Monday, December 14, 2015

Washington Social Diary: Signs of the Holidays

The 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees: Seija Ozawa, Rita Moreno, Carole King, George Lucas, and Cicely Tyson.
by Carol Joynt

The holiday spirit prompts all kinds of expressions from the traditional to the unusual, and it was the colorfully unusual that I came upon on Saturday morning while taking a walk in Georgetown’s Montrose Park. I spotted a large crowd race into the park and form a group. They were eye-catching, for sure, dressed in various interpretations of Santa Claus and his Elves. Some wore antlers. All wore rucksacks. Was it a Santa flash mob? A Reindeer boot camp? Both? There was a leader in an Elf get-up. He put the 80 men and women and a few children into formations, ran them through warm-up drills – push-ups, cartwheels, jumping-jacks – and then assigned team leaders and directed everyone to a waiting red sleigh.
At this point, moving with them toward the sleigh, I asked a man for some intel on what was happening.  He said it was a charity event for Toys for Tots – the sleigh was overflowing with toys – and that it had been organized by GORUCK, an organization of current and former U.S. Army Special Forces, including members of the Green Berets. There are regional Cadres and each sponsors team-building endurance events and this one was for charity. Anyone could sign up.

The task at hand was a good one, though – to get the sleigh filled with toys from Montrose, through Georgetown, down to the Potomac River, and over to the Lincoln Memorial, a distance of about 2.5 miles. At first they pulled the sleigh, and when that seemed to not be the most efficient plan, they hoisted it on their shoulders. I left them at O Street, as they made their way down 30th, a merry band, singing Carols, enjoying the balmy December weather, off to do good, making some children very happy. 

This week for The Q&A Café, the long-form interview program I host in Washington, the guest was Bob Woodward, half The Washington Post reporting team who broke the Watergate story. We discussed his 18th book, “The Last of the President’s Men.”

Click to order "The Last of the President’s Men.”
Bob has written books about a range of topics, but this one is a Watergate book, most likely his last. The focus is former White House special assistant Alexander Butterfield, who now lives in a kind of hyper-educated “retirement” in La Jolla, California, where he studies Italian, got a master’s degree in American history and is pursuing a PhD on the president’s pardoning power. Butterfield, though, will live forever in history as the man who made public the existence of the Oval Office taping system, a revelation that essentially locked down the end of the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned on August 9, 1974.

Whether you lived through Watergate or are too young to remember it, the book is a good and engaging read. Here are some points that got my attention:

--Butterfield’s sharp observations on Nixon’s outsized rudeness. It was juvenile and distressing. The President of the United States could either barely communicate with some of his top staff, or when he did it was reprehensible.

--After work, instead of going “home” to the White House living quarters, he’d go to his “hideaway” office in the Executive Office Building where – still in coat and tie – he would have dinner and wine, alone, often staying till 10:30 p.m.
Alexander Butterfield testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee, July 16, 1973, revealing the Oval Office taping system installed by President Richard Nixon.
--The obsession Nixon had with his perceived enemies – Democrats, media, liberals, the State Department, it goes on and on. This is not new, but Butterfield’s diaries, documents, letters and notes bring it all back in textured anecdotes, many of them alarming.

--Butterfield’s inside view of the coldness of Nixon toward his wife, Patricia Nixon, and the overall awkwardness of the marriage, though Pat comes across sympathetically. When they traveled to Key Biscayne they lived in separate houses. (Woodward wonders if maybe she preferred it that way)
Butterfield today.
--The shade thrown on Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s long-time secretary who Nixon instructed his aides to keep out of the loop.

--Bizarre goings on between Nixon and some of the young secretarial staff. Was he making moves on them? Was he not? Did he even know what he was doing? One tells Butterfield of an evening with the president that was the “worst night” of her life.  Also in that regard, a very perplexing helicopter ride.

--More examples of the raging ego and duplicitous nature of Henry Kissinger, then the White House National Security Advisor. If you dislike and disrespect Kissinger in regard to the Vietnam War, this book will compound those feelings.
Watergate sleuths, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in The Washington Post newsroom.
--Butterfield says staff in the White House lie “all the time,” and then gives some whopping examples, starting with Nixon, who in an interview tells Dan Rather one version of the Vietnam War, a political move, when in fact something very different is happening.

--The recollections from Butterfield about the My Lai Massacre, and how it was handled from the Oval Office, and the mismanagement of the Vietnam War overall, prompts Woodward to call for a thorough reexamination of that costly U.S. failure.

--The melancholy of Butterfield’s post-White House years. Yes, he was gainfully employed and made a good living, it appears. But he is one of the Watergate figures who essentially did nothing wrong, and yet the revelation of the tapes made some treat him as a villain.

--Through Woodward’s 292 pages of narrative and footnotes and reprinted documents we are reminded once again of the price of ambition – what John Dean called “blind ambition”  -- especially as it pertains to politics in general and the White House in particular.
Taping the Q&A Cafe with guest Bob Woodward at the George Town Club.
Bob Woodward and CJ.
Bob Woodward, signing his new book after The Q&A Cafe taping.
Bob Woodward inscribes his new book ...

Mark the date of Tuesday, December 29, when the Kennedy Center Honors will air on CBS. Try to catch it on your television, tablet or phone. Its always an impressive show, but this year the Honors broadcast will be the first in its history that is produced by a new team – Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss – after being 37 years at the direction of George Stevens Jr. Expect some changes in format, but not a revolution. We’ll all get to be critics!

While the Sunday night show is the main event, it is only part of the weekend. Most honorees and out-of-town attendees arrive on Friday, checking into the Four Seasons Hotel or the Mandarin Oriental, and the events begin in earnest on Saturday night, with a dinner at the State Department. It is hosted by the Secretary of State in the handsomest rooms in Washington, the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, and it is the occasion where the ribbons and medals are bestowed. It is a big festive dinner party.
Secretary of State John Kerry at the dinner he hosted for the Kennedy Center honorees.
Cicely Tyson, David Rubenstein, and Kerry Washington.
Cicely Tyson.
Rita Moreno.
Herbie Hancock.
George Lucas and Usher.
Janet Langhart and Steny Hoyer.
James Taylor and Seija Ozawa.
Stephen Colbert.
Gina Rodriquez and Rosie Perez.
Gina Rodriquez and Stephen Colbert.
Kennedy Center Honoree Martina Arroyo and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Katie Lucas, George Lucas, and Janelle Monae.
Rita Moreno and Kennedy Center Trustee Adrienne Arsht.
Sunday is a whirlwind, with a casual lunch, followed by a formal reception at the White House. While more than 2000 ticket-buying guests attend the performances at the Kennedy Center on Sunday night, only a select group are included at the State Department dinner and the White House reception.
Group shot at the Honors lunch: David Rubenstein, Rita Moreno, George Lucas, Cicely Tyson, Carole King, and Deborah Rutter.
Yo-Yo Ma and Rita Moreno. Rita Moreno and Arthur Mitchell.
Carole King and Cicely Tyson.
Deborah Rutter and Seija Ozawa.
Renee Fleming and Seija Ozawa.
The news of the weekend – which risked grabbing the spotlight from the Honors -- was that President Obama first planned to attend the Sunday night performance, then the night before announced he would not attend because he would be addressing the nation on the terror threat, and then on Sunday morning announced he would attend, and did attend after his speech, arriving at the intermission and taking his place in the Presidential Box of the Opera House. First Lady Michelle Obama had arrived earlier.

The media are given limited access to most of the events, with the Sunday evening red carpet arrivals serving as the major photo op.
Honoree Rita Moreno. Honoree Cicely Tyson. Harolyn Blackwell.
Past Honoree Herbie Hancock.
Miranda Lambert. Kerry Washington.
Geoff Tracy and Norah O'Donnell. Honoree Carole King.
Peter Ellefson and Deborah Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center.
Yo-Yo Ma and Jill Hornor. Mellody Hobson and George Lucas.
2015 Honoree Cicely Tyson with 1993 Honoree Arthur Mitchell.
Usher. Tyler Perry.
Madeline and Stephen Colbert.
Sara Bareilles. Renee Fleming. Rose Perez.
David and Alice Rubenstein.
John Lloyd Young. Gina Rodriquez.
Julie and Les Moonves.
Gayle King and Kirby Bumpus. Michele Lee.
At the outset of the weekend, Kennedy Center trustee David Bohnett invited me to join him for lunch, a meeting that was scheduled weeks ago, long before my NYSD column on Stevens and his issues with the Kennedy Center hierarchy.

David is a Los Angeles-based philanthropist, tech entrepreneur, LGBT activist and avid arts patron. We sat at a sunny window-side table at Bourbon Steak, each having tuna tartare and kale salad, and talked for more than an hour, off the record.

I’ll share this: When I made light of our being together, and that I would keep our lunch on the DL, David, showing a good sense of humor, said it didn’t matter. “They all already know.”
David Bohnett and Julie Andrews.
Bohnett attended the weekend festivities with Julie Andrews, a 2001 Honoree and a friend of his from L.A. He was the first person I checked in with on Monday to get a read on the weekend, the red carpet and the show, which he called a “triumph.” His preview is that it will be “GREAT television.” In three days of parties, receptions, dinners and tributes, what was a stand-out moment? “Riding up to dinner at the State Department in the elevator with Aretha Franklin and Clive Davis.”

Franklin performed one of the evening’s showstoppers, singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in tribute to honoree Carole King. The live show ran 3 hours and 15 minutes. You can be sure Franklin will make the 2-hour final cut.
Photographs by Margot Schulman, Scott Suchman, John Filo.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt