As it was distributed through the West Wing yesterday, the 1:45 p.m. edition of the White House News Summary told the story of just one morning in the life of Mikhail Gorbachev, leading Soviet pitchman.
The summary was dominated by news of the Soviet leader in motion: Gorbachev predicts treaty ratification; Gorbachev fields criticism from members of Congress; Gorbachev lectures lawmakers on Soviet immigration policies; Gorbachev promises Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This list was an apt summation of a public relations performance by Gorbachev that has been the talk of the White House during the first two days of summitry with President Reagan.
In the view of Reagan's top advisers, Gorbachev has played a shrewd and sophisticated game, selling himself as a new and different Soviet leader to the American public while coming across as doctrinaire in private.
"It reminds me of Walter Mondale's line, 'Where's the beef?' " a senior administration official said after yesterday's meetings produced no progress toward a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan despite tantalizing public hints from Gorbachev that they might.
"He's a very modern man," said the official, who has seen the Soviet leader at close range. "He may get out of town before it all catches up with him. He's like a traveling salesman."
Gorbachev's vigorous public salesmanship -- including televised appearances at the Soviet Embassy -- has been more intense than the White House anticipated. "I was a little surprised by the showmanship factor, that he wished to be as public as he was," said a senior official familiar with the summit planning. "Obviously it was not something we anticipated."
James Lake, a former Reagan campaign press secretary, said Gorbachev had shown some of the confidence and self-assuredness that helped bring Reagan to power in American politics. "It is the demonstration of facility, openness, confidence," he said. "He's trying to prove Russian leadership is different, and he's got a big burden. But he's doing a brilliant job of it."
Starting with the hour-long interview he granted NBC's Tom Brokaw last week, through yesterday's meetings with congressional leaders and publishers, Gorbachev has presented himself in public as a self-confident leader who speaks spontaneously and openly. While Reagan refused questions from reporters in their first Oval Office meeting, Gorbachev spoke up firmly and at some length, holding himself out as a "responsible" and "thoughtful" leader when asked if he was bringing any surprises.
"I don't think that policies are made with surprises," he said. "Responsible policies, particularly by countries such as the Soviet Union and the United States, have to be well thought over and, on the basis of that, responsible decisions have to be taken."
Yesterday, Reagan sat silently as Gorbachev did all the talking during the photo opportunity before their meeting. Questioned about the Soviet timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Gorbachev held out the hope that he would get "more specific" with Reagan than he had been before. This ignited hopes that a resolution of the issue was in the works, hopes that presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater and Soviet spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov then encouraged in their briefing.
But White House officials later said Gorbachev was less forthcoming in his meeting with the president than he had been when speaking to the TV cameras. "You don't hear in the meetings what you hear in the public commentary by Gorbachev," said an administration official familiar with the private discussions.
Gorbachev's spontaneous style has not been matched by Reagan. While the Soviet leader plans a news conference today before his departure, Reagan has relied on scripts for his public appearances and will deliver a nationally televised speech tonight.
When Reagan did take questions yesterday from four columnists, the White House released only a few "excerpts," largely without substance. Gorbachev, on the other hand, took the unusual step of inviting American television into portions of his private meetings at the embassy, although the Soviets turned the camera toward a blank wall in the meeting with congressional leaders.
"The medium is the message, and he's playing it for all its worth," said a White House aide, surveying the horde of journalists covering the summit. "They've got a good product. When a product like that meets a marketplace like this, it's automatic." He added that Soviet officials who in past summits have taken a high-profile role as spokesmen for Gorbachev -- including Gerasimov -- appear this week to be intentionally deferring to the Soviet leader so as to keep him in the limelight.
Some Reagan advisers said the focus on Gorbachev was inevitable, given the novelty of a Soviet leader coming to the United States for the first time in more than a decade. Others acknowledged Gorbachev's aggressive effort to present himself, but said they believed Reagan's place in American public opinion could only be enhanced by the performance.
One informed source involved in the White House's public relations efforts said yesterday that despite the strong impression Gorbachev has made here, Americans don't confuse him and Reagan. "It's very clear who is our guy and who is their guy," this source said. "Seeing their guy up close highlights that difference in many explicit ways. He's still a Soviet."
The source said that the first two days of the summit had not altered Americans' view of Gorbachev radically but had improved Reagan's standing in public opinion.
Lake said Reagan did not need to compete in a direct sense with Gorbachev. Reagan "is not trying to prove anything," he said, and Gorbachev is.
He added that if Americans express support of the new Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to the Senate "and Gorbachev is helping with that -- it helps Reagan."
Other officials said Gorbachev came to Washington prepared to deal forcefully and spontaneously with numerous Americans in a variety of settings, while Reagan had a script for a carefully controlled summit performance.