Jack Anderson, Investigative Journalist Who Angered the Powerful, Dies at 83 - New York TimesDecember 18, 2005
Jack Anderson, Investigative Journalist Who Angered the Powerful, Dies at 83
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Jack Anderson, whose investigative column once appeared in more than 1,000 newspapers with 40 million readers, won a Pulitzer Prize and prompted J. Edgar Hoover to call him "lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures," died yesterday. He was 83.
The cause was Parkinson's disease, Mr. Anderson's daughter Laurie Anderson-Bruch told The Associated Press.
Mr. Anderson was a flamboyant bridge between the muckrakers of the early decades of the 20th century and the battalions of investigative reporters unleashed by news organizations after Watergate. He relished being called "the Paul Revere of journalism" for his knack for uncovering major stories first almost as much as he enjoyed being at the top of President Richard M. Nixon's enemies list.
His journalistic reach extended to radio, television and magazines, and his scoops were legion. They included the United States' tilt away from India toward Pakistan during Bangladesh's war for independence, which won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1972.
Another was his linking of the settlement of an antitrust suit against ITT by the Justice Department to a $400,000 pledge to underwrite the 1972 Republican convention. Still another was revealing the Reagan administration's efforts to sell arms illegally to Iran and funnel the proceeds to anti-Communist forces in Central America.
In what was the nation's most widely read, longest-running political column, Mr. Anderson broke stories that included the Central Intelligence Agency's enlisting of the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro, the savings and loan scandal, Senator Thomas J. Dodd's loose ethics, and the mystery surrounding Howard Hughes's death.
He liked to say that he and his staff of eager investigators did daily what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did just once when they dug out the truth of the Watergate scandal.
But his bombastic, self-congratulating style, abbreviated exegeses and a blistering moral outrage fueled both by his Mormon upbringing and unabashed theatrical flair caused some to question his gravity.
When he made a mistake on a big story, it could reverberate mightily. In 1972, he had to apologize to Senator Thomas Eagleton for reporting on the radio about drunken-driving arrests that he could not later authenticate. Mr. Eagleton had to withdraw as the Democratic Party nominee for vice president in the face of disclosures that he had received psychiatric treatment.
Mr. Anderson's decidedly roguish techniques included eavesdropping, spiriting off classified documents, rifling through garbage (Mr. Hoover's, in particular) and sometimes blatant threats - methods he defended as justified in his lifetime campaign to keep government honest. His illegal printing of verbatim transcripts of the secret Watergate grand jury thwarted Mr. Nixon's efforts to stonewall the scandal by hiding behind grand jury secrecy.
Not only was Mr. Anderson on Nixon's notorious list, but G. Gordon Liddy, a Watergate burglar, plotted his murder.
Mr. Anderson marked a departure from traditional Washington columnists like Walter Lippmann who reported on politics as insiders with high-level contacts. His approach also veered sharply from that of Drew Pearson, who began the "Merry-Go-Round" column in 1932.
Mr. Pearson basked in his own celebrity, confiding with the powerful and playing them for large scoops. Mr. Anderson, by contrast, kept his distance from politicians. He would rather go to a movie than a state dinner, which was fortunate because he was never invited to any.
He quietly cultivated dissatisfied and idealistic lower-level government workers, convincing them that the public's right to information trumped their bosses' personal interests. His stock in trade were the secret documents he persuaded sources to leak.
Mr. Anderson's prominence gradually faded, as the sort of investigative journalism he pioneered became more standard fare. As this competition for stories stiffened, Mr. Anderson was also spreading himself thinner and thinner as his television and radio enterprises demanded nearly constant news.
The number of papers subscribing to "Washington Merry-Go-Round" finally dwindled to around 150. In 2002, Slate, the online magazine, noted that nobody had picked up Mr. Anderson's report that Senator John McCain was poised to switch parties. Mickey Kaus, the Slate writer, wrote that this demonstrated "how unseriously Jack Anderson is taken these days."
What many of his readers did not realize was that Mr. Anderson himself added up to a fascinating story. He was a close personal friend of Senator Joseph McCarthy before becoming one of his most fervent and earliest pursuers. He invited Adolph Eichmann's son to live in his home to learn about his upbringing.
When Mr. Hoover sent F.B.I. agents to stake out his house, Mr. Anderson sent several of his nine children out to take their picture. For good measure, they let the air out of the agents' tires.
Jackson Northman Anderson was born in Long Beach, Calif., on Oct. 19, 1922. When Jack was 2, his family moved to Utah, the stronghold of the Mormon Church.
At 12, Jack began editing the Boy Scout page of The Deseret News, a church-owned newspaper. He soon progressed to a $7-a-week job with a small local paper, The Murray Eagle, where he rode his bicycle to cover fires and traffic accidents.
At 18, he landed a reporting job at The Salt Lake City Tribune. After briefly attending the University of Utah, he was a Mormon missionary for two years. He then joined the merchant marine.
He soon persuaded The Deseret News to hire him as a foreign correspondent in China. His draft board caught up with him in 1945, and he was inducted into the Army in Chunking. He first served in the Quartermaster Corps and then wrote for Stars and Stripes, where more experienced journalists suggested that he try to get a job with Mr. Pearson.
Mr. Pearson hired Mr. Anderson in 1947. The columnist agreed to pay him $50 a week and give him Sundays off so he could attend church.
Mr. Pearson gave his new hire no byline. Mr. Anderson initially liked the anonymity because it diminished his visibility as he prowled for scandal.
Mr. Anderson wrote that in 1954 he learned Mr. Pearson had promised the column to another employee after his own retirement. In anger, Mr. Anderson got a job as Washington bureau chief of Parade magazine.
The denouement was that Mr. Pearson promised Mr. Anderson he would eventually be his partner as well as inherit the column. In 1965, Mr. Pearson, who died four years later, finally made good on making him a full partner. Pay, however, remained another matter.
"Why, just before he died he was paying me $14,000 or $15,000, and here I was a partner in the biggest column in America," Mr. Anderson said in an interview with The New York Post in 1972.
From the Truman to George W. Bush presidencies, Mr. Anderson gave his own stamp to Washington journalism, beginning with using language he thought a Kansas City milkman would understand.
One employee, Les Whitten, told Washingtonian magazine in 1997 how Mr. Anderson showed scant favoritism toward friends. Mr. Whitten recalled his boss glancing at a draft of a critical column he had written about Senator Wallace Bennett of Utah, a friend of Mr. Anderson's.
"He took one look, sighed, shook his head and said, 'Poor Wally,' " Mr. Whitten said. "And that's the last I heard from him about it."
Mr. Anderson met Olivia Farley in church, and they were married in 1949. She survives him, as do their nine children, The A.P. reported.
Mr. Anderson once suggested in an autobiography that his big family might have saved his life. When Mr. Liddy and others were kicking around ways to kill him, one came up with poisoning the aspirin in his medicine cabinet, according to The Washington Post in 1975.
"I had a wife and nine children, and nobody wanted to risk the chance one of them might get a headache," Mr. Anderson wrote.
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