Coming down from the summit

JOURNALISM is hoopla - did Henry Ford say that after he supposedly said history is bunk? We in the business cannot accept this definition - at least entirely. But after the saturation coverage of the summit in Washington last week, it is certainly none too early to list the kinds of hoopla - er, reporting - that a news-consumer would do well to abstain from next time, if and when another American summit takes place. For a simple instance, the past week's experience has taught us never to read further in an article that includes one of the following: (a)the size of Raisa's dress (10-12); (b)a description of the Washington Redskin mugs and plastic footballs given to members of the Soviet delegation by hostesses at Washington parties; (c)the movies made available to Mikhail Gorbachev while in the States (``Platoon,'' ``Cry Freedom'').

On the subject of movies, run for your life if you see a reference to ``Ninotchka.'' Nothing good can come of it.

Then there is the question of glasnost. One is well advised to avoid all articles that use the word in the headline. Especially watch out for conservative columnists who end up their grumping with the sentence: ``So much for glasnost!'' Also, all reports with a Moscow dateline that quote a man in the street as saying, ``We can't eat glasnost.''

In fact, avoid all reports that promise to tell you how the summit is ``playing'' with the man (or woman) in the street in Moscow or Dubuque - or anywhere else.

Stay equally clear of those instant polls that find Gorbachev is as popular with Americans as President Reagan, leading one to believe that the Soviet general secretary would beat George Bush hands down in November if only the Democrats could persuade him to run.

Next time - if there is a next time - close your eyes promptly upon seeing a picture of Soviet teen-agers with punk haircuts, leather jackets, and T-shirts, appearing above cutlines that mutter about ``alienation'' and ``rebels without a cause.''

Be wary too of the article that reprints letters from plain folks in the Heartland, beginning, ``Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev - It would be an honor if you would have dinner at our house Friday night - or maybe Saturday if I can get out of bowling....''

Next time spare yourself the tea-tiff stories that contrast the ``life styles'' of Nancy and Raisa. Almost as expendable are the stories that contrast the ``leadership styles'' of Reagan and Gorbachev.

When it comes to essays of opinion, steer clear of all pundits who argue that The Real Issue is not arms control but ... Afghanistan or whatever.

Push the off button quick when Henry Kissinger and other out-of-power experts appear on the television screen to caution against ``getting our hopes too high.''

Say ``Nyet!'' to all interviews with employees in the hotel where the Soviet delegation is staying, purporting to tell all about what magazines the visitors thumb through at the newsstand and what goodies they order from room service.

So much time and space to fill! So little of substance to fill it with! The fragile event is of enormous possible significance, and full of cautious hope. But it stands surrounded by all the hoopla - a fact as simple and beyond elaboration as a star. Perhaps it should be left there to be admired in silence: the beginning of a beginning.

As it is, we can hardly see the history for the sideshow barkers hawking it to us.

Maybe next summit the first resolution on the agenda should be to halve the thousands of press credentials issued. That might at least save us from the most avoidable story of all - the desperate sight of news people with notebooks, tape recorders, and cameras in hand, interviewing one another.

A Wednesday and Friday column

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.