SECRETARY of State George Shultz lectured the press the other day about its attitude towards terrorism.
He singled out those "who get fascinated by terrorists." Interviewing terrorists on their terms particularly aggravates the State Department.
" . . . you have some special obligations and responsibilities in the interests of winning the war against terrorism," Shultz said.
The press might do a better job as combatants if the administration could bring itself to set a single standard on terrorism.
A one-size-fits-all definition of terrorists would help, too.
The secretary calls them "beasts." That's fair. But the secretary can see that the kind of fanaticism which impels people to kill innocent civilians is not limited to individuals or organizations with goals inimical to our own.
The secretary has no trouble fingering hijackers, bombers, kidnappers, torturers and killers. But when governments do the moral equivalent of those reprehensible acts, he does not condemn them, unless, of course, they are Libyan or Nicaraguan.
Libya trains terrorists, no doubt about it. We bombed Tripoli. We subsequently discovered that Syria also trains terrorists and was involved in the Christmas airport bombings. We did not, however bomb Damascus. Consult your atlas for the reason why: Syria has a large army and a population three times the size of Libya's.
Nicaragua is a hot bed of terrorism, according to President Reagan. But last week, who killed innocent civilians in the interests of a political cause, which is the defining mark of terrorist activity?
Thirty-one Nicaraguans, including two infants, were killed when their country bus ran over a landmine planted by the contras. Was there an outcry from Foggy Bottom? No, indeed. The State Department is bent out of shape because the Sandinistas barred from re-entry a priest who came here to lobby for the contras. It is also too busy congratulating itself on having wrested $100 million from Congress so that the contras can go out and do more of the same.
If you ask them, they'll tell you that atrocities are not contra policy, they are aberrations.
It is hard to think of two places where terrorism is more entrenched as official policy than South Africa and Chile. We deplore apartheid, but we do not denounce the government of P. W. Botha, nor do we encourage those millions who would like to try, to overthrow it -- and the president still chokes on imposing the economic sanctions that would make the point of our disapproval more vivid than State Department press releases.
The State Department is aghast that the Sandinistas shut down La Prensa, giving the impression that tampering with the free press is a dagger to its heart. But South Africa bars reporters from covering public events that put the government in a bad light and jails reporters for writing stories the government doesn't like.
South Africa now routinely imprisons children, some as young as seven. They are said to "represent a threat to the state." They are interrogated, without regard for their years, about the activities of their parents. Some are killed.
But "beasts" is a designation reserved by the administration for the perpetrators of the Achille Lauro hijacking, the Berlin discotheque bombing, for those who kidnap western executives and attack our embassies.
Moammar Gadhafi is a terrorist, clearly labeled that by our officials. Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet, however, is not. But Pinochet's government offered the most savage spectacle of official terrorism currently on view this week. A 19-year old resident of Rockville, a Chilean named Rodrigo Rojas, was killed by Chilean soldiers. He was beaten, then set afire. He died in a public hospital because authorities refused to let him be transferred to another hospital with a burn unit.
At his funeral last Wednesday, a funeral cortege of 2,000 brave Chileans, who proposed to escort the body to the grave, was routed by police. They fired tear-gas and doused them with water-cannon. Ambassador Harry F. Barnes and his wife were among the mourners. Ask yourself what would have happened if anything remotely similar had occurred in Nicaragua.
The State Department found it "distressing" and " disturbing," which are not exactly the thunderbolt words we might expect from an administration that has spent so much passion and breath on terrorism.
Shultz is in a spot. His anti-terrorism campaign helps him ward off the far right, which hounds him for suspected sympathies with arms control.
But before he lectures the press, or anyone else, about the need for closing ranks against terrorists, he might tell us there are two kinds and that being an anti-communist government really means never being called "a beast," no matter how bestial the conduct.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.