You saw it on television, you read it in the newspapers, and it was reported in the polls. The contest in New Hampshire between George Bush and Ronald Reagan was going to be a horse race, and much too close to call.

When over 2,000 newspaperman and pollsters assured you that the New Hampshire Republican primary is a toss-up between two men, you would be a fool to doubt their word. After all, among them they interviewed everyone in the state, not once but three times.

So what really happened? Reagan beat Bush by 2-1.

The days following the results I watched all the newscasts and read all the papers hoping to see someone from the media admit he or she was wrong.

It was not to be.

I decided to go down to Washington National Airport and meet the reporters as they got off the plane from Manchester and ask them why they missed the boat so badly.

Most of them were bitter and a few refused to comment, explaining that they never talk to the press.

The ones who were willing to discuss it at all had various excuses for their bad showing in New Hampshire.

A nationally respected political pundit said, "The citizens of New Hampshire didn't level with us. This is the most outrageous primary I have ever covered."

"Are you saying people in New Hampshire lie?"

"What other conclusion can you draw? We went into their shops, we stopped them on the streets, we drank coffee in their homes. The least they could have done was tell us the truth."

"Maybe they were telling you the truth at the time. Perhaps they changed their minds after they talked to you."

"That's too simple an explanation. I believe the people who said they were going to vote for Bush were really closet supporters for Reagan. They wanted us to believe it would be a horse race, so we'd all stay around. My next column is going to be an expose on how the citizens of New Hampshire manipulated the press to make us all look like fools."

A TV commentator staggered off the plane and tried to push by my camera. But I stuck a microphone in his face.

"You really blew it in Manchester," I said.

He tried to put his coat over his head.

"I am innocent of any wrongdoing," he replied. "When all the facts are in, the public will realize that we were given the wrong information by the Bush and Reagan campaign managers.

"Bush's people insisted their man had the momentum to sweep the primary. Reagan's campaign headquarters told me they would be happy to get 25 percent of the vote. I split the difference and that's how I came up with the horse race. I've only been in this business 15 years. Anyone could have made the same mistake."

The next person I managed to talk to was a leading pollster who said, "Although we came out originally with 41 percent for Bush and 41 percent for Reagan, we have reassessed our data and have concluded it should have been 23 percent for Bush and 50 percent for Reagan. When you're polling a large state like New Hampshire, you always have to allow a 27 percent margin of error."

The last person to get off the plane was the dean of political reporters. All I said to him was, "Have you seen any good horse races lately" and he tried to hit me over the head with his typewriter.