Washington — Ronald Reagan is going to "get it" now. So will John Anderson. From now on every word, every movement, almost every breath, of these candidates will be scrutinized and analyzed by reporters.
Beyond that the traveling press will make both men feel as though their feet had been put to the fire at every press conference.
Much of the media these days takes the position that it has a special role to play in the choosing of a president: to see to it that anyone who reaches the White House has had his record and utterances thoroughly examined and ventilated.
But, in addition, many reporters seem to believe that their job is to try to catch a candidate in some inconsistency or in some inaccuracy -- or in something silly or unpresidential -- something that could trip him up and send him hurtling to defeat.
Reporters did this with George Romney when they made a Romney political disaster out of his remark about being "brainwashed" by United States officials when he visited Vietnam -- an admission which could have been interpreted as not a weakness but a bit of refreshing candor.
Reporters helped send Edmund Muskie down the drain when they made so much out of his crying over accusations about his wife from a New Hampshire newspaper publisher. Actually, there was doubt among some who observed that incident as to whether there were, indeed, any Muskie tears. They reported that they saw, instead, just some melting snow on Muskie's face.
The Romney "brainwashing" and Muskie "crying" stories did pretty much blast their hopes for the presidency. And the chief beneficiary was Richard Nixon.
Before the "brainwashing" event, Romney was considered by many to be the favorite to win the 1968 GOP nomination over Nixon.
And in 1972 Muskie was the front-runner before his involvement in the "weeping" or "nonweeping" incident. It was thereafter that George McGovern moved forward to take the Democratic nomination away from Muskie.
McGovern was able to mount only a feeble challenge to Nixon. Muskie (without the tear episode) just might have been able to given Nixon a run for his money.
But was it so bad for a possible president to weep a bit about the way his wife had been falsely accused? Jimmy Carter gets tearful at times. And, somehow, this is one of his acts that hasn't hurt him politically. However, it was only a few years ago that a reporter knew that, if he had a story about a major politician shedding some tears, he had a disaster story and a big one.
Big men in those days didn't cry. A TV camera at a national convention once caught Senator Paul Douglas in tears. That -- it has often been written -- ended Douglas's hopes of ever becoming president.
Jimmy Carter has, of course, been getting this highly critical press "treatment" for a long time now. He somehow survived this ordeal of fire and made it to the presidency. And since then he's certainly not been neglected by those reporters who think they have a special mission in life to find and expose a public official's -- and, particularly, a president's -- clay feet.
Now we are not saying that tough, incisive questioning is bad -- or that the media don't have a responsibility to the public to fully report on a presidential candidate's record, words, and performance. They do have this job.
But it is the perception of this observer that in recent years -- since Vietnam began to look like an impossible burden and, particularly, since Watergate -- the media, or certainly many reporters, seem to believe that they must be especially zealous in trying to make sure that presidential candidates and presidents "measure up".
This, too, on balance probably is good. But some reporters carry it too far. Some see themselves as the adversary of government officials. And some with this view, almost talk at times as though the government was their enemy, as though a president was their enemy.
Some reporters become "needlers" of presidential candidates. Some seem bent on trying to catch up a candidate on