Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, may well be Washington's most manic memo writer. He can hardly watch a Sunday television show without firing one off.
"To Ed Meese. Dear Ed: Thought you were magnificent on Sunday interview show. You carried conviction, integrity and deflected the questions that implied less than optimum bona fides. . . ."
"Dear George: This is a fan letter. Your accomplishment on behalf of the United States in the Middle East will be highly regarded by history . . . I do feel better not only sleeping at night but also wrestling with problems in the daytime knowing that George Shultz is where he is doing what he is doing."
"Hot -- Write a note to Secretary James Watt, telling him I thought he was excellent on Face the Nation last Sunday . . . He was expert in parrying all of the assertions arising from the false factors involved in those who would seek to portray him with a negative image. . . ."
When he's not cultivating the high and mighty, Wick worries about other things. Like whether his files are color coded. And whether he has enough paper clips in his briefcase. And whether his immense Rolodex has the latest home number for Kirk Douglas or Richard Viguerie or Rupert Murdoch. And whether he is stuck on a plane whose first-class seats are too small. And whether someone has written a favorable story about him that should be distributed around town, or whether he is the target of another negative piece that needs to be placed in his "Bad Publicity File."
All this and more is described in numbing detail in a mountain of Wick's internal memos, released by the government under a Freedom of Information Act request by former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong. Wick dictates these memos into a recording machine in the predawn hours, on plane trips and at other odd times, and they are later transcribed by his secretaries and distributed for quick action. They are known throughout the agency as "Z-grams."
In the blue plastic bag I carry with me, I threw away the pencil sharpener. It didn't work. See if you can get one that works. . . .
Have a Dictaphone man also check this little noise as I am dictating, there is a little squeak in the machinery. . . .
Wick's life, as chronicled in his own words, is one long propaganda war. He appears engaged in an eternal battle to defend his personal image and that of the USIA, the Reagan administration and U.S. foreign policy, more or less in that order.
After reviewing all 2,700 pages, it is easier to understand why Wick taped dozens of phone conversations without his callers' knowledge. He is determined to recall each exchange and labors under the impression that his conversations are the stuff of history.
For instance: "Ask John Hughes if he would find it convenient to write a Memcon on our luncheon with the Chief Justice to capture that historic moment for our future reference."
If history is written by the victors, Charles Wick knows which side he is on.
In a 1981 conversation, Wick warned Attorney General William French Smith about "the internal threat to our security through liberalism that disregards the threat."
After Amnesty International issued a 1982 report criticizing human rights violations in El Salvador, Wick asked: "How can we get some investigations of Amnesty International to see whether they can or should be discredited." He added that his friend, author Norman Podhoretz, "could be helpful" in "seeing whether they are biased."
Wick's view of the left is sometimes a bit dated. While preparing USIA's television extravaganza on Poland, he asked: "Should we use Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden and Joan Baez, who are the only 'flower people' who have come out for Poland. . ."
Whenever they provide briefing books for me and they have tabs, even though the tabs have names on them, always accompany it with a number -- preferably a Roman numeral -- if there are only a few tabs. That way I don't have to look at all the tabs before I find the right one.
Charles Wick, former lawyer, nursing home owner, band leader, movie producer, real estate investor and Reagan fundraiser, has put the USIA back on the map. Even his critics concede that he has increased both its budget and its profile.
In fairness, it should be noted that this look at the inner Wick -- probably the most voluminous disclosure forced on any public official since his friend Richard M. Nixon -- shows a sincere man working hard at his job. Although Wick never anticipated that his private musings would be made public, there are no bombshell disclosures or discussions of illegal activities. Much of it is pretty boring.
Still, the world portrayed in Wick's memos is divided mainly into conservative friends (lobbyist Robert Gray, publisher Walter Annenberg, Podhoretz, kitchen cabinet member Justin Dart, author Arnaud de Borchgrave, media critic Reed Irvine, lawyer Roy Cohn, Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner) and detractors (The Washington Post and The New York Times chief among them).
And the USIA has deleted enough material under legal exemptions to give a Swiss-cheese quality to many of the pages (some of the excised remarks reportedly could be embarrassing to foreign dignitaries).
What was released shows a man who churns out as many thank-you notes as a small embassy. When Wick was on ABC's "Nightline" television program, for instance, he sent thank-you notes to host Ted Koppel and to some who had seen his appearance.
"Senator Pressler. Dear Senator, I can't tell you what a thrill it was to get your kind remarks concerning my recent TV appearance on Nightline. There has been so much controversy surrounding some of the things we are trying to do," Wick said, calling the South Dakota Republican's words "a shining beacon in the occasional murky environment."
"This Is Hot -- Remind me to immediately call Bob Michel about the Washington Post favorable article on the front page today. . . .
"I want to write a handwritten note to Jack Anderson thanking him for his column. . . .
"Please write note to Evans and Novak. Dear Rawlie and Bob: Just want you to know that we love enthusiastic people who have toiled in the vineyards. Were very grateful for your column this morning . . . and we still think that you are among the most astute Americans in town."
The USIA chief also issues Z-grams on improving President Reagan's image. He complained that after each news conference reporters "usually total up how many mistakes he has made. It would be a good idea to get representatives from each agency . . . to make an analysis of the incorrectness of the various premises posed to him."
The suggestion seems to sum up Wick's approach to his job: he regards every problem as a perception problem to be remedied through the media.
At one point he quotes Lyn Nofziger, then a White House aide, as saying, "Don't react on any of the bad publicity. You should have a thick hide and all you do is foment it further."
Wick never took the advice.
Mary -- I have been carrying a little 'Swingline' stapler in my purse. It doesn't seem to be working. Now it might be because I don't have the right staples anymore. Let's try and get some of these little staples and if they don't work, see if I can get another little pocket stapler that is maybe a little bit less fragile than this little red one I have.
On Aug. 6, 1981, Wick dictated a letter to his longtime friend, New York Times columnist William Safire. "You have a great gift for a symbiosis of Safire satire and profundity. I feel good every time I think about you."
Wick did not feel so good about Safire two years later, when the conservative columnist broke the story that Wick had been taping his phone calls. Safire then joined a long list of media types who had been unfair to USIA.
For example, there is the Newsweek reporter who Wick said "did the hatchet job on me."
And former New York Times reporter Lynn Rosellini. "I guess we ought to have a file on some of these adverse reports I've been getting on that newspaper article by Lynn Rosellini," another memo said.
Then there is The Washington Post. Wick's complaints about The Post are too numerous to catalogue, but they reached a crescendo after a July 1983 article that, among other things, described his expensive style of traveling abroad.
Wick ordered his staff to prepare a point-by-point rebuttal to the Post story. He said: "Don't use the word 'traveled' anywhere. Talk about my covering posts and that kind of business thing . . . The word 'traveled' is too synonymous with a pejorative reflection on my business overseas activities equating 'travel' with semi-vacations."
The memos indicate that he offered detailed suggestions on how John Lofton, a columnist for The Washington Times, could write a story knocking down the criticisms.
"Probably this will be much more detailed than what Lofton will want to print," Wick said. "On the other hand, this will give him an opportunity to make even more cogent persuasive extracts . . ." No such article was published.
But even The Washington Times is not immune to the director's displeasure. When Wick objected to a story on the Voice of America by a Washington Times reporter, he asked his staff to "call this to the attention of Jim Whelan, then the publisher, who told me that they are trying to be helpful to us, and we certainly don't think this is helpful. . . ."
Great Moments in Correspondence I: "To Ann McLaughlin. How nice of you to take the time, blah, blah, blah. . . ."
Wick has survived a series of controversies that would have sunk most mortals. The taping of his phone calls. The security system installed at his house. The jobs for offspring of administration officials.
Wick also was untouched by the disclosure of a "blacklist" of liberal speakers whom top agency officials refused to send overseas under the American Participation program, known as "AmParts." There is no evidence that Wick knew about the blacklisting. But the Z-grams show that he repeatedly suggested conservative speakers for the ostensibly nonpartisan program.
"Talk to Bill Smith the attorney general about going to Europe in June as an AmPart," Wick told his staff. ". . . Have one of our top AmPart people talk to Mrs. Smith about being an Ampart."
One time Wick ran into his friend, then-Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.), "and he said he was going to Israel. I told him that we might be able to send him there as an AmPart. He said that it sounded attractive, but he did not want to get involved in a 'junket'. . . ."
An unidentified associate "would like to be an AmPart to Hungary or Bulgaria to maybe open up an exhibit or something," Wick said. "What do we have coming up?"
Wick also demanded to see the weekly lists of speakers. "Why wasn't I told that film director Alan Pakula is an AmPart in Russia. Any important AmPart, I should be notified immediately even before they are approached. . . ."
And when he wanted to counter a "damaging" New York Times article on USIA, Wick suggested one of his most prominent recruits: "What do you think about asking Kirk Douglas to write a piece for the New York Times stating how he is going to China for us. . . ."
Wick often tries to use his show business connections. "Find out when Charlton Heston is returning to California," he told his staff, "and then remind me to see if I can set up a movie star meeting with Kirk Douglas and Charlton Heston when I am out there."
The busy director has little patience for those who don't appreciate his needs. In a letter to Air Force Secretary Verne Orr, he said, "At a recent departure at Andrews Air Force Base . . . deleted was lethargic, almost rude, and certainly is the last guy that the Air Force should have for representing itself in a 'VIP lounge.' "
Above all, Wick is a man on the move.
"See if it is possible for me to get a by-pass key for the elevator," he said. "I lose a lot of time stopping on each floor on the way up and down. . . ."
Great Moments in Correspondence II:
"Just write to deleted . 'Your letter arrived in Mr. Wick's absence from the city, and I know he will be very pleased' and so and so and so. Then bury it."
Some officials have been put off by Wick's strongly partisan views, and the Voice of America has been a chief battle ground.
"The VOA broadcasts have in many instances a left tilt," Wick said in a 1981 Z-gram. "I was told that one VOA broadcast dealing with the president's victory in the House was actually interpreted as a defeat."
Wick's distaste for the left keeps cropping up. One day he reminded himself to call De Borchgrave about a suggestion by the president's late friend, Alfred Bloomingdale, "that we should have a reporting system from the various college campuses, which are at the scene now of revolutionary cells being established."
In 1982, Wick wanted to look into the nuclear freeze movement, which was gaining support in Congress. "I would like to suggest . . . one of our grantees such as the Heritage Foundation or CSIS Center for Strategic and International Studies , etc. . . . Perhaps we can do some background on who these organizations are," he said. ". . .Only to the extent that we can know 'who is our enemy' can we take intelligent counter-measures."
In world affairs, Wick is suspicious of many who criticize U.S. policy. In a conversation about West Germany's left-wing Greens party, he asked: "Do they get any support from the Soviets, do you think. Do the Soviets infiltrate them in any way?"
In 1983, he scoffed at Denmark's objection to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia. "The Danish people have been one of the worst peaceniks in Western Europe," Wick said, "and perhaps we can leverage this into their concern as to Soviets possibly doing the same thing to them."
In between these observations, Wick deals with practical matters.
"Just take whatever steps are necessary, including my contacting the mayor, if necessary, to remove the parking from in front of our building. Evidently that parking is a vestige of a time prior to the acute traffic that has been generated by our incumbency in the area."
And supplies are always a problem.
"Hot -- Tell Mary that I made a mistake in the prior dictation when I said that I had the wrong batteries, AAA instead of AA. I have just learned that the new dictaphone I have takes AAA batteries, so I will have to carry both AAA and AA. . . ."
Great Moments in History:
On Wick's 1982 trip to Berlin, he went "to see the memorial to the Nazi victims . . . We had lunch at that Spandau Citadel which is an 850 year old castle, former Nazi army headquarters and serves wonderful food."
Wick continues to rely on many of his old California friends for advice on how to run his agency. One of them is Henry Rogers, who runs a Beverly Hills public relations firm and heads a USIA advisory panel.
In one Z-gram, Wick said: "Henry Rogers of Rogers & Cowan, one of the nation's largest public relations firms . . . asked me whether I would like for him to arrange an appointment or a lunch with deleted , who I think is about to be a client of his agency."
On another occasion, he said: "Henry Rogers . . . Perhaps it would serve both of our interests if he could send me a copy of the list of clients of Rogers & Cowan."
Wick tries to accommodate a constant stream of job seekers with the right connections. One was referred by Charles Percy (R-Ill.), then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees USIA.
"Red Hot . . . Sen. Percy . . . wanted me to consider deleted for deleted and he mentioned something about his wife too," Wick said. "I think he is sending me his resume. If not, let's contact Percy."
Wick offered to help another applicant because lobbyist "Bob Gray had recommended her as doing a good job."
In turn, the director rarely hesitates to use his own connections. "Have someone call Bill Simon and find out what is the procedure at the Olympics for USIA to get good seats," he said.
For all his foibles, Wick remains a fiercely loyal man who thinks the president should lead citizens in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." He may have best described his philosophy in a 1982 letter to Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.):
"You and other dedicated Republican senators and members of Congress MUST understand the blood-boiling frustration that is building up among those who have fought all of these years (22 in my case) for CHANGE, and now must stand limply . . . as the enemies of Ronald Reagan and his philosophy thumb their noses at the majority of citizens who voted for and continue to support that change."
Epilogue: "Hot -- Mary, are you changing these batteries every two weeks in machines? As I am dictating this, this red light showing this seems a little weak. It might be my imagination. No, it is not, it is weak, and I don't seem to have any batteries in my briefcase . . . The light just went out, and this is no longer dictating successfully."