The press hasn't been handled with such finesse since Kennedy

In his first months in office Ronald Reagan has displayed masterful skill in handling the media. He tells the right jokes (usually aimed at himself) at the right time (when criticism is aimed his way). Barbed questions seem to leave him unruffled.

Not since John F. Kennedy has a president so disarmed the Washington press corps. The only slip-up was a spate of unfavorable stories about Nancy Reagan just before the inauguration. Since then, the course has been smooth sailing for President Reagan and a press corps that had grown weary of the "folksy" but stiff Carter presidency. Mr. Reagan's dignified informality has worked well for him.

Even without the extended honeymoon provided by the attempt on his life, he had laid the groundwork for successful relations with the press. He held only two press conferences (during which a newly decorous press corps complied with his request to keep their seats), but he offered interviews to smaller groups of selected reporters. He seemed to offer just the right tidbits.

Some reporters groused when the President decided to use a lottery system (which apparently is to be abandoned) for calling on them during his second press conference. But overall relations are so smooth that some in the media are beginning to worry.

Correspondent Judy Woodruff of NBC News wrote in the Washington Post magazine of her "nagging feeling that the Reagan team is perhaps too sophisticated in handling the press." She added, "I sense we are a strange beast in their eyes, to be stroked and accommodated, but a lways on their terms."

So far the beast has been quite tame.

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