Sometimes journalists can be a dignified lot, and sometimes, like yesterday in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building, they become a little like shoppers waiting for Harrods to open the door on Sale Day.
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) had the merchandise, more than 2,000 pages of financial memorabilia from ousted Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, and reporters were told that they or their representatives in the form of a "pool" could see them at 2 p.m.
But even though the documents were available on time, reporters were barred from seeing them until Solarz could give a press conference at 3 p.m. -- a delay Solarz aides said was "not deliberate."
"I've covered a lot of federal budgets," said Lyle Denniston of the Baltimore Sun. "I can't remember a process that was more calculated to obscure the results than this one. The idea of having hundreds of reporters have access to one copy of a 2,000-plus page report is just mind boggling."
In fact, the bulk of the reporters did not have access to the documents or even to a pool report until well after 6 p.m.
Solarz' office commiserated some: Michael Lewan, administrative assistant to the congressman, announced that journalists would get a list of the 40 most important pages in the package.
"This is the Top 40," he offered, to a group in no mood for jokes.
"It's a zoo," acknowledged Lee Rainie of the New York Daily News, one of the members of the press trying to work out a fair arrangement for getting the documents. "In a way we're a victim of Gramm-Rudman. Now it's tough printing 2,000 copies of anything. In the past, we could have had them easily. Every congressman interested would have run off a few copies on their Xerox machines." The New Republic's Anti-Contra Band
Even at magazines like The New Republic, it is not often that the contributing editors -- that list of Big Names on a magazine masthead -- stage a revolt.
However, an editorial written by Charles Krauthammer in the March 24 issue has provoked some fairly heated dissent from the stellar set. The article argues that President Reagan must win military aid for the contras in Nicaragua because "the future of Central America hinges on the vote ."
Not so, 13 of the 20 contributing editors argued in a letter that is expected to be printed in the magazine's April 7 issue.
Drafted by former New Republic editor Hendrik Hertzberg, the letter argues against contra aid and says that the magazine, in effect, "recommends fomenting a proxy war [that] it admits would be . . . nasty, brutish and long."
Signing the letter were Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles, writer Henry Fairlie, Hertzberg, artist Vint Lawrence, Yale English professor R.W.B. Lewis, Walter Lippmann biographer Ronald Steel, former New Republic columnist Richard Strout, Yale historian C. Vann Woodward, Princeton philosopher Michael Walzer, novelist Anne Tyler, Harvard government professor Robert Reich, Johns Hopkins professor Mark Crispin Miller and retired editor Abraham Brumberg.
Brumberg found that his dissent meant the end of his connection to The New Republic. In a letter dated Monday, magazine owner Martin Peretz said: "I understand that you've been going back and forth about whether your name should appear as a contributing editor of The New Republic. As it happens, I had been going back and forth myself recently about the same question. Let's settle it. We are removing your name effective this week." Peretz, who was on his way to South Africa, could not be reached.
Magazine insiders said that Peretz and Brumberg had long been at odds about how Peretz had been pushing the magazine to the right, and Brumberg said: "I regret that Mr. Peretz could not resist the temptation to fire off a letter that may prove more embarrassing to him than to me." Interview Impasse
For the television show "From the Editor's Desk," produced in conjunction with Independent News Network, the question last week became who asks the questions.
Producers of the program had planned what they considered a balanced discussion on the issue of military aid to the contras. Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, was the scheduled guest, and the newsmen -- reflecting opposing views on the issue -- were supposed to be conservative Robert Bartley, editor of The Wall Street Journal, and Christopher Hitchens of The Nation, representing the left.
However, producer Janice Elsesser said last week that the show had to be canceled after Abrams refused to appear before the cameras with Hitchens.
"You can't compromise a program by letting guests say, 'Okay, I'll appear, but before I do, I want to know who I'm being interviewed by,' " Elsesser said.
Abrams' aide Greg Lagana said that Abrams believed Hitchens was "not in the mainstream . . . also we felt that this was a debate among Americans. He masquerades as an American but is really British."
Hitchens, noting that he was "an accredited representative of a redoubtable American weekly," called Lagana's comment a "chauvinist evasion."
"They don't repudiate Thatcher's support for their policy and they claim to speak for the Free World," he said. "The truth is, Abrams won't debate anybody he doesn't half agree with."