As the Republicans began arriving in New York last Friday, a conga line of boldfaced names escaped to the Hamptons. Ben Bradlee’s 83rd birthday bash—a Mexican-themed party—was held at the former Washington Post editor’s house on tony Georgica Pond, where 75 guests swilled margaritas contentedly. The one exception was Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth, who, though at Bradlee’s table, was not seated next to the man of the hour, or even her second choice, Senator John McCain. Enraged by the sight of Barbara Walters and Lauren Bacall book-ending Bradlee, the slighted socialite left early, a premonition of things to come. Later, Tom Brokaw delivered a gushy toast to McCain but forgot to mention his host. Then Bacall explained that hers was the only toast that mattered to Bradlee, prompting Walters to grouse, “It doesn’t matter what I say—Betty’s toast is the only one that matters.” By evening’s end, reports our Deep Throat, the guests were barely speaking: “It was just like the last days of the Nixon White House.”
Tom Brokaw may be retiring after the November election, but he’s not going out without a fight. When the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that NBC would be excluded from the moderator lineups, the veteran anchor went ballistic in a missive: “For a commission that has assumed primary power in the exercise of the democratic process, you have a peculiarly autocratic style.” Now word is that the bristling Brokaw is negotiating with the two campaigns directly for an exclusive NBC debate. The deal is a long shot, but the genial anchor is a Bush favorite and acceptable to the Kerry camp as well. “He deserves one last hurrah before he rides into the sunset,” said a Kerry insider. Brokaw’s rep didn’t return messages.
Baldwin brothers buzz is now focused on born-again Christian Stephen, a vocal supporter of President Bush. Older brother Alec is keeping quiet, opting not to answer questions yesterday at a reading of the Constitution at Cooper Union. “Alec’s not doing any press,” an event flack said, though Richard Gere and Kathleen Turner obliged. Keeping Constitution-lovers away wasn’t easy, since event sponsor People for the American Way failed to usher him out a back door afterward. For a few tense minutes, press and fans shuffled alongside the star, who eyed the floor and denied pleas for photos. He should have followed Turner and Gere: They bolted as soon as they were done reading.
Chris Matthews is no pushover. Though the blustery pundit provoked White House wrath last week by protesting their appropriation of his John Kerry interview, a boycott of his show never materialized. On Monday, U.S. News & World Report quoted an angry Bush insider who vowed that “Hardball [would] seem more like badminton” during the GOP convention. So who showed up for badminton? Trent Lott, Chuck Hagel, Elizabeth Dole, Bill Frist, John McCain, Rick Santorum, and of course, Bo Derek, the GOP go-to hottie whose career perks up briefly during every convention.