It has been a week when facts about the Soviet nuclear disaster near Kiev were hard to come by; thus, there was considerable disparity in coverage of an event that the world knew was bad -- and many suspected was catastrophic.
The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune led their papers yesterday with news that the Soviets were reporting a "disaster" causing two deaths. Both went on to quote others who suggested that the Russian casualty estimate had to be preposterously low.
On the other side of the news business, the New York Post had a front page that screamed "The World Trembles" and announced 2,000 dead, 25,000 fleeing and "thousands threatened with slow and agonizing death." Their source, also announced on the front page, was Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.).
UPI also reported 2,000 dead, a fact attributed to a woman in Kiev whose phone was out of order yesterday.
"I would hate for anything to have happened to her," UPI foreign editor Sylvana Foa said. "That wasn't worth a story, even this story."
Washington reporters quickly rang sources in the intelligence community who offered glimpses of what spy satellites were picking up from the area. But journalists expressed their frustration that the story was huge and their facts were based on guesses and a panoply of experts who offered varied opinions about what had happened and what would happen.
White House reporters, who were in Bali trying to report on the story in Kiev, sometimes knew more than their briefers. When White House spokesman Larry Speakes talked to reporters Tuesday he said that there were two plants without containment buildings (at least five reactors lack them). And then he began to name them.
"One is in Manfred, Washington," he began, as groans came from his audience. "Hanford," the press shouted back to give Speakes the correct name for the controversial facility run by the Energy Department. Bali Highlights
If the meltdown in the Ukraine seems like a scene out of "The China Syndrome," the White House press corps in Bali may feel they are replaying parts of "The Year of Living Dangerously," the Mel Gibson movie based on troubles in Indonesia in the 1960s.
The usually unflappable Americans apparently found it all somewhat unsettling. First, two Australians were marched off President Reagan's press plane, followed by word that New York Times reporter Barbara Crossette had been deported because of her reporting.
Then came the Bali method of dealing with White House news photographers, a group of whom were staked out on the beach yesterday waiting to catch the Reagans on a stroll.
At first a plainclothes security guard asked the photographers to leave the area in front of the Nusa Dua resort hotel. When the photographers protested, as is the tradition in this country, the guard left -- only to return flanked by several dozen Indonesian soldiers, all armed with M16s.
"We don't want to hurt you," UPI White House correspondent Helen Thomas quoted one of the officers as telling the photographers. "But we're asking you to leave."
With a clatter of equipment being hastily slung over shoulders, the photographers scurried inside. Leaving Libya at Last
The news from Libya starting Sunday afternoon was no news from Libya -- at least from western journalists. After a week of ordering reporters to leave, inviting them out and escorting them to the airport, the Libyans put what they believed to be the last of the westerners on planes out of their country.
It had been a long two weeks for the pack of press people, who had been mostly confined to hotels and taken out only on guided tours of bomb sites or hospitals or places that were on what the Libyans called their press "program."
The signal that they were beginning to outlive their welcome came to most journalists last Wednesday.
"We were sitting down at breakfast, our usual tepid tea and stale bread, when they came in and told us to hurry up, we had 10 minutes to get out of there," said Brent Sadler, a correspondent for Independent Television News of London. "People were rushing around trying to pay their bill, file stories, the buses were honking their horns outside. It was a madhouse."
Suddenly, the intense pressure to depart was gone as swiftly as it had come. Some journalists believed the Libyans were trying to thin out the crowd of about 300 troublesome reporters. Others thought the change of heart coincided with a BBC radio report that western journalists were being deported in retaliation for Libyans being ousted from Great Britain.
Still, by last weekend the television crews began to stop pressing so earnestly to remain in the country as Libyan censors began to clip out even the most mundane pictures. Network officials said that some wanted to leave because they carried with them unauthorized tape that needed to be transmitted to New York from satellites unmanned by Libyan censors.
Alan Pizzey of CBS left on Friday. NBC's Brian Stewart and Steve Delany pulled out Saturday, as did ABC's team, including Charles Glass and Liz Coulton and CNN's John Donvan.
From London, Donvan said that the efforts by the Libyans to make them leave fell into the category of a broad hint, rather than an order. Room service costs seemed suddenly to double, he said, going from $60 for eight cheese sandwiches and seven 7-Ups to $100.
"They also drained the pool," said Donvan, adding that such an action might have been more anti-algae than anti-press.