In the Arena

Jody Powell

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Well, this is becoming quite the year for obituaries. Jody Powell was one of the first political pros I met when I began covering my first presidential campaign for Rolling Stone in 1975. We were introduced by Hunter Thompson–who was, untypically, seduced by the fact that Jimmy Carter’s top two aides were people…sorta like us. Jody was the older and cooler; Hamilton Jordan was younger, more impetuous. Jody did press; Hamilton did strategy. And now, they’re both gone. Amazing.

After Carter was elected, Jann Wenner asked me to do a cover story about the two young Carter dudes–and we decided to have Annie Liebowitz shoot them as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When I called Jody to ask about this, he said, “Why don’t you just put us on the cover f****** sheep?” But they posed.

In fact, I later learned–from Hamilton–that the offer to be on the cover of Rolling Stone was one of their biggest thrills (although the cover, I’m told, was the worst selling of the 1970s for the magazine). They allowed me to spend days watching them work in the White House, an incredible experience.

Jody was never as forthcoming as Hamilton. He was a press guy, careful about what he said. Indeed, he was an excellent press secretary–funny, unflappable, totally devoted to the boss (latter day exemplars of his style were Mike McCurry and, to a lesser extent, Robert Gibbs). He was a civil war buff, the descendent of seven–he claimed–confederate southern soldiers and I began the Rolling Stone story with a quote from W.J. Cash’s incredible The Mind of the South about the confederate soldier, slouching, disheveled, undisciplined and lethal. I wish I could replicate that quote here, but I can’t seem to find the piece on the internets–kudos to the reader who can…because, to my mind, it’s the ultimate tribute to the man.