The Petraeus Scandal and Politics Were the Buzz at an A-List Washington Dinner Party

Atlantic Media’s Katherine and David Bradley hosted the opening night for the Ideas Forum Tuesday.
Radio host Scott Simon listens as comedian and talk-show veteran Dick Cavett recalls his great affection for Groucho Marx. Photograph by Ben Droz.
Radio host Scott Simon listens as comedian and talk-show veteran Dick Cavett recalls his great affection for Groucho Marx. Photograph by Ben Droz.

A lot of good one-liners were dropped at
Katherine and David Bradley’s dinner party Tuesday night, but the most searing wasn’t uttered onstage. It was
whispered by a former
Washington Post editor to another guest: “I liked Marcus, but. . . .” He was referring, of course,
to
Marcus Brauchli, who, it was announced earlier in the day, would be replaced as the
Post’s editor, a turnover that had been rumored for months. What made it poignant was
that it underscored how tenuous loyalty is among the powerful in this town. The right
job can make you a lot of friends, but if the job goes, so do the friends, or at least
those kinds of friends. Which is why the other topic of the evening was the Petraeus
scandal.

Comedian and erstwhile talk-show host
Dick Cavett was one of the featured guests for the evening, a swanky opening-night party to bring
together the A-listers who would be attending the Bradleys’ annual 2012 Washington
Ideas Forum at the Newseum, a two-day intellectual talkfest they cohost with
Walter Isaacson and the Aspen Institute. Cavett’s one-liner, mentioned while musing on his love of
Groucho Marx, was, “I have a trove of letters from Groucho, but not thousands of e-mails.”
That distinction belongs to Petraeus scandal costars Jill Kelley and General John
Allen, the American commander of international troops in Afghanistan, who reportedly
exchanged e-mails that total 20,000 to 30,000 pages (though some may be duplicates).

Given the week’s heightened atmosphere of scandal, it was impossible to have a Washington
party where all the latest news bombshells didn’t become morsels for discussion, with
Benghazi and the “fiscal cliff” as “also rans.” While servers from Susan Gage Caterers
passed cocktails, fried oysters, mini barbecue sandwiches, and mushrooms on toast,
one guest after another could be heard expressing incredulity about the bizarre events
surrounding now-former CIA director
David Petraeus and his merry band. “It’s just the damnedest thing.” “Where will it end?” “Have you
ever heard of this Kelley woman?” “A lot of reporters know
Paula Broadwell.” A number of journalists attended the party, but none I talked to outed themselves
as a Broadwell intimate.

The evening’s organizer,
Elizabeth Baker Keffer of Atlantic Media, welcomed guests and noted that activist rock star
Bono was in Washington this week, though not at this particular dinner. She had met him
the night before, however, and reported that he is “much shorter than you would expect,
and does a great impression of Bill Clinton.” She then directed everyone’s attention
across the room to a stage where journalist
Margaret Carlson was set to interview
Lizz Winstead, co-creator and head writer for
The Daily Show.

Carlson took a moment to identify herself as the first woman columnist for
Time magazine and then, calling out Isaacson, her former editor, she added, “and also
the last woman columnist at
Time magazine.” When she turned her attention to Winstead, she asked the comedian, “How
many people think
The Daily Show is a news show?” Winstead replied, “Does it matter?” Clips were shown from the program,
which had the audience laughing or groaning. When the screen filled with Clint Eastwood
at the GOP convention, onstage talking to an empty chair, Republican lobbyist
Juleanna Glover sighed and muttered, “You can’t make it up,” which essentially summed up how she
felt about her candidate’s presidential campaign.

Carlson asked Winstead, “What makes politics funny?” Winstead looked surprised. “Is
that really the question?” she asked. A good point. People in Washington, especially
those in media and politics, laugh at the jokes, but they don’t often understand how
the city they take so seriously becomes the joke. Winstead explained that in creating

The Daily Show, “we decided, ‘Let’s have comedians who act and look like correspondents,’” an ironic
ruse they have turned into enduring success. “Now the media tries to look more like

The Daily Show, which makes
The Daily Show more like
The Daily Show.”

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