EIGHT DAYS before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, George Bush's appointed chief emissary to Iraq found herself in strange agreement with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Both said they were vexed by the media, or rather the idea of news media free of state control.

"If the American president had control of the media, his job would be much easier," said the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, April Glaspie, to Saddam on July 25. The startling remark was made during a round of mutual hand-wringing over press-inflicted indignities at a meeting with Saddam in his office.

Glaspie, of course, was addressing someone who exercises absolute control over his citizens' access to news of domestic policy and world events. Earlier in the conversation she had shared her conviction that a recent U.S. television portrayal of Saddam was "cheap and unjust," yet typical of "what happens in the American media -- even to American politicians themselves."

According to a transcript of the conversation supplied by the Iraqi government and not disputed by the State Department, she also described as "sad" a February Voice of America editorial that depicted Iraq as one of several states where rulers "hold power by force and fear, not by the consent of the governed" -- an editorial that also drew a formal Bush administration apology.

Several analysts say Iraqi actions suggest Glaspie's remarks, not those of the Voice of America, were sad, presenting as they do a spectacle of America's senior representative in Baghdad commiserating with Saddam over a concerted media effort to distort his record.

"It's very poor form for an ambassador to be saying things like that to a foreign leader who has no tradition of a free press," said Brookings Institution senior fellow Stephen Hess, an expert on relations between U.S. politicians and the press. As others noted, Iraq has state-run television and radio stations, and access to printing presses, newsprint and financial subsidies is decided by government whim.Jeffrey Smith writes about national security affairs for The Washington Post.

Since the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam's media have falsely told his people that Israeli troops and aircraft are deployed with U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, that many U.S. soldiers in the region have the AIDS virus, and that Saudi citizens have mounted violent protests against the Americans, according to U.S. Information Agency officials.

The television show described by Glaspie as "sad" was a tough ABC-TV interview with Saddam that aired on June 28, in which correspondent Diane Sawyer described him as "ruthless," "fierce," and "cold-blooded." Tougher language has been used by Bush himself in public remarks about Saddam since the Aug. 2 invasion. Because Saddam is widely known among Arab experts for having an extraordinarily conspiratorial view of the world, observed one former U.S. diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, he must have been reassured in July to hear the suggestion of a senior American official that such depictions of his regime were a frame-up bearing little relation to the facts.

"I am pleased that you add your voice to the diplomats who stand up to the media," said Glaspie, a foreign service officer who boasted to Saddam of her 25 years' service in the Middle East. Appearing to align herself even more firmly with Saddam's viewpoint, she added that his "appearance in the media, even for five minutes, would help us to make the American people understand Iraq {emphasis added}. This would increase mutual understanding."

Kenneth Adelman, a deputy permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations from 1981-1983, said the remarks appeared to represent "a case of rampant clientitis, falling in love with the country that you are assigned to, and being an adviser to that country on how to deal with America, rather than a representative of America in that country." Beyond that, he said, "it was bum advice given the public relations disaster" that ensued from Saddam's TV appearance late last month with youthful Western "guests" held hostage in Iraq.

Saddam's dim view of the Western media and what he has termed its "campaign" of opposition appeared to find surprising resonance this year with others besides Glaspie. Senate Minority Whip Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who says he was carrying a message directly from Bush, told Saddam during an April visit to Baghdad that the U.S. government was not responsible for this alleged campaign.

"I believe that your problem lies with the Western media, and not with the U.S. government," Simpson said, according to an Iraqi-supplied transcript that the senator says accurately reflected his statements. "As long as you are isolated from the media, the press -- and it is a haughty and pampered press -- they all consider themselves political geniuses. That is, the journalists do. They are very cynical. What I advise is that you invite them to come here and see for themselves."

During a meeting with five senators bent on pressing for Saddam's involvement in the Middle East peace process and reassuring him of the government's opposition to punitive trade sanctions, Simpson also complained that American reporters "all live off of one another. Everyone takes from the other. When there is a major news item on the front page of The New York Times, another journalist takes it and publishes it."

Simpson said Friday that "you bet, I said" what the transcript states, and that he has "not a whit of regrets" about it now, even though the senators had indeed misjudged Saddam, who is "one clever cat." Simpson added that in his view "it's a marvelous creative tension" between U.S. politicians and the press, and that mention of his remarks now -- five months after his visit -- proves the press is "as thin-skinned as I am."

Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), who was also present at the meeting with Saddam, at one point defended the Western press on grounds that it "has its own mission that it has to carry out. I don't believe that the media is always wrong." At another point, however, he said incorrectly -- in response to Saddam's complaints -- that the author of the Voice of America editorial had been "removed" from his job.

The visiting senators provoked a concluding comment by Saddam indicating substantive agreement on the subject. "We know the media, just as you know it. Like a spoiled child, if you give it a piece of candy when it cries, it will continue to cry and demand more," Saddam said.