President Reagan was not suggesting that members of Congress or the U.S. news media are communist agents when he told a newspaper interviewer that the Soviets are succeeding in influencing both groups, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said yesterday.
Fitzwater said the president's comments, in Wednesday's Washington Times, reflected Reagan's effort to highlight the Soviets' worldwide disinformation campaign.
"He's simply pointing out the historic development of communist influence in America and some manifestations of it," Fitzwater said. ". . . He believes that the communists have influence through various disinformation techniques and plans and programs and that has influence on the Congress, on the public, on the press, on everybody."
In the interview, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Washington Times editor, asked the president to comment on complaints from three conservative Republicans about "the number of hard-left members of the House who are now acting as pro-Soviet agents of influence."
"Well, Arnaud," the president said, "that is a problem that we have to face . . . .
"Remember, there was once a Congress in which they had a committee that would investigate even one of their own members if it was believed that that person had communist involvement or communist leanings. Well, they've done away with those committees," Reagan said. "That shows the success of what the Soviets were able to do in this country with making it unfashionable to be anticommunist.
"So you have to be careful in opposing them, to not trigger that reaction on the part of your own people, that you're depending on to support you. And it's no fun, but it's true," the president said.
". . . There is a disinformation campaign, we know, worldwide, and that disinformation is very sophisticated and is very successful, including with a great many in the media and the press in America," he said. "And on the Hill," he added when asked.
Fitzwater said Reagan does not advocate a return of Hill committees that hunt subversives, adding, "He's not calling for any new organization."