Foreign journalists have been called into the White House and told that nothing extraordinary has been going on in Jimmy Carter's presidency over the past two weeks. They were urged not to commit impressions to the contrary to print for their readers.
National Security Affairs Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and press secretary Jody Powell called in six foreign journalists on Tuesday to express concern over the difficulty foreigners seem to be having in understanding the route, traditional American political values and procedures involved in the president's retreat to Camp David and his abrupt Cabinet reshuffle.
The journalists represented influential newspapers and news agencies from Western Europe and Japan.
Insisting that they not be named as the background briefers, Brzezinski and Powell "astounded everyone by saying that really, nothing has changed," said one participant. The Washington Post learned of the sesion independently.
The briefing came as the dollar reached a two-year low in European markets, largely as a result of the uncertainty created by the president's sudden lurching toward forcefulness.
The White House also seemed to have realized that news of the Cabinet's mass resignation offer broke in Washington right on final deadlines for European newspapers and evening newcasts. The first bulletins for Europe presented the matter as a constitutional crisis on the order of a vote of no confidence bringing down governments in Britian or France.
The most serious points made in the briefing were that the administration's foreign policy bureaucratic procedures would not be affected by the political shakeup and that Brzezinski, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Defense Secretary Harold Brown will continue to have direct daily contact with the president without going through the new White House chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan.
In an evident bid to reassure the reporters and their readers, Powell reportedly said that "political persons, like Mr. Jordan and myself," would not get involved in the making of foreign policy.
Brzezinski opened the session with a 155-minute primer on the administration's policy review system, presidential memorandum process and other bureaucratic procedures that have been frequently described in print. He laid heavy stress on the assertion that the administration's policymaking apparatus will chug ahead with its customary speed and decisiveness.
The two White House aides argued that the highly nervous foreign money markets were feeding on greatly exaggerated press accounts of Carter's actions in ousting five Cabinet members and promising to change his staff.
"I suppose we were supposed to go back to our little typewriters and send out bulletins that policy had not changed," said one reporter. "I was more tempted to write a story that this briefing was a reassuring sign because I now believe the United States can survive anything -- even this administration and its demeaning briefings."