Partying with Tina and Hillary

Published July 28, 2004 10:03PM (EDT)

One of them alone is enough to draw the media A-list, but the two of them together proved utterly intoxicating for the chattering elite in Boston on Wednesday afternoon. It was the Tina and Hillary Show, a Hillary Clinton luncheon hosted by Tina Brown for her CNBC talk show, "Topic A," at celebrity chef Michael Schlow's Radius restaurant. Menu: Atlantic cod with sweet turnips, carrot confit, green beans and truffle vinaigrette. We know, we know -- it sounds mouth-watering, but your own mouths are filled with the bitter herbs of envy, and what the hell is Salon doing at a posh fest like this during a week when the people's party is working so hard to topple King George? Well, if it makes you feel any better, we were so busy gathering quotes from the rich and powerful guests, we had practically no time to savor the cuisine. That's why they call it the working press.

Chowing down on Schlow's chow were Michael Moore, Gore daughter Kristin, George McGovern, Larry David, Jann Wenner, Carol Mosley Braun, NBC potentates Bob Wright and Jeff Zucker, and network news talent Tom Brokaw, Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews. Inspired by Moore's presence, we decided to annoy Wright, the chairman of NBC, by interrupting his conversation to ask him what in God's name it would take for CNBC or MSNBC to broadcast a red-meat liberal program to counter the right-wing ravings of Joe Scarborough. "Well, we have Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann," Wright suggested, but even he knew how lame that was. "Yes, actually, Chris goes in both directions and Keith kind of does his own thing." So is there a chance that NBC will ever realize there is a huge, hungry market out there for a hard-hitting, liberal show? "Well, I'd never say never." Now beat it.

Larry David seemed even less thrilled to see us. We love his show, but Salon's TV critic Heather Havrilesky wrote that his last season on HBO was not up to previous seasons' standards, and maybe that put him off us -- or maybe he just doesn't like reporters asking him for witty comments when he's trying to enjoy himself. In any case, after a companion of David's intervened on our behalf ("They're good people, Larry, give them a quote"), the comedian graciously complied. Is he optimistic about John Kerry's chances in November? "Yes, I am," replied the deadpan David. "And it may be the only thing in my life that I've ever been optimistic about."

Chris Matthews, who conducted an uncharacteristically rational and spittle-free interview with Teresa Heinz Kerry on a special Sunday edition of "Hardball," was feeling less gracious about her after her multilingual convention speech. "What is she, Sonia Braga? How's she going to play in Peoria?"

But Fox News' token liberal freak, Susan Estrich, was high on Teresa's performance, even though Fox made sure she didn't get to balance its predictable stupid-white-men trashing of the speech until after 11:30 when TV viewers were safely asleep. Estrich, clutching a glass of Chardonnay, was feeling fed up with her colleagues. "They just didn't get it. They said everybody at the convention was rolling their eyes, that she was talking too much about herself. But I didn't see anyone rolling their eyes -- and she wasn't talking about herself, she was talking about women like me, and men like the Kenyan who drove my cab, and all the people not usually heard from at conventions. I thought she was terrific."

After lunch, Tina introduced Hillary as "the first woman to have earned a seat at the table with the big boys," and Clinton promptly began trashing some of those big boys, attacking the Bush administration for not doing more to protect the homeland and for waging an "incompetent" war in Iraq. During the question-and-answer period, Eric Alterman, another rude journalist, reminded Clinton that, along with Kerry, she had voted for the Iraq war resolution. Clinton said that she and Kerry, like most Americans, had complicated opinions about Iraq and that she too felt misled by Bush before the war. "Bush told the American people in a speech in Cincinnati that the administration would go back to the Security Council for its approval, but we needed the threat of force to make Saddam do anything. But they had no intention of letting the weapons inspectors do their job. And then to make matters worse, when they did invade Iraq, they did it in such a way that can only be described as incompetent."

Another luncheon guest suggested that African-American voters were not as passionate about Kerry as they were about Clinton's husband, the man Toni Morrison called "the first black president." But Clinton insisted every Democrat would do whatever is necessary to remove Bush from the White House this fall. "Someone said Democrats like to fall in love -- Republicans just fall in line. But I've never seen such a disciplined and cohesive party as this one. I don't know whether you saw 'Fahrenheit 9/11'"-- which produced a big burst of applause from the elite crowd (even Bob Wright, who told us earlier he tried to get distribution rights to the film). "But it is just hard to imagine what our country would look like after another four years of Bush."

As Tina thanked Hillary and the guests began to disperse, we finally had time to enjoy dessert -- seasonal berries with Champagne sabayon and vanilla tuille. But before you outraged peasants start running for your pitchforks, you'll be glad to know that our waiter cleared our table, snatching away Chef Schlow's exquisite concoction before we could plunge in our spoons. Someone in the Radius kitchen is no doubt enjoying our berries and tuille (whatever that is) at this very moment.

By David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of New York Times bestsellers like "Brothers," "The Devil's Chessboard," and "Season of the Witch." His most recent book is "Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of My Stroke."

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