Reporter's Notebook : Constant Eye Kept on Reagan--Well, Almost Constant

From Times Staff Writers

With more than 3,500 journalists accredited to the economic summit here, coverage of some events involving the seven national leaders has had to be restricted to a select few reporters who then provide detailed accounts for their colleagues.

Little is left out. Kathy Lewis, a Houston Post reporter who provided the report for the American media on the arrival of the leaders for their first working session Friday at the West German chancery, faithfully tracked President Reagan every step of the way. Well, almost every step.

"He was on his way to the men's room and was accompanied by Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Allen Wallis and a number of Secret Service agents," she reported. "The cameras were rolling as he entered the room. I didn't see the following, but I am told (Japan's Prime Minister Yasuhiro) Nakasone made the same trip shortly thereafter."

Sometimes, the chosen few reporters come up with nothing at all. After nearly six hours of following the leaders to the summit reception and dinner Thursday evening, Time magazine columnist Hugh Sidey and his colleague, Jerry Cahill of the New York Daily News, informed the other reporters: "We didn't get close to the proceedings or the principals and have nothing of substance to report."

In West Germany, humor is no laughing matter--at least not when it comes to the sensitive issue of President Reagan's planned trip to the Bitburg war cemetery.

While the subject has provided plenty of material for American humorists without causing much reaction, an attempt by West German television to make light of the trip brought an angry public response and an official government apology. The satire carried a clearly faked interview, with a Reagan-like voice describing a "revised" itinerary that would reduce his appearances Sunday at Bitburg and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp memorial to helicopter fly-bys.

Then, the "President" continued, the aircraft would fly on to Berlin for a quick hello to Rudolf Hess, the 91-year-old former deputy fuehrer, jailed for life after World War II. The government apology expressed regret for the program, stating that it had damaged West Germany's image and insulted its foreign guests.

While the press and Italian President Sandro Pertini were waiting for Nancy Reagan to arrive for lunch in Rome on Friday, Pertini spotted something that he did not like. He saw Mary Anne Fackleman, a White House photographer, sitting on the floor waiting to take her pictures.

Pertini looked at her and said: "You can't have a lady here without a chair. Maybe in America you can do this but you can't do this in Italy."

But then the First Lady arrived, and there was no time to get Fackleman a chair.

"As I was saying. . . ," Assistant Secretary of State Richard R. Burt said, beginning a press briefing Friday with a humorous reference to his angry departure from a similar session the previous day.

Burt spent 33 minutes calmly answering questions from reporters Friday. On Thursday, he stalked out of a press briefing when some reporters expressed puzzlement at a quote he had attributed to West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. A West German spokesman later said Burt had quoted Kohl inaccurately.

All in all, Thursday was not a good day for Burt. And his problems continued into the evening.

Burt, expected soon to be nominated to be U.S. ambassador to West Germany, was invited along with other key summit conference participants to an elegant reception given by Kohl in an old castle.

Burt was rushing through the door of the castle, head down, when a voice called out behind him: "Mr. Burt."

It was the chancellor, standing in a receiving line, surprised at the lone guest who had not stopped to say hello.

Members of the news media who witnessed the scene said Burt quickly returned, shook hands and posed with Kohl for cameras.

Notebook contributors were Betty Cuniberti, Tyler Marshall, Jack Nelson and George Skelton.

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