"READ BETWEEN these lines what does not stand written in them, but is nervertheless implied," advised Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who even in his autobiography, could not bring himself to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
This is also the best advice a columnist can give the thousands of new Reagan folk pouring into town, most of them unacquainted with the subtleties of Washington's main cottage industry, column-writing.
Newcomers, at first, may find such mysterious columnar techniques as the Two-Byline-Double-Edged-Sword difficult to understand (much less avoid). It ingeniously permits columnists sharing bylines to shuffle back and forth the blame for mistakes while each takes blanket credit for all successes.
Then there is the Drew Pearson Couch Ploy, a device for force-feeding sources good brandy at late hours to bring out spirited confessions.
The Bearded Interview Two-Step guilefully sneaks a columnist into high-level meetings under the most false pretenses; the Explosive Hydrogen Trial Balloon is as risky as it sounds but does ascertain how a presidential appointment will sit with the public. And the sinister but efficacious Adjectival Gush, when used flawlessly, guarantees floods of stories from flattered sources.
Goethe, an ex-newspaperman himself, would have marveled at how such masters as Evans and Novak, for example, employ these and an arsenal of other devices to reveal even as they conceal.
In a column more than two months ago, the oracluar pair-presaged -- if one could but have divined it -- Secretary of State Al Haig's serious problems with the White House in the last few days. There was even a hint that Haig, unless he starts eating humble pie will soon be an old soldier that just fades away.
The column began:
"Within hours of his confirmation as Secretary of State, Alexander Haig put the final touches on a document for President Reagan's signature that would enthrone the State Department and its new boss as undisputed foreign policy makers in the Reagan administration."
What was a new arrival from San Bernardino to think of the ready access to Gen. Haig's or President Reagan's files? Certainly there was rage in Haig's bunker over the leak. Surley there was trembling in the camp of White House National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen lest Reagan's inner circle or Haig think Allen leaked it.
But what would the column mean beyond what it says?
Well, one rival columnist would venture it meant that Haig was in trouble with Edwin Meese, the president's closest adviser. In fact, this rival columnist will eat the Evans and Novak column in the National Press Club's ballroom with only house dressing if someone very close to Meese didn't have something to do with it.
Why Meese or one of his meeses?
Scrutiny of the column shows mention of eight people and three agencies that might have known about Haig's memo. But only one, Ed Meese, was mentioned with any real approval.
Then the intrepid Joseph Kraft shortly thereafter came up with details on Haig's would-be putsch, mentioning the Meese-Haig disagreement but with much information on Meese's allies and little on Haig's.
A few days later, The Post's own Don Oberdorfer also wrote about the situation, going a step further by putting us inside Reagan's inner circle (three men, one of them Meese) and quoting a "senior official" as saying Haig tried a "power grab."
A solid case for Meese or one of his pals having leaked the story? So you might think. But hold on.
In the Evans and Novak column, Allen looked the wimp. This is a time-tested red herring for putting irate officials off the track of the true leaker.
A few days later, in a second Evans and Novak column, Allen was the hero. Reagan, report Evans and Novak, "authorized Allen to leak a story" in order to save the life of Korean dissident Kim Dae Jung. Could it be that Allen, not Meese . . .?
Where would that leave us? With one thing still certain: Al Haig will sure as hell be using everything short of the wiretapping he helped with in the Nixon days to find out who has the Wally Hickel Memorial Ax out for him at the White House. Indeed, columnists last week were already pointing Haig -- between the lines, of course -- in the direction of Meese, Allen and company. This week, the columnists seen to be pointing him out the door.
It's fairly easy to read between the lines of news columnists, like Evans and Novak, Germond and Witcover and Maxine Cheshire, and news-views types, like Kraft, William Safire and Carl Rowan (I'm not mentioning Jack Anderson, the most widely read of them all. I'd be charged with predjudice).
The most murky columns for the novice augur are those by more-or-less pure thumbsucks like James Reston, William Buckley and George Will.
When Will, with his academic breadth, tries to hide a source, he does so in three or four languages. But when he is obvious about it, he makes fellow columnists grit there teeth with frustration.
A recent Will column began, "Standing on his patio, looking out and down through bare branches at the gray ice and grayer water of the Potomac about 500 feet away, Ted Kennedy says . . ."
What Ted Kennedy is saying, it turns out, isn't all that electrifying. But what George Will is saying, baldly and beautifully, is that he is, like Walter Lippmann once was, at the very seat of power. He is able to chat with equal insouciance with Kennedy by the river or over supper with Kennedy's possible opponet, President Reagan.
Therefore, any new bureaucrat who intends keeping up his end of the conversation during Ronald Reagan's first 100 days had better be able to quote Will on economics along with Adam Smith.
Why only 100 days? Already the wolf pack is falling on the fresh star of the herd. Will, lupine word has it, because he had the Reagan's to dinner is guilty of "insider journalism."
Hell, all journalism is insider.
Wouldn't I love to get Reagan out here to Silver Spring to sup! That's the best way to get stories. Drew Pearson used to have Supreme Court Chief Justices, Cabinet Members and God knows Who Else sitting on his parlor couch, extracting stories from them as they sipped his brandy. Luvie Pearson, his widow, gave me the couch, but I can't figure out how to get important bottoms to come to Silver Spring to sit on it.
So it would be kinder of Will, and more fun for the rest of us, if we would spare us the out-and-out name dropping. Maybe he should be more exquisitely allusive, like "Ronald Reagan looked out on the faultless white expanse of linen, took a sip from his crystal goblet of 1977 Mayacamas Cardonnay and softly confided that he was going to visit China in April."
That way, we could guess whether Reagan was at Will's or whether it was somebody's else's party and Will had heard it second hand, the channels through which us hoi polloi get such breathless news.
Lest the new bureaucrat find the complexity of applied logic and Washington "in" knowledge too cumbersome a means of reading between the lines, there is the shorthand method available. It's called Adjectival Gush Analysis.
For example, when a columnist calls anyone "effective," "brilliant," "conscientious," "dependable" or "enterprising," you can safely wager your Secrecy Stamp that the subject has leaked or is on the verge of leaking a good story to that columnist.
The same may be true of lesser adjectives such as "hard-working," "able," "capable," "earnest," "zealous," or the Affability Series: "affable," "amiable," "good-humored," "friendly," "good-hearted" and "kindly."
A column might read, "Earnest Rep. Sorghum R. Mediokra, (D-Ala.), is locked in a do-or-die battle for reelection with a man convicted in 1951 of illegal cotton-ginning."
Between the lines, the columnist is telling you that Mediokra leaked the column to him. But the columnist is also saying that the "earnest" Mediokra is a bumbler not much better than the crook he is running against and unworthy of the adjective "effective."
Before you condemn this artfullness, consider who profits by it. It's true that Mediokra gets a cudgel to use on his opponent ("Ah would not stoop to such an attack mah-self, but since this Washington cahlumnist has raised the issha, perhpas mah opponent would cayuh to answer the charge.") But the public also learns something more about the challenger -- and gets a chance to vote for the lesser of two evils.
There is one important caveat in Adjectival Gush Analysis. Like everyone else, columnists fear legal suits, even ones they can win. And at trial, fairness is always an important factor.
By inserting a favorable adjective in an unfavorable story, the columnist may be buying a little libel insurance. Viz: Affable Ivan Repressovich hardly seems the kind of federal judge who would molest children, but . . ." Or, "One of the nation's most hard-working anti-Semites is Charlington Goering-Smythe . . ."
Next we consider a little-publicized device known as the Non-denial Denial. Let us suppose that Senator Hamlet has just spilled the beans to a columnist about his worst enemy. Hamlet does not want to leak known, however obvious it may appear.
So he asks the columnist to ask him on the record now for comment. The columnist asks and Hamlet says "no comment," or "I hate that kind of charge, even against an adversary."
The columnist dutifully prints the denial to steer the curious away from his source. Think about that, new White Housers, the next time your bureaucratic rival is quoted as "huffily denying" or "uttering a sharp, 'no comment,'" on a story that cuts you off at the jugular.
Even more subtle is the use of a "beard" in an interview. Imagine that Secretary Schmack wants to destroy his undersecretary. He calls in his personal lawyer and the columnist. Without ever looking at the columnist, much less shaking his hand, he tells his lawyer -- under the flimsiest of lawyer-client privilege -- all about the undersecretary's affair with the assistant secretary.
When the story blasts the undersecretary out of his chair and into unemployment, Schmack can swear to him, "Gary, I never even met that columnist bastard, much less talked to him. How could he have known about you and Hortense?"
A variation on this ruse, actually used to my certain knowledge, featured an official with some secret transcripts to leak. The columnist and his 84-year-old mother drove by the official's building at 11:30 p.m. The official handed a manilla envelope through the car window to the mother and later was able to testify that he had neither met the columnist nor ever given him anything.
One final subterfuge designed to obfuscate stories so Cabinet members cannot trace them (or to protect Cabinet members who are doing the leaking) is "place sourcing."
An in vivo example involved a Pentagon bigwig willing to leak a story on corruption if the columnist could put the trackers off his trail. The columnist met him at the Hawk and Dove near the House office buildings and accurately if misleading reported in the ensuing column that the story came from "sources on Capitol Hill."
There is a particularly delicate aspect of reading between the lines that has to do with a columnist's personal life. It may not bother poetry fans that Auden, who wrote some of the finest love poetry in modern times, was a homosexual. But most would like to know it.
By analogy, William Buckley might be just as benevolent toward the big, bad bugbears of Big Oil even if he and his family weren't up to their rep ties in the petroleum business. The fact of these lengthy and oily ties, however, is worthy of consideration.
Reagan worshippers of James Kilpatrick, that epitome of Virginia country-boy virtue, may find a parallel in his series of columns praising the Greek dictatorship of the '70s. No doubt, Kilpatrick, meant every word of those columns.
But a packet of vouchers from a source in the Green government development bank did put another dimension on the columns. When translated, they showed that Kilpatrick (and columnist Ralph de Toledano, among others) had gotten a first-class, all-expense luxury tour of Greece worth thousands of dollars courtesy of the same tyrants whose governments Kilpatrick was applauding.
Yet, a cautionary word to those new to Washington and used to the cruder forms of Cook County, New Jersey and Orange County mutual backscratching..
At a supper at Joe Kraft's house, I saw Henry Kissinger dancing around Kraft the way most of us in those days danced around Kissinger. Surely, I thought, such Cabinet-level fawning toward a columnist merited a kindly word when it counted.
Some months later, Charles Colson, in early galleys of his book "Born Again," which was obtained from the usual "confidential sources," charged Kraft with playing up to Kissinger in his column. Unable to reach Kraft and assured by Colson that he had personally read the column in question, I mentioned Colson's charge in print.
Kraft, properly outraged, produced the column that said just the opposite of what Colson had, through a bad memory lapse, charged. Far from favoring Kissinger, Kraft had taken a healthy bite out of the hand that fed him.
Newcomers may learn something from my unfair and unprofessional goof: no matter how close you get to Joe Kraft, if you're wrong, he's going to report that you are.
Almost as hard as getting into the bank accounts and minds of columnists is getting into the minds of their most highly placed sources. Presidents and Cabinet officers, for example, are great floaters of that Washington aerial phenomenon, the "trial balloon." Even the most astute columnists don't know when they're being taken on a balloon ride.
Once, in the privacy of his office, Lyndon Johnson floated out to columnist Marianne Means that he had a new job for Bobby Kennedy. She had written the column, and it was ready to go when Johnson had second thoughts about his balloon launch. He'd been "just kidding," he falsely explained.
Means, furious that she had alerted her editors to a major story and then had to retract it, commented to a colleague, "I guess if you have to deal with a liar, it might as well be the president of the United States."
Columns that bear two names have a built-in edge. They can play a double game with their sources. An official may think his devoted leaks to one of the columnists insures him against harsh treatment by the column. Not so.
Most columnists were once police reporters, familiar with the "mummy-daddy" or "good cop-bad cop" techniques that police use to hornswaggle confessions from suspects.
When one columnist has a good expose on the high-level source of the other partner there is an efficient, if sinuous, way out of the dilemma. They write the column, and when the dismayed source calls his pal on the column, the columnist assures him that it was the partner who did the dastardly deed.
"If I'd been in town, I could have stopped it," the foxy friend may say. Or with mock consternation, he might explain, "My partner is uncontrollable. If I'd blocked it, he'd have quit the column. You can't imagine the trouble I have with him . . . Now, while I've got you on the phone, how about that confidential memo we were discussing last week . . ."
So, yes Reagan arrivals and arrivistes, there is a certain amount of columnar quid pro quo in Washington. And, if you want to quid me for telling you all about my fellow columnists, getting in Dutch with Jack and infuriating my sources, then pull that hot document out of your safe and send it to me anonymously.
Or Call me at 483-1442. My 84-year-old mother and I will be by our house at 11:30 p.m. any night to pick it up.