White House spokesman Larry Speakes, who had accused the Soviets of violating a news blackout during the summit conference in Iceland, was himself rebuked by American journalists who accused him of secretly briefing two news organizations during the blackout.
At a heated news briefing Sunday, journalists accused Speakes of briefing the New York Times and the Washington Post late Saturday on the progress of the talks while at the same time publicly castigating the Soviets for violating the embargo.
The acrimonious exchange in Iceland highlighted a continuing dispute between Speakes, the chief White House spokesman, and journalists covering the White House. Journalists complain that Speakes tends to exclude all but a favored few in disclosing information about major news events.
Speakes told reporters that he had sent a written protest to the Soviets complaining that Georgy A. Arbatov, the director of the Institute for Study of the United States and Canada, violated the blackout by publicly criticizing the Reagan Administration's position on nuclear weapons testing.
Speakes also charged that Yevgeny P. Velikhov, a vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, committed a "flagrant and open violation" of the agreement by telling a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter that he was optimistic that consensus could be reached on a variety of arms control proposals being discussed.
Reporters angrily accused Speakes of hypocrisy. They charged that only a few hours earlier, Speakes had privately briefed the New York Times and the Washington Post, thereby violating the blackout that the Administration had sought and had accused the Soviets of breaking.
Speakes would not confirm or deny that the private briefing had taken place. The New York Times and the Washington Post attributed reports in Sunday's editions to unidentified U.S. sources.
'On the Record on That'
Robert Timberg, the Baltimore Sun's White House reporter, asked: "Larry, did you or did you not, when we were back in Washington when you told us there would be a blackout, tell us that there were not going to be little backgrounders by senior officials during the course of the news blackout? I believe you're on the record on that very firmly. . . . "
Speakes, shaking, replied: "Look, if you want to settle these matters, why don't you show up in my office right now?"
Timberg: "Right now?"
Speakes: "Yup. . . . Get up and go."
Timberg: "Don't tell me where to go, Larry. I'll meet you there."
Speakes: "You better. OK. Anything else?"
Several reporters showed up at his office, but Speakes curtly told them that he had only a minute or two to spare, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter. Speakes said that he had been in his office until 2 a.m. Sunday and that he would have been willing to assist any journalist who came by at the time.
Earlier, Speakes had publicly rebuked John M. Poindexter, the White House national security adviser, for characterizing the opening session of the talk as "businesslike" in remarks to a reporter.