The White House, as part of an effort to improve its image, abruptly canceled a scheduled television appearance yesterday by outspoken presidential adviser Margaret Costanza.
White House communications consultant Gerald Rafshoon told Costanza Monday evening to pull out of her scheduled interview on ABC's Good Morning America show. He did it so that domestic affairs adviser Stuart E. Eizenstat, who was also a guest, could have more time on the program, according to presidential press secretary Jody Powell.
"It was the feeling that the overall administration would be better served" by such an arrangement, Powell said.
But George Merlis, the program's producer, said that the White House did not ask for more time for the Eizenstat appearance at the time Costanza was bumped.
"We had this gaping hole. We considered trying to find Billy Martin [fired manager of the New York Yankees], but eventually called back the White House and asked if we could have Eizenstat fill in Midge's spot."
Costanza said that Rafshoon informed her Monday evening that, under a new directive, designed to coordinate public appearances by staffers, she was to have cleared the interview with him.
Rafshoon said the directive was issued two weeks ago at a staff meeting not attended by Costanza. He said he heard of the back-to-back ABC interviews with Eizenstat and Costanza and felt "it was ridiculous to have two senior White House aides on the show at the same time."
"I didn't know about the directive," Costanza said yesterday. "I see the value in it, but I told him I wished someone had thought enough to inform me of it."
Costanza, who has frequently rankled senior presidential aides with her public utterances, said she didn't think she was "being gagged. It wasn't a nasty thing at all. It was just sloppiness. It was a lack of communications."
Costanza, who started out in the White House as head of the public liaison office, has in recent months been downgraded to the job of adviser on women's rights and domestic human rights. In May, she was moved from an office near Carter's to a spot in the basement of the West Wing.
Despite recurring rumors of her impending resignation, she repeated yesterday that she plans to stay. "I have a job to do here and I intend to do it. My treatment is not half as important as the goals."
Merlis said Costanza still had a "standing invitation" to appear on the program. Host David Hartman "personally booked her five or six weeks ago to find out what had happened to her," he said. "We were disappointed. There are a lot of people who want to hear from her."
Hartman questioned Eizenstat on the air about Costanza's cancellation. "It sounds like a gag order from the White House, Mr. Eizenstat," he said. "Midge will remain outspoken as she always has been," Eizenstat replied. "That's her strong point. . . . I hope she'll continue and I'm sure she will. But this does give us the chance to talk about substantive issues, and I hope we can get on to those."
Costanza was asked in an interview whether Rafshoon, who was brought in July 1 to help bolster the president's image, had embarrassed her with the cancellation."
"The embarrassment," she replied, "is not mine."