The tough-talking, lanky Republican senator from Wyoming, Alan K. Simpson, is no friend of the press. He rarely passes up an opportunity to complain about what is done in the name of the First Amendment.

The senator didn't change his tune even when granted an audience in Iraq last April with President Saddam Hussein.

When it was Simpson's turn to talk, did he ask Saddam why he had threatened to annihilate half of Israel with chemical weapons or why he had murdered hundreds of his own Kurdish citizens? No. Simpson suggested that Saddam merely had a news media problem.

"I believe that your problems lie with the Western media and not with the U.S. government," Simpson confided to Saddam, according to a transcript we have obtained of their meeting in Iraq on April 12 as part of a Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).

"As long as you are isolated from the media, the press -- and it is a haughty and pampered press -- they all consider themselves political geniuses. That is, the journalists do. They are very cynical."

Excuse us if we venture some cynicism about Simpson's line of reasoning. He is an old hand at blaming the press for others' ills. Simpson complained loudly in 1983 when the press criticized then-Interior Secretary James G. Watt for putting his foot in his mouth. Watt, in defending the makeup of a commission on coal leasing said, "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." According to Simpson, Watt was misunderstood too.

At the height of the Iran-contra scandal, Simpson belly-ached again about the press for not being gentle enough with President Ronald Reagan. Simpson said the press did a "sadistic little disservice" by pestering Reagan with questions during photo opportunities and other public appearances.

"You know very well that you're not asking him things so you can get answers," Simpson said. "You're asking him things because you know he's off balance and you'd like to stick it in his gazoo."

Defending fellow Republicans is one thing, but defending Saddam Hussein against the press is an all-time low for the senator. He suggested Saddam was misunderstood. "What I advise is that you invite them {the Western press} to come here and see for themselves."

If the senator was really saying that the press, early on, recognized Saddam as a loose cannon while the White House slept, then we will plead guilty.

Simpson challenges the transcript because Saddam's staff taped the meeting. Without challenging the verbatim quotes from the transcript, a spokesman for Simpson said the subtleties of what the senator was trying to say are missing. Simpson claims he was trying to get more access to Iraq for the Western press. Other U.S. officials who were at the meeting vouched for the accuracy of the transcript.