WASHINGTON — President Reagan's political appointees at the Agriculture Department were encouraged to call the White House after his nationally televised speech with their comments, officials said today.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, asked about reports of the calls, replied, "I hope that's not the case," and added, with mock solemnity, "That would be wrong."
A White House office staffed with volunteers tabulates telephone calls received after presidential speeches and releases totals as a gauge of reaction by the American people.
By Thursday morning, the White House had received 3,645 positive calls and 247 negative responses to Reagan's prime-time television address, Fitzwater said.
Number for Comments
Diane McIntyre, special assistant to Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng, said her secretary called assistant secretaries to tell them to remind political appointees that Reagan would give an important speech on the Iran arms scandal Wednesday night and that "we would appreciate any critiquing."
For those who wanted to critique the speech, the secretary passed on a White House telephone number.
"I'm not honestly sure where the idea initiated," McIntyre said, adding that "it was so routine it was not questioned."
Misunderstandings might have occurred when the reminder was passed along by assistant secretaries to political appointees beneath them, with changes in a word or two, McIntyre said.
"I guess it's like the children's game of gossip. Sometimes the end result is not what the beginning was," she said.
John McClung, director of the Agriculture Department Office of Information, said he received a call from the office of Wilmer Mizell, the assistant secretary to whom he reports.
The message was "to call the White House, if you want to, after the President's speech," McClung said.
"My understanding is that what happened is that the White House did, in fact, provide USDA a phone number that employees could call if they wanted to comment on the speech," he said.