Everybody needs an image maker these days. House Speaker Jim Wright hired one with a specific mission -- to clean up the little "inaccuracies and misimpressions" circulating in the media about the misunderstood Democrat from Texas.

But Wright's image maker has run amok, peppering national news organizations with amateurish, poison-pen letters that have left Wright looking absurd.

Wright's hit man is press officer George Mair, and we have become one of his targets.

We got under Wright's skin when we were the first to report a year ago that the congressman was using his considerable influence to keep the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. from closing a couple of savings and loans in his home state. The S&Ls were brain dead, but the FSLIC couldn't pull the plug because it didn't have enough money to pay off the insured losses of the depositors. This month, we reported that Wright succeeded in castrating a bill that would have given the FSLIC enough money to close the banks.

George Mair took pen in hand and threw good sense to the wind. He accused us of being desperate for news. He threatened, without explanation, that our associate Michael Binstein, the reporter who took the lead on the Wright stories, was about to be sued in a "serious civil libel and criminal fraud action." He said Binstein was a liar.

It doesn't take a college degree to figure out that the hot-headed approach does more harm than good. If you want to win friends and influence people, you don't insult them.

Remember the old adage about avoiding politics and religion if you want to stay out of a fight? Mair wades hip deep into both subjects. In his letter to us he says, "Well, I didn't realize you were so desperate for material that you would stoop to using this kind of trash . . . . The Church of the Latter Day Saints must be particularly proud."

Jack Anderson is widely known to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We assume that is the church Mair is talking about. If he had a dictionary, he would find the proper name in there.

We were unable to reach Mair to ask him if we have committed a sin worthy of confession by taking on Wright.

We are used to getting our share of angry letters. That comes with the territory and it is often the only way the average person has of standing up to the media. But Mair's letters have left us and others scratching our heads about why a savvy politician like Wright put a loose cannon on his deck.

The congressman released a statement when news of Mair's harebrained letters hit print. "Regrettably, I did not see George's letters before they were mailed. If I had, I'm sure I would, in at least some cases, have tempered their tone and content."

We apologize to Mair for what must seem to him to be a breach of confidence. He did, after all, end his letter to us with a postscript: "Naturally, these personal opinions of mine are not for publication."

Sorry, George, no deal. And welcome to the major leagues.