MORE THAN a year ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story quoting unnamed sources as saying that former Virginia governor Charles Robb had attended parties in Virginia Beach at which some other guests had openly used cocaine. Mr. Robb denied that he had ever seen, possessed or used the drug. Contacted then by The Post, Mr. Robb again denied ever using or seeing the use of any illegal drugs. Later that month, the assistant U.S. attorney in Norfolk, where a federal grand jury was investigating cocaine trafficking in Virginia Beach, reiterated that "Chuck Robb is not a target of any investigation by this office." None of Mr. Robb's friends and acquaintances interviewed by The Post at that time reported ever seeing Mr. Robb use cocaine. What they did describe, as reported by staff writer Donald Baker, was "a Chuck Robb not often seen by the public as one who loves the beach and enjoys his friends there." The Charles Robb most often seen, of course, is anything but a thrill-seeking bon vivant; on the contrary, his public image is that of a straight-laced, stodgy, thoughtful politician. At any rate, loving the beach and enjoying friends there are not federal offenses, so the stories stopped -- until last month.

On Aug. 28, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot/Ledger-Star ran a front-page story about Mr. Robb's private life while he was governor. The account noted that more than 200 interviews produced no evidence that Mr. Robb used cocaine, but stated that he did as governor attend ocean-front parties at which the drug was used. The newspaper said its inquiry "established that 10 of his friends or acquaintances were among those drawn into a federal cocaine probe now winding down in Norfolk. The 10 businessmen, each of whom resided at the ocean front, have been convicted, indicted or given immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperation in the two-year investigation. Robb's ties to some of them were tenuous, but others were often in his company when he visited Virginia Beach." In an interview about the persistence of rumors linking him to the investigation, Mr. Robb said: "I still find that part of the whole thing preposterous."

Yet since this revival of the story, newspapers around Virginia have run editorials critical of Mr. Robb's social life at the beach, questioning his judgment. News reports have continued to appear in various papers, including The Post, containing assessments of how this latest publicity may or may not affect Mr. Robb's current campaign for the U.S. Senate, and if not this, how it might be a "long-term liability should he seek higher national office."

Wait a minute. Is that all there is? If so -- and at this point, it seems to be -- it is little more than cheap fodder for Republican activists, some of whom have over the last year urged reporters to follow up on rumors involving Mr. Robb. Already, the Virginia GOP staff in Richmond has been sending copies of the Virginian-Pilot article to 1,300 of its members. They and others for whatever reasons may see some purpose in keeping the stories alive, leaving Mr. Robb to "defend" his "conduct" or "deny rumors" or respond to questions about his good name or good judgment. But barring evidence of anything more, this "issue" should be consigned to the garbage heap.