The White House Correspondents' Association yesterday accused the Reagan administration of using the Secret Service to keep the news media at bay in the name of protecting the president.
The report, which followed a three-month survey of veteran White House reporters this year, also cited "harassment" by the Secret Service or "a growing degradation of civility" among agents, as Jeremiah O'Leary of The Washington Times is quoted as saying.
The analysis said the White House press pass has been "devalued" in recent years so that reporters are often given less access or freedom in dealing with the president than the general public.
White House assistant press secretary Mark Weinberg refused to comment on the charges, saying, "As the White House press office has not been consulted in the preparation of this report, I have no comment."
Robert Snow, assistant director of the Secret Service, said the "overall premise of the report is not correct. Most of us don't see anything different in this administration than any other administration in this regard."
Snow, who said that security had been stepped up since President Reagan was shot in 1981, said Secret Service agents are trained to expect an "adversarial" relationship with the news media. He likened the media-Secret Service relationship to that of opposing lawyers in a courtroom.
In the report, written for the correspondents' association by free-lance writer Nancy Chasen, Snow is quoted as saying: "The things that make a good agent also make a good reporter -- being aggressive and pushy. You'd reporters be jumping in bed with the president if you could."
Snow, however, denied yesterday that agents, whose chief job is to protect the president, see the news media as the enemy or try to harass reporters as part of an "anti-press bias," as some journalists said in the correspondents' association survey.
The survey, released by outgoing association president Sara Fritz of the Los Angeles Times, said that, among other things, longtime White House journalists have had their equipment repeatedly searched, including one veteran who said that an agent opened his shaving cream.
Journalists with long records of covering the White House have missed events because of second or third searches during the same trip, the report said.
"When they stop you and know full well who you are, you have to conclude that they want to show who's in charge," Ira Allen of United Press International said in the survey.
Reporters have been told that the reason for repeated searches is that a terrorist or assassin could plant a bomb in a reporter's purse or hand baggage. However, White House staff, who are subject to the same threat, do not go through the same procedure, the survey said.
"Most White House reporters view this disparity either as a serious breach of security or a sign of anti-press bias," the report said.
Reporters are often kept long distances from the president, the report said. This includes the small "pool" of reporters who usually are allowed to accompany a president when it would be too unwieldy for the entire press corps to go along.
"In previous administrations, the White House press pool was permitted to follow the president at a reasonably close distance in all public places," the survey said. "Under Reagan, however, pool access to the president has eroded to such an extent that many reporters fear that the pool system is on the verge of extinction."
The report noted that Reagan was shot at the entrance of the Washington Hilton when John W. Hinckley Jr. moved into a pool of reporters waiting to film the president leaving. White House officials contend that such pools create security risks, the survey said.
Other reporters said they believe the White House staff is using the Secret Service to prevent journalists from asking questions.
"Virtually every White House reporter can recount a number of instances in which they encountered what they viewed to be harassment by agents of the Secret Service," said the report.
Illustrating its charges, the report said that when someone knocked over a rope corraling the media last year, Andrea Mitchell of NBC was tackled by an agent who apparently thought she was trying to step over the invisible line.
The agent then shoved her into an ABC cameraman who began shoving back. Caught between "two angry men," she missed the event. Snow said that the report on that incident showed that the agent thought that he had told Mitchell to stand back.
"We expect the press to be more responsive than the public," Snow said. "But sometimes, they are harder to control than the crowd . . . . "
In a second instance, Mitchell was interviewing Democratic New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo on the north lawn of the White House when "the interview was abruptly interrupted by a uniformed agent of the Secret Service who told them to 'get off the grass.' "
In previous administrations, reporters had freer use of the front lawn and driveway for interviewing those who were emerging from visits to the White House.
Fritz said the report will be sent to White House officials and members of Congress whose committees deal with the Secret Service.