THE RECENT crisis in the Soviet Union, or whatever they're calling it today, demonstrated that one of the most important factors in a coup now is correct use of the media.
The postmodern coup plotter or foiler can no longer deal only with a few key troop commanders but must face a mass audience, many of whom will be so enraged that their favorite soap operas are being pre-empted by news bulletins that they could take to the streets and disrupt tank traffic.
Here are a few valuable media tips for anyone thinking of starting or thwarting a revolution:
* Do use dramatic symbols as props when making speeches in front of TV cameras. If you choose a tank, however, it is vital to find out how the gunner feels about your politics before climbing aboard.
* Do interrupt any strategy session, no matter how urgent, if Diane Sawyer is knocking on your bunker door. Bantering with an American TV star, even for a few seconds, can win you more support than 10 speeches to parliament and a photo shoot with Perez de Cuellar of the United Nations.
* Do not choose a guy with shaky hands and runny nose to act as spokesperson at your emergency committee's press conference.
* Do not dress everyone on the committee in an identical gray suit and expression so sour that children from Akron to Zagreb are sent running from the TV screen in tears.
* Do consider opening with a stand-up comic to defuse the tension in the room and raise your ratings.
* Do keep a video camera hidden in your vacation home at all times in case you need to inform the populace that you have not taken ill but were suddenly surrounded by 6,000 tanks while refereeing a beach volleyball tournament between your in-laws and your bodyguards.
* Do not fail to make a foolproof plan to get your inspirational home video past the 6,000 tanks. A midget submarine might be effective, for instance, or carrier pigeon. Be imaginative. And quick.
* Do remember: One working fax machine is worth 10,000 Molotov cocktails.
Lewis Grossberger, a columnist for MediaWeek, is author of 1/2 "Read My Clips: Media Person Cuts Up."