I do not know how the New England Journal of Medicine would pronounce on it, but I like to start my day with a kaboom, with a shot and a beer, with excitement. Hence every weekday, promptly at 7 a.m., I tune in the "Today Show" and thrill to a stirring performance of the morning news. Fifteen minutes of these orgies are usually enough to set me up for the day. Refreshed, I turn to the newspaper to see what has actually been happening in the world.
Last Wednesday, the lovely summer of 1981 now gone forever, I was in especial need of a profound jolt, and the "Today Show" did not fail me. On came Jane, on came Tom and on came the weatherman who wears the flower and laughs at himself. There was the customary joshing. Then to business: the administration was in serious trouble; the trouble was the pending sale of AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia.
Tom enunciates in grim tones: President Reagan appears headed for his "first big congressional defeat ... AWACS radar planes." Then--bam-- to Tom Pettit in Washington, and Pettit is scowling as he divulges the details: "a poll ... of the entire United States Senate....very depressing to the president, the secretary of state and Richard Allen, the national security adviser....numbers ... add up to trouble, real trouble."
"Any hope?" interjects Brokaw.
Pettit rumbles: "It's a Catch-22 situation now. The administration blew it."
Blew it? Yes blew it, and Tom Brokaw has NSC adviser Allen locked in a room somewhere in Washington with Richard Valeriani, who is actually going to interview the knave. Tension grows, but finally Tom Brokaw brings us to the Allen interview, introducing him as "a man who's in the middle of all of this and under fire, as well, for his conduct in office ... Richard Allen."
On comes poor Allen, the eggs and tomatoes from that ingenious introduction still dripping from his otherwise immaculate visage. Is he really "under fire" for "his conduct in office?" What is it, late-night revelries in the White House situation room? Transactions illicit in nature? Unfortunately, the interview never illuminated the meaning of Tom Brokaw's ominous introduction, for Allen was questioned solely on contemporary foreign policy matters, even when Brokaw asked questions. Allen was patient, informed, lucid and diplomatic with his interviewers-- much to my disappointment. How about giving Brokaw a taste of his own rudeness? How about asking him what, precisely, renders him a fit explicator of politics and armaments? What has he ever written on these subjects? What has he read about them? For that matter, what has he read about anything lately? As with so many of TV's world affairs personalities, his r,esum,e is slim.
While awaiting the president's economic message last week, some of the tycoons of the news industry grew restless, and so they revived their old story that Richard Allen is in serious trouble. It is another example of how some journalists not only cover the news but also make the news, or should I say make up a bit of it? After all, this story has been unavailingly trotted out on at least two prior occasions. There is only one man in Washington Allen has to please, and, having checked with all my spies around the White House, I can say with confidence that journalists are sniping at Allen for doing just what the president expects of him, namely maintaining a more modest NSC than was maintained in the days of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
For a proper sense of the fatuity, possibly the mean-spirited fatuity, of last week's Allen brouhaha, recall if you will that not long ago enlightened opinion was urging a less ambitious NSC. Candidate Reagan ingratiated himself to many by by promising that his NSC would not be run as a fiefdom forever at war with the State Department. Now Allen, Reagan's oldest foreign policy adviser and one who had a hand in promising a scaled-down NSC, is being scorned for keeping his word and doing the president's bidding.
The grim murmurings about Allen last week put one in mind of nothing so much as last summer's grim murmurings about CIA Director William Casey. As with the Casey pother, the thing was exciting. Such excitement makes some journalists' lives more bearable and the political opposition more hopeful. I know that I favor it. It livens up the "Today Show," allowing the gang to display their theatrical talents, talents which are not bad. Certainly the members of the "Today Show" are better actors than analysts. If you doubt me, go ahead, read Tom Brokaw's resume. You will not find him published in Foreign Affairs or anywhere else.