MEMO TO Reagan Appointees.

Subject: The Washington Media Mafia.

During the course of your stay in Washington, you will have dealings with the Washington media. Although you may run a multimillion-dollar corporation, or a billion-dollar law firm, do not be under the misapprehension that you can handle a reporter making $250 a week.

The Washington press corpos is a type of mafia. The head of the families are publishers, network bureau chiefs, star political reporters and syndicated columnists. They usually can be snowed if you pretend to take them into your confidence, and throw them a piece of red meat every once in a while. They are duck soup to manipulate and since they are part of the establishment, you can always make them an offer they can't refuse.

What you have to worry about are the foot soldiers in the families who wear turtleneck sweaters, socks that don't match and thick rubber soles on their shoes. Every one of them has a contract out on you.

These soldiers, both male and female, are the ones who stand out shivering in the cold for hours, and wait for one morsel of information while you are inside having lunch with a noted pundit on his expense account.

They have nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting your ham hocks in the frying pan.

Underpaid and overworked, the soldiers of the media mafia all have fantasies of becoming another Woodward, Berstein or Barbara Walters. They know the only way they can do it is over your dead body. Since they are never invited to swank parties or intimate breakfasts, they have all the time in the world to find out what you're really up to. You would do well not to underestimate them just because they eat their lunch at McDonald's and take notes with a 49-cent Bic pen.

Surly and unresponsive to flattery, the soldiers are not impressed with titles or bloodlines or your old school tie. Most of them have never worn a tie in their lives. They live in a jungle and are constantly scrounging for food for their stories. They have the killer instinct and would just as soon dine on your carcass as the next public official's.

The most dangerous of all the soldiers are the females assigned to cover social functions. Most of them appear to be younger than your daughter, and are selected for their innocent looks and helpless demeanor.

Although they always appear flustered and about to cry, they have mastered the art of taking notes with one hand while putting on lipstick with the other. Women assigned to cover the social scene are trained to hover near their quarry and overhear conversations not meant for their ears. Many of them have taken lip-reading courses and can pick up your remarks at 30 feet.

The big news in Washington is usually made at parties, and while most readers of papers are skeptical of what appears on the front pages, no one questions the facts about what actually took place at a party, when reported in a gossip column.

The electronic mafia is something else again. You have to keep in mind that every TV reporter sent out on a story has only one goal in mind, and that is to get on the air that night. In order to do that, they have to provoke you into saying something newsworthy, and if you don't say anything of importance, they'll be satisfied with 30 seconds of you bumping your head on your car.

The main difference between the printed-press mafia and the electronic soldiers is that when a story appears in a newspaper about something you said, you can always deny it. But if you deny something attributed to you on television, they will show you denying it, and then replay the tape of you saying it.

Now that you understand how the Washington media mafia works, it is up to you to decide how to handle it. But don't make the mistake of threatening the soldiers, after they have written something you don't like, by saying you know Bill Paley, or Katherine Graham, or Arthur Sulzberger or Otis Chandler -- because in almost all cases, they don't.