THE PRESIDENT and the press are fighting again, and the cynical and war-weary are saying there is nothing new under the Washington sun.
Despite promises on each side that it won't happen again, with each new administration it happens again. Warfare erupts between the White House and the media, both sides profess innocence, and the bloodshed goes on.
Is there nothing we can do to prevent it? Perhaps not. But, in the interest of civilization and of our children, surely we can explore several steps which might keep these two giants from pursuing each other toward the ultimate destruction of us all.
One basic step, which should have been taken long ago, is the establishment of a Hot Line.
Simply put, a designated member of the media would have the means to call the White House at any time day or night and say, for instance, "Novak has veered out of control, and we are not responsible for him." Or, "Sam Donaldson has been unintentionally activitated and is headed for the Oval Office. Defensive action will not bring retaliation."
Similarly, the White House might need to reach the media to forestall a crisis. For instance: "The unnamed administration official who blasted Joe Kraft is Brzezinski. We are taking appropriate action." Or perhaps, "That "disgruntled administration insider" is armed with misleading information and you should disregard for your own protection."
A Hot Line would surely be helpful, but only as a stopgap measure. What is truly needed is some way to establish a foundation of mutual trust, however uneasy, between both sides.
Only if each side knows the other is equal in strength will neither side attack. That premise leads, inevitably, to the opening of the defenses of both the White House and the media to verifiable on-site inspection.
From the standpoint of the administration, inspection is no real threat. The president can let members of the media probe the White House at their will, knowing that he can take himself and his staff quickly and quietly to Camp David or Carnegia, Pa., or Martinsburg, W. Va. And how can the administration be attacked if the attackers do not know where the administration is?
With the media it is an entirely different matter. The press has neither the unity nor the mobility to fend off sudden strike. Its movements outside Washington are open and predictable, and its shelters within Washington are well-known and ill-protected. Inspection would only emphasize its weaknesses and invite attack.
Therefore there is no basis for mutual inspection and mutual trust. And no basis for an agreement.
In this impasse, why not take a page from an unlikely source - the Pentagon.
One recent Pentagon proposal would have our nation's land-based missiles gathered together in a sparsely populated area and mounted on flatbed underground railway cars which would move along a track some miles in length. Teams from another country could inspect this arsenal but they would never know after they left exactly where along the track the missiles might be at any given time.
Why not such a system for the media?
A tunnel could be dug beginning, say, under the Class Reunion, and stretching perhaps to upper Cleveland Park. Stops for taking on provisions and filing copy would be built along the way.
The administration could, at any predetermined time, send inspectors to scrutinize the rolling stock. The inspectors would see White House correspondents, radio and TV reporters, political columnists, economic analysts, investigative legmen, society reporters...all these fearsome weapons displayed scrupulously in the half-dozen or so Metro-like cars that would be required.
The inspectors could tell where those weapons were at that time, but not where they would be moments later.
When the president next said to a staffer: "Let's go after those know-it-all columnists who are swilling gin and laughing at me up in Georgetown," the only answer would be: "Sir, for all we know they're just now crossing under Macomb Street."
Or, were the chief executive to send a reconnaisance mission preparatory to an attack on Duke Zeibert's, the team might report back that Duke's was barren but that a dumbwaiter had just gone underground from Le Lion d'Or.
In short, with the joined might of the national media rolling along underground - poised to strike and safe in its mobility - the administration would have lost its advantage. And a nonaggression treaty might be made possible.
These are just a few suggestions. If they were adopted, they could perhaps bring both short-term security and a long-range settlement to the agonizing warfare between president and press.
And how would our world be then? Pretty dull, actually.