George Will, who is the best read columnist writing out of Washington -- and this could well apply to both his column and his erudition -- has been singing with unalloyed restraint the praises of Judge Robert Bork, whose future may be determined in large part by the encomiums he has received in the press -- or the denunciations, of course.
An inquiry came across my desk this week, asking whether I was aware that Mr. Will was best man at Judge Bork's wedding a few years ago and whether his readers were apprised of this by The Post. I put through a query to the syndicate that distributes Mr. Will's column and received this reply: "George Will thinks he was an usher at Judge Bork's wedding."
Now, I've been a best man at a number of weddings and an usher at others. Without much thought, I can tell you precisely what I was at which. I don't want to belabor the matter, and I really don't care whether George Will was best man or usher -- in either case, I'm sure he did a first-class job. But it does suggest Judge Bork is more than a chance acquaintance and certainly is more than a casual news contact.
On first glance, this looks like a simple problem. Mr. Will should have stated -- or The Post should have -- that Judge Bork was a close personal friend; the reader would then have been in a better position to evaluate Mr. Will's assessment of Judge Bork. It should be remembered that Vice President George Bush was a dinner guest at Mr. Will's home, and as Mr. Will likes to point out, look where that got the vice president: in one of the most devastating columns ever written about him, that's where. As I said, it's a simple matter only at first glance.
One of this century's most distinguished newspaper columnists, Walter Lippman, repeatedly stated that there should be "a large air space" between a journalist and the high and mighty. In his farewell speech to his press colleagues in 1967, Mr. Lippman cited the Scriptures and said he would have carved on the portals of the National Press Club: "Put not your trust in princes." Or princesses, of course.
It is well publicized that Mr. Will occasionally has private lunches with Nancy Reagan, and I'm sure this arouses the envy of his colleagues. It does mine. I know I'd love to have an intimate lunch at a secluded restaurant with the first lady, although it could get a bit awkward if it came out over tea that her husband fired me four weeks after he entered the White House, which may be why he's in such hot water now.
To get back to Mr. Will: it is very difficult to be an eminent journalist in this capital without rubbing elbows and supping with "princes." But readers do have a right to know the degree of intimacy that exists between the writer and the subject under discussion. In Mr. Will's case, this may be unrealistic, because he does travel in pretty rarefied circles and there would have to be a footnote to every column, except when he was writing about baseball or the best hot dogs in town.
I don't know what the answer is. Perhaps, in his own defense, Mr. Will ought to do what journalists are constantly demanding of Cabinet officials and the president: publish a daily schedule of all appointments -- or, perhaps, provide a hot-line number that readers can call at a cost of 50 cents to find out who Mr. Will is lunching and dining with. That might just do it.
If I seem to be making light of this, it is only because I cannot come up with a constructive suggestion as to what sort of information a reader should have about a writer. I may have been guilty at some time of the same omission I am accusing Mr. Will of, though not in this column. You should know that I am a great admirer of Mr. Will, with a few reservations. But that doesn't deter me, of course, from bringing up this sensitive issue of ethics and responsibility.