Television network coverage of political campaigns has become, over the years, as liturgical and -- dare one say it -- as orthodox, as the Mass. When a certain kind of candidate begins to run for high office, the networks immediately ask, "Will he stumble ?" Before long, we are told he has stumbled and are given examples of it. Enough of those, and it is suggested that "his campaign may be in trouble." And from that, it's only a short step to "He is slipping in the polls," and thence to a solemn proclamation that he hasn't got a chance. Little is said about the networks' own role in getting him to the spot where he hasn't got a chance. t

All their current talk of stumbling brings back memories of the ill-starred presidential campaign of George Romney, who, after having been brainwashed by Army PR men in Saigon, was declared a stumbler by the networks for saying he had been brainwashed by Army PR men in Saigon. Then, too, one remembers the brief presidency of Gerald Ford. There, the stumbles were literal and were shown in slow motion from coast to coast as a means of helping us decide who we wanted in the White House.

The current network liturgy on Ronald Reagan, so reminiscent of the Stations of the Cross, is now well into the "stumbling" phase. Obviously, his thinking that the United States was even capable of good motives, let alone asserting that we had gone into the Vietnam War with those, was a gross stumble, as was his suggestion that we ought to live up to our statutory obligations to our longtime friends on Taiwan.

Stumbling. As used by the television and news programs, it has long had a suspiciously Biblical, even faintly sanctimonious ring. And nowhere was this tone of miffed orthodoxy made more evident than in their assertion that Reagan has now made the biggest stumble of all, in that press conference in which he claimed to have some doubts about the doctrine of evolution as it is currently being taught in the schools. Reagan's entertaining any such doubts, NBC and CBS seem to think, was so manifestly stupid that it wasn't even worth discussing the merits of the matter. It was so deeply stupid, in fact, that they felt justified in changing their chant from "He has stumbled" to "His campaign may be in trouble."

Just what doubts Reagan may have about the official culture's doctrine of evolution nobody knows. But here are six doubts he might have had:

1) evolutionism has traditionally taught as axiomatic that the present universe developed out of matter that always existed. But this seems to be flatly contradicted by the big bang theory of the universe's creation -- which currently represents the majority view among astrophysicists generally.

2) Evolutionism teaches that organic life sprang out of the random chemical interaction of inorganic compounds. But recent statistical studies, yet to be disproven, suggest that the chances of the huge protein and DNA molecules' ever having been simultaneously produced by such a random process, let alone combining in just the right way, would be on the order of 1 in a number that, while having no name, is a 1 with 167,626 zeros after it. "Life" created in the lab, on the other hand, has required the application of intelligence and will.

3) Evolutionism teaches that the existing creatures gradually evolved from previously existing unicellular forms that sprang up out of a primordial chemical soup. But the fossil record, which grows clearer each year, does not seem to support this. It shows new creatures appearing suddenly and full-blown, with one of the intermediary forms that evolutionists hypothesize. Birds, for instance, appeared with fully developed, sophisticated wings, not with rudimentary ones.

4) Evolutionism teaches that natural selection, operating according to the principle of "the survival of the fittest," is responsible for the life-forms we have now. But logicians point out that this is merely circular reasoning, which says of extant forms that they survived because they were the fittest; and that they were the fittest because they survived.

5) Evolutionism teaches that man himself is merely the product of such a process. But the recent homonid findings, and the implications growing out of Louis Leakey's discovery of Homo habilis , tend to undermine rather than support such a notion. And the missing link has never been found -- although one is manufactured from time to time by partisans of the official view.

6) Evolutionism teaches or implies that life -- given its aimless origin and blind development -- is utterly without purpose or meaning. But this point, too, is open to doubt, since it rests on the five that preceded it, and since all of those are shaky. And for equally valid reasons, one might add, the other orthodoxies that make up the official culture's world-view can be doubted, too: namely, Freudianism, Marxism, logical positivism and moral relativism.

Any such doubts, one predicts, will continue to be given short shrift by the television networks, because they are the official culture. And, as hierarchical priesthoods often do, they exhibit a truly medieval credulity together with a reasonable-faced, inquisitorial readiness to persecute any significant deviance from the true faith.

Such persecutions, of course, are selective. When astrophysicists, biochemists, paleontologists, philosophers and anthropologists doubt the doctrine of evolution, that, for the networks, is "science news" -- good for 15 seconds on a dull day. But when Reagan doubts it, that is stumbling, and as such deserves prominent mention in the chronicles of buffoonery.

Even so, we would be wrong to suppose that the television newswriters are not sincere. Most inquisitors, after all, are. And these, presumably, have not only had a course in Biology 101 but have maybe even read H. L. Mencken's account of the Scopes trial, and thus can be presumed to know all there is to know.