What: Party to celebrate journalist Helen Thomas’s book and her 50-year anniversary covering the White House.
Where: Gloria Dittus’s home in DC’s Kalorama neighborhood.
When: Tuesday, January 19, 6:30 to 8:30.
Who: The modish, glass-raising soiree was a mixture of local scenesters, politicians, and members of the media establishment, surrounded by young reporters vying for their attention with boom mikes, note pads, and tape recorders in hand. Among the boldface names drawing the largest crowds were CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux and Bob Costantini; former Michigan governor Jim Blanchard; Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California; Senator Susan Collins of Maine; NPR’s Cokie Roberts; National Press Club president and Bloomberg News correspondent Alan Bjerga; Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of Business Software Alliance; Ann Lewis, Hillary Clinton’s presidential-campaign adviser; and the CBS trio of Bill Plante, Chip Reid, and Jan Crawford. No one, however, drew nearly as many flashbulbs and handshakes as the woman of the evening: author, groundbreaking correspondent, and doyenne of the White House press corps Helen Thomas.
Scene: Upward of 300 people and their wineglasses were shoehorned into the swanky mansion of Gloria Story Dittus, head of the Story Partners communications firm, to honor the 89-year-old journalist, who has covered every President since John F. Kennedy.
Though billed as a joint commemoration of Thomas’s 50 years covering the White House and a book party to toast her fifth and latest project, Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do, coauthored by Craig Crawford, the evening leaned heavily toward the latter. Aside from the catered buffet in the dining room (food highlights: jambalaya, bacon-wrapped scallops, and beef-pineapple-and-pepper skewers), the residence’s heaviest traffic was at a back table where guests could buy Thomas’s book and around a vanilla-colored sofa in the adjoining living room, where a sea of admirers holding their purchase jockeyed for space to meet the author with pens ready.
Hosting 20 to 30 high-profile parties each year, Dittus’s estate has become something of regular haunt for Washington’s glitterati and those passing through. Framed pictures of the host hobnobbing with Forest Whitaker and Bono greeted guests in the marble foyer, servers shuttled between the kitchen and crowd proffering toothpick-sized nibbles, and Dittus’s staff directed invitees to fill out name tags to make sure the media could keep the night’s players straight.
“I love Helen,” Dittus told us. “I’ve known her longer than she’s known me. I told Craig [Crawford] last year that if he and Helen wanted to do a book party, we ought to throw it in honor of her 50th anniversary covering the White House also. It’s a great reason to celebrate, plus it makes me feel young!”
When asked what it was like to coauthor a book with Thomas, Crawford smiled, saying, “I’m just her sidekick! The first time we got together to write, she talked about covering Eleanor Roosevelt, and I realized she’s been a reporter since 1942. It gave me goosebumps. Her work ethic is unbelievable. She just doesn’t stop.”
In Listen Up, Mr. President, Thomas stops asking questions and starts giving answers—relying on her half century of daily White House experience to issue guidelines for how future Presidents should act. When asked how she expected the current administration to react to the book, she didn’t hesitate.
“Oh, I expect the President to follow all my guidance,” she said. “After all, I’ve been there longer than he has—I suppose longer than he’s been alive.”
Boldface names: 3.5 out of 5.
Swankiness: 3 out of 5.
Food and drink: 4 out of 5.
Overall exclusivity: 3.5 out of 5.
Total score: 14 out of 20.
Were you at this event? Your photo might be in our slide show. Check it out here.