV, and that creates an open forum of national opinion that restrains bad taste or misbehavior.
Speaking of misbehavior, Diana offers some startling judgments, none based on anything even remotely resembling scientific evidence, but collected impressions of a shrewd eye. Heterosexual hanky-panky, says she, reached its peak during the Carter years, even as the power brokers were seen praying more openly and often. "These days," says Diana, "gay life is far more extensive in the Government than is reported."
Supposedly tough-minded journalists, McLellan says, are actually quite naive. They still believe sex, drink and office intrigue to be big stories, while nations and huge financial interests often muscle each other unnoticed. "Those little sins are the only ones the media know firsthand," the gossip declares.