The power of the press. Phooey!
If you believe reporters are shrewd, heavy-weight questioners who can get the answers to questions from anyone, try this:
How is President Reagan planning to overcome the record-breaking deficit facing the nation if he is reelected?
Have the nation's best and brightest journalists -- the White House press corps -- forced a real answer to this key question in the current campaign? I think not. Have the nation's potent editorial writers forced disclosure of the provisions of the administration's economic "plan"?
Actually the media have offered an opportunity for the president to tell voters what he is not going to do -- he's not going to raise taxes, he's not going to cut military spending, he's not going to cut Social Security. But what is he proposing o do?
Sure, he has said there will be reductions in government spending (yet unidentified) and improvements in the economy and that these will lead to a balanced budget. But will it be enough to overcome a shortfall of $200 billion? And what if that doesn't happen? Where is the rest to come from? What's the fallback plan?
Has the powerful press been able to elicit an answer? Definitely not.
Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine carried an informative article by a leading member of the White House press contingent, Steven R. Weisman, in which he openly acknowledged defeat. "In March, two reporters from The New York Times had a 40-minute interview with the President in the Oval Office. Five times in a row, he was asked to be more specific about how he would make further cuts in domestic spending. Each time he refused. To be more specific, he said, would invite 'demagoguery' from the Democrats."
Mr. Weisman later pointed out, "Mr. Reagan is also avoiding any detailed response to Mr. Mondale's deficit-reduction program, other than to assail the part of it that would raise taxes. It is not unusual for Presidential candidates to avoid specifics, but this year the issue of what to do about the deficit is central."
Sure it is. And what is the powerful press doing to get answers for voters only three weeks away from the voting booths?
The Post's national staff reporters say they have asked the president and his secretary of the Treasury several times for specifics, to no avail.
It is all well and good for White House correspondents to discern the president's techniques for effectively managing their coverage, such as limited access, few press conferences, many staged events and ignored or diverted questions. But to describe these actions is also to admit that reporters and their newspapers are being stage-managed.
Reporter Weisman concludes his reflections on "The President and the Press" with this observation:
"Yet, Mr. Reagan's success raises important concerns. The future application of his techniques may add to the already formidable powers of a President, both as Chief Executive and as candidate for reelection. Moreover, it could lead to a decline in the press's effectiveness as the stubborn, sometimes cantankerous monitor of the Presidency. Such a development could blunt one of the traditional checks and balances that have given flexibility and strength to the American political system."
Right on: a little more stubbornness and a lot more determination. How about editorials reminding the administration about a central question still unanswered? How about daily questions to key White House personnel?
Can we end the guessing game and leave time for adequate discussion before Nov. 6?
Power of the press? Or supporting cast for the president?