If most political campaign managers had their way, their candidate would appear on the front page of newspapers, prominently featured in story and photograph, day in and day out, from now until Election Day. And the opponent would disappear from the paper or, if must be, would be in stories featuring disruptions and disagreements and in photographs emphasizing turmoil and tiny turnouts.
It the current presidential campaign charges have already been flying that the Reagan team is managing a carefully controlled effort by using the powers of the incumbency to the hilt, limiting press contact with the president, effectively holding nedia coverage to a daily helpful theme and candidate debates to only two. There is no doubt that the managers have scored well in these objectives and their opponents suspect they may have contributed to Democratic dissension as well.
A column by Haynes Johnson in The Post a few weeks ago told how in one day Reagan hit three home runs without ever leaving home plate. On the morning of Sept. 11, he honored Hubert H. Humphrey as "a liberal who understood that America was great" and was photographed enbracing Muriel Humphrey and Joan Mondale. At noon he appeared in the White House press room to announce that he was meeting the Soviet foreign minister is order to continue working "for a safer world." A few hours later he was in the Cabinet Room to announce a decision to permit Russia to buy 10 million metric tons of grain, a boon to their hungry people and a godsend to America's farmers who had been crying for relief.
The goal of campaigners to achieve that kind of positive coverage sometimes collides with the journalist's obligation to present a full and fail report to readers.
A few days before the triple-header in the White House, Mr. Reagan, in a Chicago speech on economics, touched cautiously on deficits and taxes. Attempting to diffuse the blame for the record-breading deficits, he answered a question by noting there had been federal deficits "every year since World War II." In reporting the appearance, Post reporter Lou Cannon, who was covered Mr. Reagan since his gubernatorial days in California, noted that he answered "incorrectly." Mr. Cannon added, "according to the bugdet documents Mr. Reagan sent to Congress earlier this year, there have been eight budget surpluses during this period, five of them during Democratic administrations" -- a somewhat different view of history.
A Post reader called to complain: "Why is Cannon debating with the president? Why doesn't he just report what the president says?"
The Post's own standard on fairness notes, "No story is fair if it consciously or unconsciously misleads or even deceives the reader. So fairness includes honesty -- leveling with the reader." It seems to me that Mr. Cannon was right. The added facts were necessary for completeness.
I know that such insertions are not easily achieved in the haste and stress of on-the-road coverage. It takes an experienced reporter to recognize dubious statements and to know where to turn for facts that set them straight. There have been useful interjections by other reporters, too.
Other readers have complained about references to picket signs, shouted jeers or minor scuffles in reports of appearances by candidates. They obviously detracted from the speaker's theme but were necessary for completeness, too.
Sometimes reporters unintentionally give a candidate a chance to mislead readers because they do not have all the facts at the time. An example is President Reagan's tribute to the sacrifice of an Italian immigrant milkman whose son became a doctor and "saved the life of a president of the United States who had been shot.
A few days later Dr. Joseph M. Giordano told the press that "there is another part of the story." He noted that while his father "bore the brunt" of his medical training expense, he received "low-interest government loans to help finance part of my medical school education," and he praised federal funding for biomedical research. "I feel that these programs have enabled people with little resources to reach their full potential." Mr. Reagan never mentioned federal assistance.