First, add my name to that apparent short list of folks who found journalist Sarah McClendon's performance at President Reagan's last press conference inexcusably rude. For shear bad manners, it eclipsed that celebrated exchange between Richard Nixon and CBS' Dan Rather some years ago. Perhaps that's why Mr. Rather toasted Mrs. McClendon as "the talk of Washington." His colleague Bill Moyers soared further saying, "May she roam and reign." Would he have said that as the White House press secretary he once was? The Post expressed its "shellshocked professional admiration." So, although Mr. Reagan's spokesman has said the White House has received some protests about her behavior -- and as I saw in a Post article yesterday was protesting himself -- Mrs. McClendon appears to be enjoying a kind of limelight once accorded to a different "divine Sarah."
Sarah McClendon, you recall, went at the president no fewer than 11 times on what at one point she miscalled a report on "sex harassment" of women in government. Her noisy interruptions of Mr. Reagan suggested reverse sexual harassment. From all appearances, the president failed to grasp -- admitting so later -- exactly what report Mrs. McClendon was after and mistakenly, I think, began to banter her. It was obvious she knew more about the report than he did, a situation not unfamiliar to anyone who's ever held a press conference.
As often as not, the presidential press conference has been found wanting when a examined for its contribution to public enlightenment. Particularly so when a comparison is drawn with the parliamentary system, in which the government goes before the legislature to answer questions. Our system confers the privilege of inquiry on journalists unhindered by elective responsibility -- but not absolved from demonstrating simple curtesy beyond the front door. If the questioning is sometimes irrelevant, there is no defense for it becoming, to quote The Post in this case, a"one woman verbal ambush."
Presidents aside, various government spokesmen past and present have acknowledged Mrs. McClendon's black-belt prowess for aggressive questioning. The reaction of her peers at the latest spectacle was unchallenging and approving to judge from their sustained laughter. Asked later whether she felt she lost the substance of her pursuit with her "hectoring," she dismissed the thought with "Oh, nuts." Then she denied any disrespect of Mr. Reagan. Because she seems not to recognize disrespect, she may be believed.
Second, I agree with Washington Capitals owner Abe Pollin that two recent Post columns were in some respects incomplete or misleading in commenting on his efforts to keep the hockey team here next season.
At the same time, I support columnist Rudolph A. Pyatt's right to his point of view -- that what Mr. Pollin and his investors seek from Prince George's County Council is tantamount to approving a "boondoggle" or "corporate welfare."
Mr. Pollin's objections were aimed initially at Mr. Pyatt's column "Capital Commerce" July 29. The conditions that will have to be met if the team is to stay were described as Mr. Pollin's conditions. Mr. Pollin holds these are demanded by the new investors. The column, asserting that "nobody has provided a dollar estimate," failed to note a study commissioned a year earlier that detailed financial benefits to the county from Caps games.
Mr. Pyatt said also that the request to the council for tax relief "could open a loophole big enough for a score of businessmen to leap through." If he intended that to mean a precedent would be created, no one could argue. But, technically, the bill does not contain a "loophole." Also, the column put the Caps as the "worst" in the league. Not so. Four others are beneath it.
Mr. Pyatt wrote a second column Aug. 4 that included details from the financial benefits study. About the tax measure, described as "hastily drawn," he wrote that a majority of council members had been "stampeded" into supporting it. Mr. Pollin objected to that characterization. He is supported by Council Chairman Gerard McDonough, who told me 10 of 11 members were in favor of introducing it. Mr. McDonough said also he was not concerned, "as lawyer or official," that the bill would create a precedent. He acknowledged that the Capital Centre is in his constituency.
Mr. Pyatt continues to believe, as he wrote, that the "franchise is a business . . . . It's fate should be determined by the marketplace . . . not a bailout." All of this has yet to be resolved. A hearing on the tax bill is scheduled Aug 20.