Presidential press secretary Jody Powell reacted angrily yesterday to a newspaper article that portrayed President Carter as an intimidating and often ungrateful chief executive who rarely hears dissent from his aides and is gradually becoming isolated from them.
The article, published in yesterday's New York Times and based on statements by anonymous White House aides, evoked a stern denial from Powell.
"I know I speak for the entire (White House) senior staff when I say that analysis is a complete departure from the facts," Powell said in response to a question.
Powell revealed that yesterday morning he questioned about 20 members of the White House staff about the article and that each denied having spoken to the reporter who wrote it, James T. Wooten. The portriat of Carter sketched in the Times report "did not come from anyone in a position to know," he said.
Powell conceded that those staff aides he questioned were not likely to admit having spoken recently to the author of a generally unfavorable description of the President. He also denied that by questioning other staff assistants he was, in effect, contributing to an atmosphere of intimidation inside the White House.
"Since there is no such atmosphere, I couldn't contribute to it," Powell said.
Only after several senior aides came to him with questions about the article, and with volunteered denials of having spoken to the reporter, did he decide to pursue the matter and question others, Powell said. He said he acted without the President's knowledge or authorization.
"I am not inclined to run around and try to punish people," he said. "I am not trying to find out what they said."
Powell specifically denied certain parts of the article, including an assertion that the President on occasion has ordered Secret Service agents to keep his aides out of his office.
Powell's reaction, perhaps his strongest since Carter took office, was a rare public glimpse of his intensely combative loyalty to the President. Although his regular press briefings have been marked by none of the acrimony of some of the briefings of Ron Ziegler or Ron Nessen, he has been known to roust reporters and editors out of bed early in the morning to complain about an article.
"You've got to have some opportunity to defend yourself," he said yesterday. "The President has been called a brutal recluse."