A questionnaire from The New York Times to potential presidential nominees has drawn so much criticism that Times executive editor Max Frankel yesterday issued a memo to the staff saying that the paper had gone "a bit too far."
Frankel said the newspaper has now decided not to seek "raw FBI files, that indiscriminately record malicious and unsubstantiated gossip, or similar CIA files, which if they exist, would have been illegally acquired."
He added that the newspaper recognized that even though it is interested in candidates' mental depressions or diseases requiring heavy medication, for example, there may be some medical records that "do not bear on a person's fitness for the presidency."
That information had been sought in the original request The Times' Washington bureau sent to all 13 active 1988 presidential candidates. Many of them refused to provide all The Times had requested.
Frankel said in his new memo that in the nuclear age "when we entrust our presidents with instantaneous powers of life and death, we think we have a duty to report on the essential character and history of every contender for the office.
"As regards their fitness for the office and trustworthiness, they have no 'right' of privacy," the memo said. "Their lives, their personalities, their finances, their families, friends and values are all fair game for fair reporting."
The Times questionnaire asked each candidate to waive rights of privacy to any FBI or other government files on them and to medical files. It also asked for the candidates' birth certificates, marriage and drivers' licenses, school records, employment records, net worth with specifics on stocks and real estate, income tax returns, information on civil and criminal court cases, lists of closest friends since high school and names of advisers and major fund-raisers.
Former senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) has told reporters that the First Amendment does not give newspapers a hunting license and that he will not comply.
Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D), Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) have objected to request for FBI files, although they are offering other data requested by the newspaper.
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) wrote Times editors to complain that the questionnaire went too far because "we're all running for the presidency, not for sainthood."
However, Simon decided to give the Times access to FBI files by waiving his privacy rights for two Times reporters for a period of about 90 days. Simon's campaign press secretary, Jim Kilpatrick, said that Times Washington bureau chief Craig Whitney telephoned him yesterday to say that the waiver no longer will be necessary.