Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a news story that opened with an intriguing question: "Suppose Jesse Jackson gave a press conference and nobody came?"

The article described how Jackson was "a tad disappointed" when a news conference he called to discuss the government's savings and loan cleanup drew "one lonely reporter," a Journal reporter.

Like many snapshots, this one spoke volumes.

Jackson's media relations have blown hot and cold during his two decades as a ubiquitous presence on the American scene. Sometimes he is portrayed as a vivifier of hope, a crusader for social justice, a redeemer of the American dream. Sometimes he is presented as an ambulance-chaser, a demagogue, a skunk at the Democrats' tea party.

But when things get really testy between the media and Jackson, as they have in the six months since he chose not to run for mayor of the District, many news organizations resort to a practice even more hurtful than name-calling: They don't call him anything at all.

Jackson says he has been the victim of something that approaches a news blackout by major print and broadcast news organizations since he moved his political operation from Chicago to Washington last fall, and he has come up with two novel strategies for dealing with it.

The first is to run for an office he can win: shadow U.S. senator from the District of Columbia.

No, it's not the presidency. But assuming he defeats four little-known opponents in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary and goes on to win the Nov. 6 general election, "Senator" Jackson plans to use his new position, which won't be funded with taxpayer dollars and isn't likely to be formally recognized by the U.S. Senate, as a soapbox from which to lobby for D.C. statehood and speak out on any matters that cross his busy screen, from Liberian civil wars to West Virginia coal strikes to Nike sneaker boycotts.

The second is to become the media: "The Jesse Jackson Show" will begin at the end of next month on 130 television stations blanketing 94 percent of the nation's viewing audience.

Bankrolled by Time Warner Inc. and Quincy Jones Entertainment and produced by the man who made "America's Most Wanted" a surprise hit, Jackson's weekend, live-audience, hourlong show will be a mix of documentary, entertainment, news and interview formats. It is intended to "focus the lens of the camera on subjects the rest of the media is choosing to ignore," Jackson said.

Including Jackson himself. "We are hoping one effect this will have is to allow people to see him as something more than the 'hot' TV figure who gets a 20 second news clip that always captures him when he is at the crescendo of his speech, and that scares many white people to death," said Frank Watkins, Jackson's longtime aide.

"It should end all this silly business in the media about Jackson not having a job," said Bob Borosage, Jackson's issue adviser during the 1988 campaign. "He's about to have a job that the media can understand very well. The hilarious part of this is that while the media are always accusing him of ambulance chasing, the biggest ambulance chasers of all are the media."

The show is not without risk. "It's a big throw of the dice in terms of his presidential aspirations," Borosage said. "If the show is not popular, you'll have a set of headlines in 1991 that say: 'Miami turns off Jackson,' 'Denver turns off Jackson.' It can't be helpful, though I doubt it would be crippling."

Others see an opposite danger. They say that Jackson will suffer from too much exposure, and that -- by crossing an admittedly fuzzy line into the field of journalism -- he will provide fellow journalists with a new pretext to treat him less seriously as a politician.

The complexity of juggling both roles already is apparent. Jackson and his producers spent much of the past week scrambling to raise money to send Jackson and a crew of 20 to Iraq, where Iraqi officials have promised to help him line up interviews with President Saddam Hussein and Western hostages.

In 1984, Jackson was instrumental in negotiating the release of Navy pilot Robert Goodman from Syria. He said last week that it "would not be appropriate to go {to Iraq} as a diplomat," but in the same breath seemed to leave a crack in the door, noting that any "life-saving" that may result as a "byproduct" of his trip would be "welcome."

Time Warner decided not to finance Jackson's trip, citing cost but perhaps fearing diplomatic entanglements. At week's end, the show's executive producer, Michael Linder, was trying to line up funding from other news organizations.

He approached, among others, The Washington Post, which turned down an offer for exclusive print rights to any interview Jackson would conduct. The show's asking price: $375,000.

The spectacle of Jackson trying to remake himself into a combination of Ted Koppel and Oprah Winfrey has his political foes chuckling. Last week, Virginia Democratic Chairman Paul Goodman, a frequent Jackson critic, placed this spoof on his telephone answering machine: "Your phone call has been interrupted by a news bulletin: 'I'm leaving to see Hussein/On my own plane/After I get to Iraq/I'm going to get the Americans back/And if Hussein says no/I'll cancel his appearance on my show."

The other new venture Jackson is launching -- shadow senator -- also has its share of skeptics.

Two years ago, Jackson was running for president and attracting 7 million votes, the most garnered by a black in history and more than double his vote total of four years earlier. Now he is seeking an ill-defined local position that has no funding, no staff, no power and little prospect of formal recognition from the body in which he is supposedly going to serve.

Jackson's critics say that if he wanted to beat the rap that "he can't run nothing but his mouth" -- to use a phrase attributed to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry -- he should have run for the office that Barry is about to vacate.

Jackson said he has no regrets about his decision not to run for mayor.

"A leader cannot be thin-skinned about that crowd," he said of his media critics. "These are a group of guys, they do these television talk shows, and they just blow."

As evidence that he is the victim of a news blackout, he noted a recent Los Angeles Times Poll that shows he is the leading choice for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination was roundly ignored by the news media. "No one wrote a column about that poll," he said.

Jackson met earlier this summer with Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) to discuss the privileges that he will be accorded once he becomes a shadow senator. The meeting triggered a round of speculation in political circles that a deal might be in the offing, wherein Mitchell and the Senate Democrats would agree to give him floor privileges, and in return Jackson would agree not to run for president in 1992.

Mitchell and Jackson say nothing of the kind was discussed. A Mitchell spokeman said his office is studying precedents to see what kind of privileges shadow senators have been accorded in the past. Eight times in the nation's history, shadow senators have been elected by territories seeking statehood. Tennessee was the first to elect these lobbyists, in 1796, and Alaska the most recent, in 1956.

Jackson said it is "premature to make protocol in the Senate an issue. We want to make statehood and a bona fide seat in the Senate an issue."

He also said it was premature to discuss whether he will seek the presidency a third time in 1992.

He did say he is interested in becoming a bona fide U.S. senator from the nation's 51st state -- New Columbia -- and told a story to illustrate why.

"I had a feeling a few weeks ago unlike anything I've had since I've been an adult," he said. "I was in the gallery of the Senate with civil rights leaders seeking support for the 1990 Civil Rights bill. On that floor were 98 men and two women, none of whom had ever been denied their civil rights. No one on that floor had ever been forced to the back of a bus, denied access to a bathroom or a motel or a park or a school, or denied a job because of race.

"And yet these people had the destiny of a whole body of people in their hands," Jackson said. "And none of the people who had been denied had any more access to the Senate in Washington then they had in Pretoria . . . . It was an eerie and castrating feeling."