The death of ABC correspondent Bill Stewart in Nicaragua was a senseless and horrible act, but the reaction of the three networks of Mr. Stewart's death was puzzling. All three networks withdrew their personnel from that Central American nation. Two reasons have been advanced by the networks for their actions: 1[ they were protesting the assassination of Stewart; 2] they could no longer guarantee the safety of their personnel. Both reasons raise interesting professional questions for TV journalism. What kind of statement did the networks wish to make? Their actions permit the speculation that they wanted to say something about the value of a free and unmolested press. A humanitarian statement about the horrors of war is likewise a possibility. Yet there are few precedents for the press, on such principled grounds, withdrawing its personnel from the equally inhumane Vietnam war. The justification that the networks withdrew their personnel because neiither they nor the Nicararuan government could any longer guarantee their safety is equally baffling. Such an argument would seem to assert the principle that networks will report the news only when it is safe to do so. Few, if any, professional journalists would subscribe to such statement. Indeed, the Vietnam war offers recent evidence that the networks will report the news from a combat zone at substantial risk to their personnel. The networks did not withdraw their correspondents from Vietnam when NBC correspondent Welles Hangen disappeared in 1970 near Phnom Penh. Lastly, the withdrawal of network personnel from Nicaragua smacks of an action of state and not that of professional news organizations. When a nation is grievously injured but does not wish to go to war, or when a nation wishes to object strenuously to the actions of another state, the ambassador of the offended nation is called home. Sometimes, all the legation personnel are withdrawn from the host country and diplomatic relations between the two cuntries are broken. Judging from the actions of the networks the American people have witnessed a first -- the breaking of diplomatic relations between the American television networks and a sovereign nation. Clearly a more convincing explanation needs to be offered by the networks to avoid the impression that their response to Mr. Stewart's killing was the action of an elite that chose to exercise its vast power to satisfy some self-perceived institutional interest at the expense of its oft-stated professional commitment to the public's right to be informed on an important news story.