The news today that Jody Powell died has sent us scurrying for the News Cut Wayback Machine.
It’s 1977. And Time Magazine hates the new administration in town, and the new press secretary, a Mr. Jody Powell:
Jody Powell, the other principal staff strategist in the Lance affair, turned out to have some of the Machiavellian instincts of Nixon’s Ziegler–and about the same skill –when he tried to send newsmen chasing after Chuck Percy on a provably false charge. Surely there have been times in the past when presidential press secretaries have called up newsmen and suggested they check out rumors of wrong-doing by Senators. But that sort of thing is probably done less in reality than in the Washington novels.
Looking back at that story, it’s almost laughable to note that people once believed that White House officials didn’t orchestrate media assaults on political opponents. And Time’s observation came after experiencing the Nixon administration.
Powell was also responsible for leaking the one presidential story that should have died : The one about the “killer rabbit.”
Although an experienced reporter, Brooks also failed to appreciate the significance of what he had heard. He did not rush to file an “urgent” story. In fact, he continued the conversation for some period of time and several more cups of tea. Not until the next day did he get around to sending this gripping account out over the wires to a waiting public. And even then it was a pleasant, lighthearted piece. Although he may not admit it now, I had the definite impression at the time that Brooks thought it was nothing more than a mildly amusing incident, too.
We were soon corrected. The Washington Post, exercising the news judgement (sic) that we in the White House had come to appreciate so keenly, headed the piece President Attacked by Rabbit and ran it on the front page. The more cautious New York Times boxed it on page A-12. That night, all three networks found time to report the amazing incident. But that was just the beginning.
In one of Powell’s last “appearances,” he talked to NPR in January about what it’s like to move out of the White House.