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"Lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures"
July 7, 2011 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Threats, blackmail, bribery and illegal bugging all in the name of journalism? Jack Anderson, the bombastic muckraker who broke some of the biggest political stories of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, would have felt right at home at the News of the World. A devout Mormon, Anderson was "part circus huckster, part guerrilla fighter, part righteous rogue," a crusading journalist who believed that God was behind his work, no matter how he went about it.
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. [...]

Mr. Anderson's decidedly roguish techniques included eavesdropping, spiriting off classified documents, rifling through garbage ([FBI chief J. Edgar] Hoover's, in particular) and sometimes blatant threats - methods he defended as justified in his lifetime campaign to keep government honest.
It was Hoover who described Anderson as "lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures," but it was Nixon who loathed the journalist the most. Anderson rose to national prominence (at his peak his column reached 45 million readers) by breaking scandal after scandal about Nixon, stretching from the 1950s all the way up to Watergate. His stories were so damaging that in 1972 two of the Watergate burglars-to-be were told to assassinate him, most likely at the behest of Nixon.

Anderson paid off sources, ran stories based purely on rumor and was guilty of a host of other journalistic sins, but his work was still substantial enough that in 1975 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In the ensuing decades he quietly slid into obscurity. He gave up his column at age 81 in 2004 and died a year later.
posted by not_the_water (15 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I definitely recommend Mark Feldstein's "Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture." It's a great book. What Anderson pulled off is pretty amazing.
posted by not_the_water at 1:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anderson paid off sources, ran stories based purely on rumor and was guilty of a host of other journalistic sins, but his work was still substantial enough that in 1975 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

contrast with Nancy Grace.

I'll take Jack any day.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:01 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do we have a NOTW thread or was it too much news/outrage filter? Or are non-UKers confused as to why we're all talking about it?

I'd post one but I have to be pretty careful about what I say about some companies online, what with liking having a job.
posted by mippy at 2:14 PM on July 7, 2011


Current NotW thread mippy.
posted by pharm at 2:19 PM on July 7, 2011


Do we have a NOTW thread or was it too much news/outrage filter?

We do.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2011


Damn you, pharm!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2011


Liddy is kinda spooky.
posted by clavdivs at 2:31 PM on July 7, 2011


I'll always remember Anderson as the guy who, at the height of the CB radio craze, wrote a hit piece about how selfish ham radio operators were keeping CB'ers from expanding into their spectrum.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2011


I definitely recommend Mark Feldstein's "Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture." It's a great book. What Anderson pulled off is pretty amazing.

Agreed. That's a wild read, and actually makes Washington (!) sound exciting and crazy.

I got a review copy of that and was going to interview Mark Feldstein -- he's a former teevee news muckraker and now a professor at GWU -- but the publicist dropped the ball and I never went back to it. If only publicists worked harder on good books .... Anyway, it's highly recommended reading. Anderson (and Drew Pearson, the guy who created the syndicated column before handing it to Anderson) originated a lot of the stuff that journalism professors wring their hands about today.

What's weird is how Anderson is left out of the whole heroic Watergate journalism thing. Nixon's downfall by the press owes as much to Anderson's shitty, sleazeball syndicated proto-Breitbart blurbs as to Woodward & Bernstein. Also, he didn't really fade into obscurity. He wrote increasingly idiotic stuff for PARADE in the '80s/'90s, was always on the morning news shows (Good Morning America, etc.) and managed to break Iran-Contra but have it totally ignored, because he was Reagan's buddy and nobody trusted his scoop. This wiki summary alone is insane:
Jack Anderson was a key and often controversial figure in reporting on J. Edgar Hoover's apparent ties to the Mafia, the Watergate scandal, and the John F. Kennedy assassination. He also broke open the case of John Lennon, who was followed, had his phone tapped, and was generally harassed by the Nixon administration during the fight to deport him, the search for fugitive ex-Nazi officials in South America and the Savings and loan crisis. He discovered a CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro,[2] and was credited for breaking the Iran–Contra affair, though he has said the scoop was "spiked" because he had become too close to President Ronald Reagan.
posted by kenlayne at 3:52 PM on July 7, 2011


I missed Jack Anderson's heyday as a columnist but I did get to know him later in his life. He was thoughtful, genuinely nice, and very modest about his work. Anything but 'roguish' or 'flamboyant', although it was clear he would be a most formidable adversary.

Also, he gave a lot of young reporters their start as investigative journalists. You could learn a lot working for him.
posted by grounded at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish there were his type of political investigative reporting today.
posted by semmi at 4:12 PM on July 7, 2011


I recall Anderson after Watergate having not only a daily newspaper column but a daily video segment that was syndicated to individual stations (obviously no network would have him, but many network-affiliated locals bought his mini-show). He had a super-serious delivery that I always suspected Andy Rooney copied (imagine Andy talking about something that actually MEANS something), but there was no more boring 2 minutes on TV than Jack Anderson on a slow-news day.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:16 PM on July 7, 2011


Unlike News of the World, Jack Anderson didn't publish sensationalist fluff. His target was mostly political corruption.

Bev Harris, who helped break the story of the weakness of Diebold electronic voting machines, started out working for Jack Anderson.
posted by eye of newt at 7:04 PM on July 7, 2011


From Bev Harris:
I had the great honor of working for Jack Anderson for a while, doing primarily editorial and marketing writing for two of his publications. His passing, not unexpected, saddens me greatly. Would you believe, the idea to dumpster-dive Diebold came from a lunch with Jack Anderson, where he had us in stitches describing how he dumpster-dived FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover?
posted by eye of newt at 7:08 PM on July 7, 2011


Nancy Grace = Susquehanna Hat Co.
posted by clavdivs at 10:41 PM on July 7, 2011


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