Reporting Secretary of State Shultz's first major statement on American- Soviet relations before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, The Post's news account characterized it as a "doctrine of global opposition" toward the U.S.S.R. By contrast, The New York Times news account emphasized engaging Moscow "in a constructive dialogue," paralleling the "theme of engagement" cited by The Baltimore Sun. Comparing the presentation to one two years ago by former secretary Alexander Haig, The Wall Street Journal's story described Mr. Shultz as "more conciliatory," while The Post's story found Mr. Haig "more flexible . . . less confrontational."
Post diplomatic correspondent Don Oberdorfer, in a story strongly defended by his senior editor, wrote: "While saying the United States does not accept endless confrontation . . . as inevitable, Shultz condemned Soviet policy and action in strong terms and outlined an ambitious U.S. strategy of forcing Moscow to change its ways through application of increased Western military, political and economic power." Mr. Shultz is quoted saying, "Our policy is not based on trust, or on Soviet change of heart . . . (but) on the expectation that, faced with the demonstration of the West's renewed determination . . . (it) will see restraint as its most attractive, or only, option."
The "doctrine," interpreted as a replacement for earlier policies of containment and d,etente, combined with some indifferent responses by Mr. Shultz to senatorial questions concering summitry and possible nuclear arms agreements lent everything an uncompromising cast.
Accepting that his story portrayed the secretary hanging tough only, Oberdorfer said that he gave the statement his "best thought" and "did not write in haste," which is characteristic of his work and one reason he is regarded as among the most perceptive foreign affairs reporters.
That is perhaps why, in response to inquiry, present and former State Department officials expressed "astonishment" at the story. "I think it made deductions and interpretations that weren't warranted," said department spokesman John Hughes. "It was very different from other papers." Although reporters were not given a briefing, as often is the case in advance of major policy pronouncements, officials say they were available "for guidance" and that Mr. Oberdorfer spoke with two of them.
Former senior officials and Soviet affairs specialists William G. Hyland and Helmut Sonnenfeldt both said The Post story misplaced the statement's intended emphasis, as they read it. Compared with earlier presidential rhetoric, Mr. Hyland sees in it the promise for improvements in the Washington-Moscow connection. Mr. Shultz reportedly accented the positive in a later meeting with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Far from finding it a text for across-the- board opposition to Moscow, Mr. Sonnenfeldt said he might have criticized the secretary for being "too soft," particularly in his introduction.
There, in what seemed to set the scene, the secretary said: "And having begun to rebuild our strength, we now seek to engage the Soviet leaders in a constructive dialogue--a dialogue through which we hope to find political solutions to outstanding issues." Later, after citing American determination to "defend our interests if Soviet conduct leaves us no alternative," Mr. Shultz added, "at the same time we will respect legitimate Soviet security interests and are ready to negotiate equitable solutions to outstanding political problems."
Absent these comments, The Post story only partly informs the reader and thereby nourishes an argument made in this space previously, namely,. print more text from important official statements. Here was a careful delineation of the most commanding area of our foreign relations, and a story some "inside" readers felt did not adequately reflect it. Many more did not have the opportunity to make the independent judgment they might by reading the speaker's words. The national desk requested the space, but was turned down, it seems, in favor of text on the Supreme Court decision on abortion the same day.