Former budget director Bert Lance yesterday responed to media coverage of his affairs with a forceful attack on the press and a warning that outside censorship may be in the offing because of the media's "headstrong refusal to get your own house in order."
In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editor's convention here, Lance said coverage of him over the past year - which he called "a case study in current press practise" - contained numerous example of "careless, erroneous or biases reporting."
Lance resigned last summer as director of the Office of Management and the Budget amid federal investigations of his business activities and charges that he tried to use his position to halt some of the investigations. He was critical then of the media's coverage of his trouble, but yesterday's speech was hid first detailed critique of the reporting about him.
"I think it's worth looking at the kind of reporting." Lance told the editor, ". . . not because it can happen to me, Bert Lance, but because it can happen at all in a nation that prides itself on justice and fair play . . ."
"In the absence of self-displine and internal reform, other groups may find it necessary to step and subject the press to the applies to the rest of us.
"That threat is called censorship . . ."
Lance assured the editors at the start of his speech he would not deliever "the usual victom's tirade." He read his speech in the same calm, careful manner he displayed at last summer's Senate hearings aobout his business affairs.
The editors listened with rapt attention to the speech, which constituted the harshest assessment of the media to date by anyone close to the Carter administration. They gave Lance a healthy round of a applause when he finished.
Reviewing the media's coverage of his care, Lance singled out The New York Times, The Washington Post, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Time magazine for critricism! But he said not all newspapers treated him unfairly, observing that "The Washington Star is one noteworthy exception."
The former budget director, now engaged in banking and other business endeavors, said he could spend hours reciting examples of unfair media coverage. But he focused on three specific cases.
First, he discussed editorials in The Times and The Post that referred to a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint filed last month during an SEC investigastion of efforts by Lance and other investors to buy stock in Financial General Bankshares Inc.
The complaint said Lance had met with two businessmen to discuss Financial General in April 1977, while he was budget director. The rwo paper's editorials cited that statement from the complaint.
Other papers, ncluding The Post-Dispatch, then reported the April meeting, Lance said.
Lance said they should not have printed the SEC's cahrge because it was false.
"Could that the statement was false?" he asked. "of course they could have. A Washington Star reported did."
The Star published an article last week under the headline "Did the SEC Err in Complaint Against Lance?" that quoted Lance's lawyer as disputing the assertion in the complaint. The Star article said that two other businessmen involved in the Financial General matter agreed with Lance that the complaint was wrong about the 1977 meeting.
After Lance's speech yesterday, an SEC attorney, James G. Mann, said the agency stands by its complaint. Mann nited that Lance did not challenge the allegation last month when he signed a consent agreement setting the case.
Under a consent agreement, a party to a agrees to stop some activity without admitting that he had acted improperly.
Robert Altman, one of Lance's Washington lawyers, said litigants often sign concent forms when they don't agree with everything in them "to avoid protracted litigation." Alt-man said that was why Lance had signed the SEC settlement.
Lance's second case in point in his speech yesterday concerned an article on The Post's March 9 financial page. It was headline "Financial General Seeking Lance Contempt Citation," and said that lawyers for financial General Bankshares had asked a federal court to hold Lance in contempt for failing to answer their questions.
Lance said yesterday that hte motion was "firvolous" and that the lawyers had filed it because "they knew that a motion naming Bert Lance guaranteed adverse publicity - and the reporters knew it guaranteed a major story and a byline."
The court refused to grant this firvolous motion, but the damage had already been done. The Washington Post covered the hearing but, despite the prominence given to the contempt charge, The Post did not report that the luridly headline motion had been refused by the court."
An article in The Post's March 10 financial section discussed the court's treatment of the motion. It noted that Lance's lawyer complained that the motion was an effort "to try this in the press." It did not say that the motion had been denied. The article said "Bert Lance, it was agreed, would return to testify on March 20."
Lance next took issue with a report in last week's Time magazine that said White House aide Hamilton Jordon had met recently with Lance. Time said Jordon "suggested gently - but clearly - to Lance that he must keep as much distance as possible between himself and the president."
"This story," Lance said yesterday, "is total fabrication. There was no such meeting. Hamilton Jordon and I never had such a talk. . . . Here again is a situation where there was no effort to confirm a story prior to publication."
In a letter session at the editors' convention, Jordon also denied the Times article. "He's our friend," Jordon said of Lance. "It's not been demonstrated to us that he's done anything illegal or wrong in his personal life."
Robert Ajemlan, the head of Time's Washington bureau, said, 'We think the story's all right. We stand by it. We talked to a lot people on that story."
Lance told the editors that one results on unfair press coverage of government official may re that "we aren't going to see many good people willing to come into public service."
"If public service brands one for life . . . senior government officials will soon take on the bland coloration of low-level bureaucrats."
He said that the press is characterized by "a pervasive and destructive cynicism."
"Along with this . . . is a change in the standards governing publication of allegation, rumor and gossip . . .
"There are more muckrakers around these days than muckmakers."
At a separate session at the editors' convention, White House press secretary Jody powell criticized an article by Time reporter James T. Wooten.
It referred to comments from various White House officials. Powell said he had checked with a number of likely sources and all said they had not talked to Wooten.
At The Times' Washington bureau, editor John Finney said, "It's just evident that wooten did talk to a number of people at the White House. Wooten coundn't have written the story out of the blue."
Lance, whose financial activities are still the subject of an SEC investigation, visited the agency yesterday after his speech to discuss the probe, according to commission officials.