There's no escaping Henry Kissinger these days. Early in the morning, late at night, he is all over the networks, stamping his foot like Rumpelstiltskin, crying out his message of "no deals, no negotiations, no coverage" and retaliation when it's over. And like Rumpelstiltskin, he finally stamped so hard he put his foot through the floor.
It happened the other night during a "Nightline" appearance with Ted Koppel. The former secretary of state was, as usual, berating the news media for giving a platform to terrorists.
"If the Nazis had invited networks to Auschwitz to watch people marching off to gas chambers, would it be appropriate news coverage to cover that?" he asked, opening up the floor beneath his feet.
Koppel gave him a much-needed glimpse into the function of the media, which is to tell what is going on, because one of the premises of a democratic society is that a free people, when informed, will act against evil.
Had they had the chance, Koppel said, the networks "absolutely" should have shown Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
"Can you imagine what the outrage of the world would have been if it had seen live television pictures of what was going on there?" he asked.
Kissinger was only saying what he always said -- although not in so many words -- at the height of his glory: that you cannot trust ordinary Americans to reach the right conclusions without the guidance of someone superior, like himself, for instance.
He gave a view of how the present hostage crisis would be handled if it were properly run, that is, with him in charge. Ten network executives would be called in and would agree to "never show the terrorists making demands or carry anything that includes pictures of the terrorists or anything that gives the terrorists a platform."
Kissinger, who never had any faith in the country's capacity to sort out information, including, it seems, data on Nazi death camps, was particularly incensed over the hostage news conference arranged by their Shiite captors. To him, it was a "humiliation of the U.S."
Actually, the rugby-field chaos that was shown when the Shiites brought out five of the hostages was a humiliation to all members of the world's press corps. Their colleagues shouted, swore, shoved, climbed on tables and generally behaved like "uncivilized barbarians," to use President Reagan's phrase for the hijackers.
As for Kissinger's morbid fear that the terrorists made friends here out of the event, it is not widely shared. The families of the hostages who so stiffly attested to their well-being were hardly open to arguments about Shiite grievances, which were not aired at the session. They were watching the tense faces of their loved ones or waiting for the mention of their names.
One man's platform is another's life raft in a hostage situation.
Relatives who hear chilling talk about the "national interest" superseding the need to save lives, hope, of course, that the president is paying no attention to Kissinger. It appears that Reagan has tuned out the unsolicited advice being delivered in the Goetterdaemmerung rumblings of the diplomatic superstar he has so stubbornly refused to employ.
With the approval of the country, Reagan is instead pursuing the path of prayerful patience trodden by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. He is also, it seems, negotiating intensely, despite public denials to the contrary. Kissinger, one of conservatives' favorite targets in times past, has emerged as the spokesman of the right wing. However, it would not accept him if he personally led a retaliatory raid on Beirut.
The establishment's darling, in exile from power, has become an "outside agitator." He rails against television for "giving a man like Berri an American platform in which he can propagate his views at a time when he is holding American citizens."
It was pointed out to him that Nabih Berri, the "moderate" Shiite leader, was designated by the president as the man who is responsible for the hostages' safety and release and who is, therefore, a legitimate object of public concern.
Kissinger's "Nightline" adversary, Hodding Carter, the State Department spokesman during the Iranian hostage crisis, tried to instruct him further on the benefits of a free press in a difficult moment: "Americans will come out a lot firmer in their resolve by seeing what is being done than if they were kept in the dark like a bunch of mushrooms."
Kissinger might think of the seven other forgotten Americans held in hostage in Lebanon. To watch him under the lights demanding they be turned off in Beirut isn't just unconvincing; it's irrelevant.