Former budget director Bert Lance, who now specializes in Arab takeovers of American banks, warned U.S. editors at a convention last week that, if the media didn't get its home in order, the American press may be faced with outside censorship.
Mr. Lance feels, as Mr. Agnew did during another administration, that he has been mistreated by the media and is a victim of "erroneous and biased reporting."
Whether he is justified in his belief is one problem. The real question is how does Mr. Lance bring about censorship of the American press if they keep writing those terrible things about him?
The obvious answer is that he does it through his best freind, Jimmy Carter. But the way things have been going lately for Mr. Carter, it's doubtful the president could pull off press censorship in the United States any better than he's pushed through other issues he's handled.
Let us assume that Mr. Lance finally decides he's had it with the media, and the only solution to getting a good press is to demand some form of censorship. This is what could happen:
He would go to President Carter and tell him the biggest problem the country faced was a free press. He would suggest that the president ask Congress for a "Department of Censorship" which would make sure any unfavorable publicity of Mr. Lance be kept out of the newspaper and off television.
Mr. Carter, as a favor, would agree to sponsor it.
The first thing the president would do is go on television and announce that the press coverage accorded Mr. Lance was a "national disgrace" and he was going to ask Congress to set up a new department to deal with the problem. He would tell the American people that a strong censorship department with teeth in it was the "moral equivalent of war" and one of the major priorities of his administration.
The the president would call the congressional leaders to a breakfast and tell them if they passed nothing else in the next four years, he wanted a department of censorship.
The Senate and House leaders would go back to the Hill and introduce the bill.
But then the press and television media would start a counter-lobbying effort, pointing out censorship was a violation of the First Amendment.
A debate would take place in Congress, with Senate and House leaders risking their political careers to get the president's bill through.
Just as they lined up enough votes to create the new department, President Carter would hold a press conference where he would be asked about his intention to censor the press.
The president would reply that he was against censoring any section of the media, and couldn't understand why Congress wanted the bill in the first place. He would add that if they passed such a law he would have no choice but to veto it.
The congressional leaders would go back to the president and demand to know why he asked for the new Department of Censorship when he didn't want it.
Mr. Carter would explain he had done it as a favor to Mr. Lance, and he couldn't care less about press censorship. The leaders would tell him that unless he made a strong statement in favor of the censorship bill they would lose it in both houses.
The president would tell the House and Senate leaders that that was their problem, not his.
And so the "Department of Censorship" would die on the floors of the Capitol, and the country would be stuck with reading about Mr. Lance's wheeling and dealing for the rest of Mr. Carter's term in office.
It won't be any fun for Mr. Lance, but as the president would explain to him at the family dinner table, "Bert, even the president of the United States can't win them all."