Lewis Carroll's Red Queen, who could believe six impossible things before breakfast, has a near rival in Edwin Yoder Jr. Reporters who indulge in the upward-rolling eyes and "oh, brother" expressions described by Yoder in his account of a press breakfast with Caspar Weinberger {op-ed, Dec. 1} are entitled to their opinions. But they do have an obligation to get things right, even if it is early in the morning.

Yoder gets a lot wrong in his column on Weinberger's alleged failings. He suggests that Weinberger is "enmeshed in contradictions" when he supports the INF Treaty, because the treaty will "aggravate" the adverse balance of conventional forces in Europe. The treaty has no impact on the balance of conventional forces.

He suggests Weinberger is a "fantasist" when he says a missile defense in space could be deployed in the early 1990s. "Wrong," says Yoder. It is "an old-fashioned atmospheric system." Not true. The system could have both earth-based and space-based components and would perform most of its mission in space.

Then there is the question of deficits. Yoder writes that reporters rolled their eyes most when Weinberger said defense spending was not to blame. Strictly speaking, the defense secretary is right: the budget gap is a shortfall between total spending and total revenue. To blame any one part for the deficit is to debate priorities. Weinberger, as a politician fighting for one set of priorities, is entitled to take sides. If reporters roll their eyes, it can only mean they support other priorities -- their right as citizens, to be sure.

But Weinberger's saying that domestic spending is to blame is no more a "whopper," as Yoder calls it, than the counterclaim against defense. Seventy-four percent of federal spending goes for nondefense purposes. Compared with Jimmy Carter's last budget, defense spending is up by about $140 billion a year, but nondefense spending is up by about $260 billion. Defense has grown faster, but domestic spending has increased more.

Yoder drags in a debate on the cause of the British withdrawal from Suez in 1956 to show Weinberger's alleged lack of historical grasp. But historians say -- as Weinberger held -- that Labor Party opposition to the invasion of Suez played a major role in pressuring the Conservative government to withdraw. The "run on sterling" cited by Yoder as the real cause of the withdrawal also played a part -- because the U.S. government blocked credits for Britain until it withdrew. It is clearly arguable, as Weinberger implied, that economic pressure alone would not have been decisive if Britons had been united.

In this exchange, who really "fudges facts" -- to use Yoder's words about Weinberger -- and "lives in an undemanding intellectual climate where imagination seems a larger component than history or analysis"? Reporters should take the trouble to know the facts before rolling their eyes at imagined whoppers.

Andrew Hamilton

The writer is a senior fellow in the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University.