The father of a Marine who had just been shipped to the gulf wrote a powerful and eloquent open letter to President Bush that appeared in the New York Times Op Ed page of Aug. 23. It was reprinted Oct. 8 in an advertisement by a group called the Fund for New Priorities. This organization, like the letter writer, condemns the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait but opposes a U.S. military offensive. It urges a U.N. peacekeeping effort

"President Bush, the policies you have advocated for the last decade have set the stage for military conflict in the Middle East. . . . If, as I expect, you eventually order American soldiers to attack Iraq, then it is God who will have to forgive you. I will not," the letter said.- TWO DAYS AFTER the ad appeared, C-SPAN brought the father, Alex Molnar, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, onto a live 45-minute call-in program. He invited along a like-minded retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Bill White, father of two serving in the gulf.

Molnar and White both urged that gulf actions should result only from a vigorous public debate. Molnar said he has an "overwhelming response" from people who said that, judging from what they were seeing in the media, they thought they were alone in their questioning of our gulf policy.

Most of the media attention to critics of our gulf adventure goes no further than a reporting of the polls that show a sharp drop in public support for the Bush policies (down about 25 points to just over 50 percent last week in one recent survey). I saw not a line anywhere on a Capitol Hill anti-war conference Wednesday that had been advertised in the Times ad.

- TINY C-SPAN (155 staffers), the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, is dedicated to open discussion. It has striven to present all sides of public affairs issues, even when it sometimes appears there is only one side. C-SPAN has become to commentary on the gulf crisis what another cable service, CNN, has been to gulf news in depth (Media Monitor, Aug. 20). It likes to think of itself as America's town meeting, and with good reason.

Since early summer C-SPAN has been broadcasting Persian Gulf specials among 3 1/2 hours of call-in programs every day. It also airs hearings, interviews and press conferences. Last week it also carried the Congressional Human Rights Conference on Iraqi abuses in Kuwait.

- I KNOW OF NO OTHER broadcaster that covered a press conference in Washington Sept. 4 of a group called the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust. C-SPAN carried it in full and unedited and repeated it twice, as is its usual policy.

Not all of C-SPAN's programming will intrigue every person, and some even among the C-SPAN junkies in the 50 million households that can receive it may find, as I do, some of the programs pure Sominex. But there is nothing a bit boring about the gulf programs.

C-SPAN began in 1979 as the brainchild of Brian Lamb, who not only runs it but also appears regularly as a program host.

Its primary mission was to carry gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House, and later, with the addition of C-SPAN II, the Senate. Originally it was financed partly by corporate underwriters. But, fearful these might compromise objectivity, C-SPAN phased out this support and now relies on payments from cable systems, which collect something like three cents monthly from each subscriber for the service.

READ HIS LIPS

The tiff with the umpire that got Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens ejected from the final American League playoff game last week gave sports editors an exercise in judgment. It was the ongoing question of just how far the media should go in quoting cussing by celebrities. The issue was complicated by the fact millions heard (or more properly, saw) Clemens shooting his mouth off.

Some of the words could be made out from the repeated TV replays. Perhaps some viewers could get every syllable, though not a word could be heard on the air.

The Associated Press said one of its film messengers near the plate heard the exchange between Clemens and umpire Terry Cooney. From his report it carried most of Clemen's words, as was its responsibility to its members. It substituted "expletive deleted" for one.

Some papers printed the AP report verbatim. Most, I would guess, did not. The Deseret News and Tribune avoided them. A few of the brashest will hunt down the expletive AP deleted and print it, too.

The media are under more and more pressure to drop the taboos against airing or printing curse words, especially those used by public figures in a public context, and this episode will add to it.

One justification for using the words is that a reader who did not see the incident on TV or who could not read the lips should have the information to judge the seriousness of the diatribe, hence the umpire's grounds for expelling the pitcher. Clemens, after all, denied that he had abused the umpire at all.

Yet I hate to see the barriers to gamy language come down. For me it was enough to have a report that the pitcher abandoned himself to a second-inning tantrum laced with some profanity. In every public arena, even, or perhaps especially, in sports, where foul words are as common as foul balls, the press faces the challenge to report honestly while maintaining a tone of decency and civility. The DesNews and Trib fielded this line drive just right.