In the brouhaha over bad blood, real or alleged, between the White House and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., media reports have been long on inside dope but short on named sources. This is often the inevitable consequence of a popular style of Washington journalism in which reporters grant anonymity to their best sources in hopes of getting that inside dope.
Who, if anyone, is really behind the "guerrilla campaign" that Haig says a White House aide has been waging against him for nine months?
Interviews with some of the journalists covering this story, with the same offer of anonymity in return for candor, suggest that Haig's theory of a single enemy at the White House is incorrect. According to reporters who cover the White House, every member of President Reagan's inner circle has spoken critically of the secretary of state at some time. White House aides confirm this.
Counselor Edwin Meese III has expressed discomfort with Haig, these sources say. So has staff director James A. Baker III. So has Michael K. Deaver, third member of the senior triumvirate on the staff. So has national security affairs adviser Richard V. Allen -- repeatedly, according to reporters who have heard him.
Reporters have said that Allen has been known to write a note of praise for a report critical of Haig. Communications director David R. Gergen, director of congressional liaison Max Fridersdorf and presidential assistant Richard Darman have also been heard criticizing Haig. And so have many members of Vice President Bush's staff.
Many of these critical comments have centered on examples of Haig's behavior that these officials considered erratic or incomprehensible. Expressions of bewilderment over how to deal with Haig have been common at the White House.
On the other hand, reporters covering the White House say they have never heard any of these people say that Reagan wanted Haig out of the State Department, a charge columnist Jack Anderson made in a column he wrote a week ago Tuesday.
That column was never printed, because before it appeared the White House and the State Department had seen it, and Reagan, at Haig's request, according to one account, had telephoned Anderson to deny it. Ander- son rewrote the column, including the president's denial, for publication this past Tuesday.
The closest any other journalists will come to saying that Haig might be on his way out is to say they have heard rumors about Haig's possible departure. Columnist Joseph Kraft and CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer both reported that rumor, labeling it as such.
At the same time, reporters covering this story and other informed sources say that those closest to Haig in the state department believe that someone in the White House is out to get their boss. And not Allen, they add. He's described as a "front man" by sources close to Haig.
The real suspect in Haig's circle was Baker, but, after confronting him directly and receiving a denial, Haig has since said publicly that he now absolves Baker of any blame. He hasn't named a new suspect.
Of course none of this means that Anderson's original column, reporting that Haig had "one foot on a banana peel" and was "top man on the president's 'disappointment list,' " was right or wrong.
Anderson said in an interview that he now believes that column was wrong. When Reagan called him personally to deny the report, Anderson said, "I found the president convincing."
Anderson said that one of his original sources for the report that the White House wanted Haig out was someone who had talked about it with Haig. Another important source, Anderson said, was a politician close to Reagan who said he had spoken to Reagan about the president's disappointment with the secretary's performance.
"I guess we spent about four weeks on the story," Anderson said.
Other reporters covering this story said they lacked confidence in Anderson's original report. One noted that the original column did not attribute to any source the conclusion that Haig was on his way out of the State Department.
Anderson quoted "insiders" as saying Reagan was disappointed with Haig, and "White House sources" to the effect that Haig would have been gone already "if President Reagan didn't feel that continuity was essential in dealing with the crises in Poland and the Middle East."
But the contention that "Haig should start looking for new employment after the first of the year" was entirely Anderson's, with no attribution.
Nevertheless, when Haig was read an advance copy of the column, he reacted angrily, called Anderson, then called Reagan, and initiated the latest embarrassing round in the Haig-White House saga.