Reagan and the press

``Where's the Prez?'' the press is crying. As the White House struggles to get ahead of the Iran-contra affair, pressures are building on President Reagan to hold a news conference. His last was four months ago.

Not a day passes but White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater is bombarded with questions about Mr. Reagan's next appearance. His standard response is that the White House wants a news conference and will schedule it as soon as possible.

The issue is clearly a sensitive one for new White House chief of staff Howard Baker Jr. When affairs of state are going well, Mr. Reagan has learned how to use the controlled stage of a televised press conference to his advantage, skillfully dominating it despite errors of fact, occasional stumbling, and a meandering response style.

But with investigation of the Iran-contra scandal in progress and reporters anxious to query him, briefing him beforehand on every potential question is extremely difficult. A misstatement made by Reagan at his news conference on Nov. 19 on the issue of Israeli involvement in the Iran arms sales had to be quickly corrected by the White House.

Frustrated by the lack of access to the President, reporters have sought to use the so-called ``photo opportunities'' to shout brief questions at him. But this week Reagan adopted a tactic of feigning a loss of voice - a pretense he quickly gave up.

``You know, it's a funny thing - you were all hardly out of the room, and I recovered my voice,'' he quipped yesterday during a photo opportunity. He was in ``good voice,'' he said, but ``still not taking any questions.''

The President has held 39 press conferences in six years in office. Jimmy Carter held 59 news conferences in four years, Gerald Ford 39 in two and a half years, and Richard Nixon 37 in five and a half years.

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