The woman admitted that she was a Marine wife, so her judgment might have been a little biased. Still, she felt I was worth the fifteen cents. So she was calling to complain.

Her beef: The Post had maligned yet another military man in the same old unfair way.

She said that all the military wives in her Prince George's County neighborhood agreed with her. By the time we finished talking, I did too.

The issue was: When (if ever) is it fair, in a "negative" news story or headline, to refer to a person's military background?

The question arose in a recent Prince George's murder case.

Raymond A. Poellot, 23, was accused of hiring a man to slit the throat of his wife, Patti, 25. In the course of their investigation, police discovered that Poellot used to be a Marine.

So, throughout the usual chain of events in a murder -- discovery of his wife's body, Poellot's arrest, his guilty plea -- news stories and headlines referred to him as an "Ex-Marine."

In this particular case, the "Ex-Marine" designation was a little more germane than usual.

Not only had Poellot met his wife while on active duty in Washington, but Mrs. Poellet was an active duty Marine herself at the time she was murdered.

Still, my caller wanted to know why Poellot's military service had been the one aspect of his past that The Post -- and all the other media -- picked out.

Didn't he perhaps do time as a Little League shortstop, she wanted to know?

Couldn't he have been an ex-plumber?

Did anyone check to see if he used to be an altar boy?

In short, why suggest that, beneath the crew-cut heads of all Marines, or even of most, there lurks a potential murderer?

"It's the same phenomenon that develops whenever they find out that a cop was on the take, or whenever a teacher turns out to be a drug dealer," I argued.

"We expect a higher standard of behavior from those who are asked to lead our society and train our youth.

"So it's notably ironic whenever a Marine turns out to be anything less than a saint. You can't expect newspapers to ignore that kind of irony, can you?"

No, the woman agreed, she couldn't. But she wanted to know why newspapers couldn't find another way to make the same point.

She acknowledged that "Ex-Marine" was a grabber in a headline. And she understood immediately when I explained that, in most headlines, the word "Ex-Marine" would fit conveniently in less than a column.

But in this case, my caller felt that the media were guilty of "stretching."

By labeling Poellet an "Ex-Marine," were newspapers trying to suggest that there was something in Marine life that should have warned his wife -- or the whole society -- of the danger she was in?

Obviously not, I replied.

Were the newspapers trying to suggest that all military people were latent killers?

I doubted it.

Were the papers simply trying to "Igeonhole" this man into a category every reader could quickly identify, without thinking of the consequences?

Possibly, maybe even probably, I said.

So wasn't there a way to handle this that was, on balance, fairer?

Clearly, I said.

While we're on the subject of military women and the media, Bill Sullivan, of Silver Spring, points out an error made in The Post last Tuesday.

Bill spotted a headline that referred to "Women Navy Recruits," Of course, it should have been "Female," the adjectival form for the feminine form.

"It's hard enough for old salts to get used to Navy women," Sullivan lamented.

Amid all the hoorah about the nation hanging on the edges of its chairs over Teddy and Jimmy and Ronnie and Jerry, it might be time to ponder the following.

It's proof positive, from the March, 1979 issue of National Civic Review, that we don't give nearly as big a damn about politics as some editors of news magazines like to think.

In a recent poll of 17- and 18-year-olds, 81 percent of the respondents did not know that party conventions make the final choice of major-party presidential nominees.

Only 50 percent knew that each state has two U.S. Senators.

Forty-one percent did not know that China is the most populous nation on earch.

And only 18 percent could offer a serviceable definition of "detente."

There was levity among the ashes, however.

Question: "Who was the Democratic candidate for President in 1972?"

One teenager's wrong-as-could-be answer: "Richard Ford."