With two weeks to go before this summer's Olympics open here, the American press is scrambling to hurdle sudden roadblocks that threaten further cutbacks in coverage already sharply reduced because of the U.S. boycott.
Of 121 non-wire agency reporters (both print and photo) who sought to come, more than 60 have been denied accrediatation. And the three American television network news operations remain uncertain after protracted negotiations with the Russians as to how much and what kind of news coverage they will be able to broadcast about the Games.
The accreditation problems apparently arise from delays by the United States Olympic Committee in forwarding the proper documents to Moscow or to individual applicants in time for a June 1 filing deadline. Journalists who so far lack accreditation include members of Olympic reporting teams from The Washington Post, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other major news organizations.
Bob Paul, a spokesman for the USOC, said today the committee did not receive the accreditation documents until May 27, four days before the June 1, deadline. Additionally, Paul noted, there had been an understanding that the deadline would be extended until June 15.
"We are discussing the entire accreditation situation with the director general of the International Olympic Committee, Monique Berlioux," Paul said.
Meantime, many of those accredited so far have been unable to come to Moscow because of visa delays by the Soviets, despite repeated Moscow claims that "everything is ready" for the Games, which the regime intends to use as a showcase for communism.
Meanwhile, while NBC Sports apparently has reached agreement with the Soviets on some limited form of Games coverage, the Soviets still are bargaining hard with the network's news operation, as well as those of CBS and ABC, over how news -- as opposed to sports -- coverage will be handled. Sources indicate the Soviets are eager to allow the news operations access to satellite transmission facilities only for "sports" reporting.
Because of the highly charged international political situation, and the intensely ideological nature of Soviet preparations for the Games, satellite use inevitably carries with it the threat of censorship. Over the years, the Soviets occasionally have stopped satellite "feeds" from Moscow of political events, and refused to transmit wirephotos, although censorship of print media was abandoned in 1961 by Nikita Khruschev.
By using a satellite, the networks could transmit news of the Games the same day to their morning news shows because of the seven-hour time difference between Moscow and the East Coast. If agreement cannot be reached, the networks' news bureaus will be forced to ship film or videotape out by air, which likely would cause a one-day delay in their getting to the U.S.
The accreditation difficulties do not involve the Associated Press or United Press International. The two major wire services, which will send about 100 people here, are handled separately from the "specials" under IOC press rules and have experienced no problems.
Because of the American boycott, the IOC already had cut in half the number of "specials" to be accredited. No Moscow-based U.S. correspondent has been denied accreditation, and the Soviet officials handling applicants at the new Olympic Press Center in central Moscow have been unfailingly polite and helpful.
But in recent days, senior Soviet Olympic officials, already smarting from the boycott now numbering about 50 nations, including West Germany, Canada and Japan among major competitors, have complained bitterly about the performance of the USOC. They say the Americans failed to supply basic information about applicants despite Moscow's prodding and have so snarled things the Soviets can't help.
In fact, the American press corps here routinely received crucial accreditation forms late from USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs and, in some cases, were sent two accreditations. These problems mostly have been ironed out on the spot, but the fate of U.S. reporters who want to come into the U.S.S.R. is unclear in the 60 cases.
In a telegram to The Washington Post today, IOC President Lord Killanin said in part, "it appears the USOC did not complete all forms . . .," causing the confusion.
But the Games opening July 19, there also has been a detachable hardening of Soviet attitudes about the American press problems. It seems unlikely the Soviets are willing to do much to bend the deadline rules more than they already have unless specifically convinced to do so by the IOC.
The Los Angeles Times, for example, had sought accreditation for three reporters, but so far only one has been accredited, Kenneth Reich, a political reporter who has covered the politics of the Olympic boycott.
"If The Los Angeles Times can only send one reporter, we would prefer it to be a sports reporter," said Bill Shirely, sports editor for The Times. "We want to be able to name who we send, not the Russians."
George Solomon, assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post, said, "It's wrong that the Moscow Organizing Committee should attempt to determine who we can send and who we can't."
A high-placed IOC official expressed shock that the list of accredited journalists to cover the Games had been pared so drastically.
"No one's allowed to reduce the number of accredited journalists except the International Olympic Committee, and we have not done that," the IOC official said.
Of the 40 to 50 American journalists who have received accreditation, nine work for Soviet film and broadcast companies that operate in the United States.