If one had to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, the decision would certainly be for the latter--author Rivers cites Thomas Jefferson as saying. But after reading his account of how presidents from Washington to Johnson have tried to turn tales of bastardy into press stories of heroism and high justice, it is not difficult to imagine that Jefferson merely had a good public relations man working on his ""image."" And after paging Rivers' descriptions of the obituary, lying pens, foolishness, stupidity and innocence of the Washington press corps (Rivers elevates Lippmann, Reston, Brinkley and company above this mass), it does not take much to wonder whether Rivers' plea for a society of journalists which would censor newswriters who act as press men for politicians is not comparable to the doctor calling for an end to chain-smoking while lighting up another cigarette. This book is the product of a distorted view of the press--that we should be grateful for small favors from reporters and build an ethic of reportage upon that tiny foundation. Journalism students, whom this will interest, may learn from the method if not the content.