WASHINGTON -- Columnist George Will said Sunday that President Reagan telephoned him and criticized television coverage of the 1980 Reagan campaign's acquisition of Jimmy Carter debate briefing books.
Will said Reagan called from the Camp David, Md., presidential reteat Saturday night after watching Will on television discussing his role in Reagan's preparation for the October 1980 television debate with Carter.
Will, an unabashed Reagan supporter in 1980, wrote in a column published in The Washington Post Sunday that he had seen Carter briefing papers before sitting in on the Reagan mock debate but gave them only a 'cursory glance.'
'I thought no more about them and never heard them mentioned by anyone,' Will said. 'I did not write about them because their origin was unknown and their importance nil.'
The New York Daily News announced in its Sunday editions it was canceling the conservative's column because Will knew, but did not report, Reagan's campaign used Carter White House material fpr the debate. It also said Will lauded Reagan's performance the night of the debate after helping prepare the candidate and did not make his role clear.
In an editorial, the newspaper called Will's actions 'a violation of journalistic ethics.'
Will, discussing his role Sunday on ABC's 'This Week with David Brinkley,' said that at the conclusion of another panel TV show Saturday night, 'The phone rings and it says 'Camp David operator' and on comes the president of the United States.
'And he said, 'George, there are two very peculiar ideas going around. One is your nutty idea that we are as a nation undertaxed and the second is I need people like you to tell me how to go out in public to debate the basic issues of our day.' And I said, 'I take your point and I want you to know I'm not saying I'm necessary to you.''
Will said Reagan noted one television network had replayed footage of the debate where Reagan parried a Carter charge by saying, 'Per capita expenditure increased in Georgia much faster under you than under me.'
'The network left a clear impression he could not have been that well prepared if he had not read a briefing book,' Will said.
'The president laughed as he often does at these matters and said; 'A, I was governor at the same time Jimmy Carter was governor and I payed attention to these things and, B, I used that fact campaigning for Gerry Ford against Jimmy Carter in 1976.'
A White House spokesman confirmed Reagan called Will Saturday night. He called the call a 'private conversation' and declined further comment.
In his column Sunday, Will said 'reticence can be an obligatory civility' for Washington journalists, and observed, 'The relation of columnists to politicians can be different from that of a straight news reporter.'
On the ABC program, he pushed that point.
'John Kennedy took his inaugural address around to Walter Lippmann's house and Lippmann made a change, which Kennedy incorporated. I don't know whether Lippman wrote a column praising the address or not. That would be an interesting question,' Will said.