WELL, THANK GOD we now know more about the criteria for judging the worth of defense products. Here was Raytheon Co., holder of billions in defense contracts, bidding for two more. It had a vice president, Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense, who had endorsed a report on ways to cut the defense budget. Two assistant Navy secretaries complained to the company, which let Mr. Korb go.

The secretary seeks now to wash his hands of the result of this sordid affair. "Nobody asked for or expected Korb would be fired," he says. "I had every hope Raytheon would tell him to shut up and stop testifying against its principal customer." But, Mr. Lehman goes on, "I applaud the fact that my two secretaries and others complained." He regarded it as a "personal affront" that "a so-called team player would join forces with the opposition. Gentlemen don't do that." And though he says he didn't ask his assistants to complain, he remembers saying "How the hell can Raytheon get away with going up, speaking out against the president's bill like that?"

Secretary Lehman is better than this. He knows the town, knows the rules, knows what people remember. He has shown in the past that he knows when not to reverse course or give in. This is not such a time. He is wrong.

Consider what it is that Mr. Lehman is saying "gentlemen don't do" -- that they don't say what they think is the truth. Mr. Korb says that when the report was released, he didn't say anything he hadn't said when he was a member of the administration. Mr. Lehman says darkly that Mr. Korb had joined the "forces of the opposition." Nonsense.

Mr. Korb challenged the Pentagon's budget request. Since when did that come down on a stone tablet?