It was incorrectly reported in yesterday's Style section that Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R.-Ill.) voted to continue allowing television coverage of this week's testimony by Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter before the Iran-contra committee. Hyde voted against TV coverage, supporting a proposal by Poindexter's lawyer. (Published 7/17/87)

First, sez the lawyer, let's kill all the cameras. Lawyers can be so cute. This lawyer, Richard Beckler, representing former national security adviser John M. Poindexter, began Poindexter's first day of testimony at the Iran-contra hearings yesterday by asking that the networks be ejected from the hearing room so that frail spirit Poindy could speak his piece in peace.

Poindexter is a man who "shuns the public spotlight," said Beckler, who looks much like Brackman, the tough bald lawyer on the "L.A. Law" series (but whose voice seems that of Gabe Kaplan, star of "Welcome Back Kotter"). Why should such a sensitive rear admiral be required to testify, Beckler asked, "with the hot lights bearing down and the TV cameras grinding away?" They should be blacked out and live coverage suspended.

"Now there's a novel idea," marveled Dan Rather of CBS News. Rather sounded incredulous and yet, well, just a tad intrigued. After all, it was very unlikely John Poindexter would turn out to be another Oliver North, the Laurence Olivier of Iran-contra testifiers.

By a shutout, members of the House and Senate select committees voted to let the TV cameras alone. A congressman spurning a TV camera is like Raymond Burr waltzing right past a pastry shop. Before the vote, though, a few members sought to be as ridiculous as the moment would allow.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) said he was "most sympathetic to the admiral's position, and counsel's," but, well, he was going to vote to keep the TV cameras grinding away. Sen. James McClure (R-Idaho) said of Beckler's suggestion that only the transcript of the proceedings be made public, "I doubt very many of the housewives who watch the soap operas would read the script." Feminists must have loved that one.

McClure also lamented the "damage being done to this country as a result of these hearings," a reference he did not explain. Perhaps he is worried that "the housewives" will go into catatonic withdrawal after being deprived of so many "Guiding Lights" and "Santa Barbaras."

Wearing natty cuff links with his proper dark business suit, John Poindexter was finally sworn in 35 minutes after the hearing was gaveled to order by House Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind). "You're no longer a private man," said chief Senate counsel Arthur Liman with a smile, setting a tone of mellowness and friendliness that persisted through the day, lowering the drama quotient but hardly rendering the hearings dull.

Liman and the committee seemed to like Poindexter. They were able to relax, and they didn't have to worry that the witness would abruptly rise to recite Hamlet's soliloquy or the Gettysburg Address. No doubt Poindexter had been coached by counsel, but he wasn't nearly so studied and manipulative as North, and there were no soulful, doleful appeals to the folks out there in Television Land.

Maybe it wasn't exciting, but in a way it was a bit of blessed relief, like the sudden drop in Washington's humidity. Things were so cordial, you half expected the whole ensemble to break out into a chorus of "Getting to Know You." It helped, no doubt, that the committee and Poindexter had prior exposure to each other during preliminary depositions. North went in there cold, at his request, and then proceeded to heat things up as much as possible.

Liman, his rivulets of hair now more firmly congealed into one large bichromatic undulation, was unflappably sanguine. "It must be difficult for you without your pipe," he said chummily to Poindexter as the afternoon session began. Poindexter had waited almost two hours in the morning session before lighting up the professorial trademark, contenting himself by fiddling with a pencil until then.

Rather filled viewers in on Poindexter's favorite brands of pipe tobacco: Half & Half and Borkum Riff. Forty minutes into the afternoon questioning, Rather said in hushed sports-announcer tones, "Admiral Poindexter has gone to his pipe again." Ooooh!

Now and again, there was a testy moment. After a series of questions on how much Poindexter had told the president about this and that covert operation, Liman's next question was, "So ... the more controversial the issue, the less the president was to be told?" Beckler: "I'm going to object!" Liman: "I will proceed to the next question." Beckler: "I'd like to have that stricken! That's another bit of Arthur Liman bringing his conclusions to bear."

And all the while those TV cameras were grinding away! But, son of a gun, the Republic survived even this.

As far as news content went, Poindexter answered two of the big questions: that Reagan had signed a finding authorizing the arms-for-hostages deal (which Poindexter later destroyed) and that Poindexter never told Reagan about the diversion of funds to the contras. On the "CBS Evening News," Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) pronounced the Poindexter testimony "astounding."

Earlier, during a break, Rudman told Peter Jennings on ABC that whether the president knew about the diversion wasn't the be-all and end-all; the point was to investigate the processes that had gone awry. "You in the media have made this a single-issue issue," he said.

Bill Plante of CBS News reported from the White House that "the television sets were on today, and the president was watching, we're told." Then CBS played a clip of Reagan saying, on Nov. 13, 1986, "We did not trade arms or anything else for hostages, nor will we," though he apparently knew at the time that we did and we would. This videotape had not gone through the shredder or into the burn basket. It can be called up any time.

Mostly, the hearings yesterday were a polite game of patty-cake, no matter how little Poindexter wanted to be there. He may not be as telegenic as North, but he seemed enigmatic enough. It was refreshing the way he said matter-of-factly of the crucial presidential finding approving arms for hostages, "I destroyed that by tearing it up ... because I thought it was a significant political embarrassment to the president."

Things were much more civil and much less emotional. That probably meant viewers were less absorbed. Rather, who said he found it "spellbinding" (he must be easily spellbound), told viewers after adjournment, "If you care about how the government really works ... today's testimony {was} absolutely fascinating." Unfortunately, most people don't appear to care about how the government really works. Maybe the hearings have made them care more. That doesn't sound like "damage" to the country.

Today, for the first time since North began testifying, only one of the three major networks is scheduled to carry the hearings live (and only a morning session is slated). The three networks have agreed to gavel-to-gavel coverage on a rotating basis. Today is NBC's day, but since NBC is undergoing a strike by NABET, its technicians, the pool cameras will actually be manned by ABC personnel. CBS has dibs on Friday, and ABC on Monday.

Full coverage will continue on CNN and public television.

Network anchors and correspondents are not happy with the plan. They all want to be on the air. Rather is said to be especially miffed; he's been on location in Washington the whole time. ABC's Jennings and NBC's Tom Brokaw have stayed in New York. Both Jennings and Brokaw advised viewers of the new rotational plan as they signed off yesterday; Rather did not.

As the hearings continue, they become pop culture as well as instant history. On CNN, master satirist Harry Shearer offered a preview of a new video from his forthcoming HBO special, "What's New Indoors." The video is called "Shredding Party" and it sets North, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and other participants in the hearings to a funkadelic beat. It anticipates shredding parties becoming a hot new American craze. And why not? We haven't had a hot new American craze in almost a day.