TomShales' article ''The Tape: Replaying a Sad Spectacle'' {Style, June 29} was right on the mark in focusing on the tragedy of the videotape that graphically indicts Marion Barry as a cocaine abuser. The public airing of the tape was clearly no cause for celebration. Neither was the frenzy of reporters darting about town, with video gear and all, to corral the reactions of passersby as young as age 14.

However, Mr. Shales' contention that the videotape ''did, indeed, have to be shown'' is questionable. From the perspective of social responsibility, the public airing of the videotape by the national television networks and the local affiliates was as much a violation of the public trust as Mayor Barry's allegedly torrid affair with drugs and women. Broadcast television standards are among our most powerful social institutions. Contrary to what I was brashly told by Steve Hannon, assignment editor for the news department at WJLA TV, such industries or institutions are morally obligated to reject any programming choice that would be an assault on the spirit and dignity of a community.

The Barry fiasco makes a mockery of a community caught in the throes of drug abuse and concomitant social problems. As did Mayor Barry, broadcast television failed a tough moral test. Or is it that broadcast television simply doesn't care about the social costs its programming decisions exact on people of color?


Ihad no desire to see Hollywood's version of "Sex, Lies and Videotape," and after seeing the D.C. production, I believe I've seen enough.

I don't respect Marion Barry. He really isn't fit to be a civic leader. But showing the FBI tape outside the courtroom was tasteless. Showing it over and over and talking about it for several hours during prime time was ridiculous.

Those who attribute this matter to racism must feel rather justified. I frankly think those who do are the ones who are behaving like racists, but the media are playing right into their hands.

If nothing else comes out of this sickening episode, I hope the mayor finally learns to be more honest with himself. I hope those who support him come to appreciate that his life, which is more important than their prejudices, may have been saved by having his drug and alcohol addictions revealed. Above all, I hope we all realize our lives will be played out in technicolor before our Heavenly Father, who is perfect in every way. How many of us are prepared for that?

JIM GIDDINGS Upper Marlboro

I am a white male, married with two children, living in suburban Virginia, and I am a conservative, registered Republican. I couldn't be less of a Marion Barry supporter.

Having said that, I can't believe the incredible insensitivity involved in the decision to release the FBI videotape to the media for broadcast to the general public. Admittedly curiosity got the best of me, and I, along with millions of others, watched in stunned silence the entire broadcast of the tape. Clearly the man did wrong, and has done wrong and has lied about it for many years now; he deserves what he gets and probably then some. Yet at the risk of sounding sympathetic to Mayor Barry's plight, I believe the release and broadcast of the FBI tape was an unjust and uncalled for exercise in public humiliation. The courtroom should have been cleared and the tape viewed only by the members of the jury, who were the only ones who had an absolute need to see it.

As for Louis Farrakhan's charges that Mayor Barry's trial "demonstrates the wickedness of the U.S. government and the lengths to which this government will go when it targets a black leader to be discredited," is he serious? Does he not remember the public lynching of Richard Nixon?

I submit that these kinds of events are not black/white issues as Mr. Farrakhan charges, but stem from a perverse delight our society seems to take in toppling the rich and powerful. The question we as a society should be asking is not one of extroversion, as in, "Who can we get next? (Marion Barry, Donald Trump?), but one of introversion, as in, "Where is our compassion?" DONALD A. TRAYER Springfield