- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

A you-are-there look at best of A-list events

Glittering social affairs were back in vogue during the Reagan administration after the relatively low-key Carter years, and The Washington Times was there to provide a comprehensive record of the many important events that revitalized the capital's political and cultural scene.
Then as now, the newspaper's coverage of people and events was directed by an assignment editor working in conjunction with reporters and photographers to produce a colorful and informative "society page" twice (later three times) each week.
In the paper's early years, longtime social scribe Betty Beale contributed news of upper-crust happenings, manners and mores. The inimitable Diana McLellan lured from The Washington Post had a must-read column called Diana Hears, which contained juicy items about the city's movers and shakers. Charlotte Hays and Merrie Morris, also society editor for a time, succeeded her with their own columns.
Extensive coverage of Washington's "people, places and politics," as the Party Lines section is subtitled, started at the very top at the White House, of course and that has continued to the present day under society editor Kevin Chaffee, who came on in 1991, and his stable of writers. The Times has been behind the velvet ropes for state dinners since 1982, always with extensive reporting on the food, decor and entertainment at the executive mansion. Because readers always wish to know who has received what is unquestionably the nation's most prestigious invitation, the name of each and every guest traditionally is included.
Although politically inspired events attended by the president and first lady, members of the Cabinet and Supreme Court and congressional leaders receive top priority, a concerted effort is made to include other aspects of the city's social life. With more than 180 foreign missions in the nation's capital, the diplomatic scene is of continuing interest, especially concerning the embassies that generously open their doors to local charities' fund-raising efforts.
The rapid development of Washington's thriving cultural and arts scene is a major thrust, with much space devoted to events sponsored by such mainstay institutions as the National Gallery of Art, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra.
Medical, educational and social-welfare organizations also depend on contributions generated from parties and galas to survive, and The Times strives to cover those events and to recognize the many public-spirited volunteers and benefactors who make them possible.
Washington plays host to prominent writers from around the world. If there is a party to celebrate publication of a hot new book, it is likely someone from The Times will be there to record the occasion. Or perhaps do an interview, which has been the case in recent years with such leading literary lights as George Plimpton, Martin Amis, Ward Just and Dominick Dunne.
Social coverage in The Times also ventures outside the Beltway, even beyond the occasional horsy-set event in the Virginia hunt country or a Poolesville polo match. Readers look forward to the seasonal dispatches from Palm Beach and Newport as well as the insider's view of other major happenings, such as the five-day party in France hosted by the American Friends of Versailles, the notorious Tyson-Holyfield fight in Las Vegas and the opening of the Jacqueline Kennedy costume retrospective at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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