Excluding the press from Grenada

The Grenada invasion is over, but muttering by the press lingers on. When members of the news media gather, the prime topic of conversation is the administration's failure to let the press and public in on the military operation until days later.

The public as a whole approved of the invasion and found no fault with excluding the press.

Administration officials involved in handling the press are, publicly, sticking to their guns. Recently Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told reporters that ''under the same circumstances'' he would ''do it again.'' And others echo this position.

But privately, a top Reagan aide who deals with the press thought it would have been better if a ''pool'' of reporters - four or five - had been taken along to represent the media.

Did shutting out the press set a precedent? The public seems to believe the omission worked no disservice this time. But if Grenada had been a fiasco, public outrage would have been predictable over having been fed only administration-managed news for so long.

Remember the Bay of Pigs? In that attempt to invade Cuba a reporter found out in advance about the operation. He told President Kennedy he knew. The President asked him to keep it out of his paper. He did.

''Hooray for that reporter,'' some readers are probably saying. A disclosure might have endangered troops. It could be argued that a disclosure might have ''blown'' the operation so that Kennedy would have called it off. Reporters are not arguing that they should have been ''in'' on the Grenada operation during those hours when surprise was critical to the success of the mission. Nor do they argue that the ''pool'' of reporters accompanying the US military should have reported what they saw before the military decided that stories would not affect the mission. But they do assert that the media should have had representatives on hand to give full, nongovernment-directed reports of what was going on when they were allowed to file. Even now the Grenada-invasion story largely originates from US government or military sources.

The government has been relatively forthcoming with information about Grenada. And why not? It found confirmation of what it thought - or hoped - it would find: Cuban involvement. But what if confirmation had been lacking? Would the government have been so forthcoming?

In World War II Gen. Dwight Eisenhower used to bring in the war reporters covering his headquarters and brief them on his battle plans. He trusted them. And they didn't betray this trust.

Similarly, President Reagan could bring in a few of the most trusted and respected media people and form an ad hoc invasion pool that would represent the public and its need to know, free from government propaganda.

Perhaps we didn't need this too much in Grenada. But there are times when the public's watchdog - the press - would be sorely missed. Let's not let it happen again.

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