Tom Shales {Style, Dec. 11} stated that "the networks and local stations justifiably bailed out of the Gorbachev" press conference that ended the Soviet leader's visit to Washington. I could not disagree more. I do not believe that any network which broadcast hour after hour of Oliver North can be proud of pulling the plug on Mikhail Gorbachev.

Peter Jennings made a remark as ABC-TV broke away from the press conference that this was not how press conferences are conducted in the United States. But that is exactly the point. Mr. Gorbachev is not an American; he has his own ways, and this press conference was a rare opportunity for us to understand the Soviets better.

I understand that CNN carried the whole event live. I congratulate the network for that. Because I live in the District, I am denied access to its product. Fortunately, I and others like me could rely on radio WPFW and NPR. But we would have enjoyed viewing the interplay between Mr. Gorbachev and the press.

If the Russians had blanked out a news conference by a U.S. president in Moscow, the American news media would have been the first to howl about censorship. I am not particularly pro-Soviet, nor am I a news junkie. I'm just an average American trying to understand one of the most important men in the world, and I feel that the networks let me down. STEPHEN LANDRIGAN Washington

Tom Shales' stringent critique of Mikhail Gorbachev's lengthy press conference reflects a typically shallow American impatience. I enjoyed Mr. Gorbachev's summation of the summit. It was long, yes, but the summit's importance justified its length. He summarized the summit's accomplishments in an orderly, informative fashion, leaving the viewer with precise knowledge of what happened and what to expect. His reference to specific numbers and details impressed me the most; he was not merely delivering political gobbledygook, as Mr. Shales asserted. I wish President Reagan would spend that much time with the American press, explaining his actions in such detail. JOHN MUFTI Potomac