Joseph Laitin, a World War II correspondent and a press spokesman in five administrations, has been named ombudsman of The Washington Post, according to executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee.

Laitin, 71, replaces former Consumer Product Safety commissioner Sam Zagoria, effective Monday.

"Joe Laitin's unique record of service to five different presidents stamps him as professional and fair," Bradlee said. "We are lucky to have him as our ombudsman."

The ombudsman, originated in 1969, provides internal criticism of Post stories and practices, and responds to reader comments and criticisms.

Laitin, a veteran yarn-spinner who has been a communications consultant since leaving government, came to Washington 44 years ago as a reporter for United Press. Moving to Reuters, he covered, among other major stories, the atomic bomb tests in the Bikini Islands, the Nazi trials in Nuremberg and the 1946 suicide of Nazi air force chief Hermann Goering.

After a brief period in politics, including Democrat Adlai Stevenson's 1952 presidential campaign, Laitin worked in Hollywood as a free lance writer, doing stories on such stars as Marlene Dietrich.

In 1963, he accepted a job with President John F. Kennedy's Bureau of the Budget -- now the Office of Management and Budget -- and remained as a political appointee in government for 17 years. He was Lyndon B. Johnson's deputy press secretary, assistant to the OMB director for Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, an assistant defense secretary and assistant administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration under Gerald R. Ford, and an assistant Treasury secretary for Jimmy Carter.

He said he was asked to retire in 1981 by President Reagan.

During his time in government, Laitin became known for his advice to bureaucrats on dealing with the news media. Among his observations: "when in doubt, put it out," "a good government information man caters to the press; he does not pander to the press," and "if I ever did lie, I know it would be to save somebody's life, not to save somebody's skin."