There was a time when journalists were journalists and politicians were politicians and never the twain would meet, except maybe at the nearest saloon.

But now, in The New York Review of Books, James Fallows has written about the Washington syndrome that blurs the lines between journalism and politics. Take a column, add TV talk shows, bolster with the lecture circuit, and presto . . . a journalist becomes a media star.

Fallows, who joined the Carter administration and then returned to writing, names the top stars of journo-politics in Washington as George Will and John McLaughlin, with a host of other media officials like Charles Krauthammer of The New Republic, Morton Kondracke of Newsweek and columnist Robert Novak playing supporting roles.

Will is criticized primarily for what Fallows calls his "crude . . . version of scholarly name-dropping." McLaughlin, a former Catholic priest and Nixon administration aide, is described by Fallows as lending a "bullying, macho tone" to Washington as the town increasingly adopts his snap grading system. As talk show host, McLaughlin encourages his participants to "behave like scrapping members of the House of Representatives."

Fallows, asking whether these reporters or columnists have now become such celebrities they can no longer deign to ask mere reportorial questions, quotes McLaughlin as explaining how lecture tours help give a broader view:

"That's why it is so important to go on the road. You get to talk with the person driving the car, you get to hear the whole range of views from the trade associations."

Rejoins Fallows: "The person driving the car! Is that what takes the place of reporting?" Market for the Monthly

With all the buying and selling of publications in recent months -- Roll Call, The National Journal, the Detroit News, the Louisville papers, the Baltimore Sunpapers -- Charles Peters of The Washington Monthly said the heat is apparently on even for his small, but perpetually mischievous magazine (circulation 34,000 to 35,000).

"We've got two people interested in buying us . . .in the last three weeks," Peters said yesterday. The price and the potential buyers are still undisclosed, but perhaps more important is whether Peters would be allowed to pick friends and poke enemies with the same abandon.

"You know me," acknowledges Peters. "I would want to retain editorial control." Guide or Misguided?

Contrary to what is being heard on the street in Washington, Wall Street Journal bureau chief Albert Hunt did not throw former Journal employe Jude Wanniski out of his office last week.

"I insulted him out of my office," Hunt said yesterday.

Wanniski, who recently published a conservative's media guide full of sometimes-funny, sometimes-strident opinions about the nation's star reporters, said he was paying a "courtesy call" on Hunt as part of his effort to amass information for next year's guide, to be published by Harper & Row.

Wanniski said he is allowing those who were criticized in this year's model to give their own views on the matter.

"I came away feeling that maybe his critique of my critique was a little excessive," said Wanniski.

Hunt, who said that he thought Wanniski took too many shots at people who didn't quote him or his clients, said "he really infuriated me."

And although The Journal, which employed Wanniski from 1972 to 1978, came off fairly well in the book, Hunt added, "It was really a crummy book."

Notes on U.S. News Real-estate-developer-turned-publisher Mortimer Zuckerman may have learned the hard way in recent weeks that living by the pen can sometimes mean just about dying of embarrassment -- at least briefly. An article in Washington's free City Paper a few weeks ago savagely critiqued Zuckerman's columns that run in the back of his magazine, U.S. News & World Report. It said, among other things, "No other columnist has so successfully made mind-numbing banality his shtick."

The cover piece also asked why someone at U.S. News doesn't say: "Mort, for God's sake and your own, and for the magazine's, put a sock in it."

For several weeks the question for some at U.S. News was who is this guy, Andrew Ferguson, whose name was on the piece. A pseudonym, many thought. Some even thought it was a member of the staff.

As it turned out, the man who writes under the name Andrew Ferguson is Andrew Ferguson, assistant managing editor of the conservative magazine American Spectator.

"I'm really a nice guy," said Ferguson, who acknowledged he wrote it and that he's not anxious to hear from Zuckerman.

If Zuckerman feels beleaguered, he can take little solace from Advertising Age. A recent piece bearing the headline "Cut-rate deals help 'U.S. News' " attributed a 6 percent boost in subscriptions to cut-rate and trial offers.

The piece by Janet Meyers was across the page from an advertisement by U.S. News that said circulation was up by 250,000 because of the magazine's redesign.