Remembering Jack Anderson, journalist
October 19, 1922 – December 17, 2005
by Linda Lewis
Jack Anderson was born Jackson Northman Anderson on October 19, 1922, in Long Beach, California. A couple of years later, his Mormon family moved to Salt Lake City, where Anderson grew up. His early career in journalism included a job at the Salt Lake Tribune, where his first investigative story exposed illegal polygamy among Mormon fundamentalist sects.
After service as a war correspondent in World War II, Anderson was hired by Drew Pearson to help with his column, the Washington Merry-Go-Round, “the nation’s most widely read, longest-running political column.” In 1949, Anderson married Olivia Farley. The couple would have nine children.
In producing articles for the Merry-Go-Round, Anderson cultivated contacts with government whistleblowers who would help him expose numerous scandals. Howard Kurtz, who worked with Anderson, said Anderson’s “ability to persuade people at the highest level of government to share secrets with him was uncanny, especially in an era when most journalists were deferential toward the nation’s leaders and when top political columnists had cozy relationships with the high and mighty.”
The number of scoops that he had a hand in was amazing: the Keating Five congressional ethics scandal; revelations in the Iran-contra scandal; the U.S. government’s tilt away from India toward Pakistan, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1972; the ITT-Dita Beard affair, which linked the settlement of a federal antitrust suit against International Telephone & Telegraph to a $400,000 pledge to underwrite the 1972 Republican National Convention; the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Fidel Castro; the final days of Howard Hughes; U.S. attempts to undermine the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende; allegations about a possible Bulgarian connection to the shooting of the pope; an Iranian connection to the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut (Washington Post).
After Drew Pearson died in 1969, Anderson took over the Merry-Go-Round column. His reporting on Nixon administration policy making during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war earned Anderson the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
Anderson’s muckraking was based on a desire to make government better, not to hurt people.
“I don’t like to hurt people, I really don’t like it at all,” Anderson said in 1972. “But in order to get a red light at the intersection, you sometimes have to have an accident” (Deseret News).
In a Parade Magazine article, Anderson wrote that he wanted to “break down the walls of secrecy in Washington,” but, “the walls are thicker than ever” and “more and more of our policymakers hide behind those walls.”
Only the press can stand as a true bulwark against an executive branch with a monopoly on foreign policy information. It has all the authority it needs in the First Amendment. — Jack Anderson (Washington Post)
In 1984, Anderson and industrialist J. Peter Grace co-founded the nonprofit group Citizens Against Government Waste, “a private, non-partisan, non-profit organization” with the mission of eliminating “waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government.” (CAGW). Since 1991, CAGW has published the Congressional Pig Book, an annual list of pork-barrel projects in the federal budget.
Along with Dr. Donald Soeken and Rep. Gladys Spellman (D., Md.), Anderson played an important role in exposing orchestrated psychiatric examinations, a particularly destructive form of retaliation against whistleblowers. In a Parade Magazine article, he wrote:
They’d blown the whistle on the agency they worked for when they saw fraud and mismanagement of the taxpayers’ dollar. But instead of remedying the situation, the government had labeled the messengers as “unbalanced” and unfit for duty and Soeken [then working for the U.S. Public Health Service] was supposed to give Uncle Sam the ammunition to fire them. He refused and became a whistleblower himself, reporting the shameful practice to the late Rep. Gladys Spellman (D., Md.). She held hearings that put an end to the federal government’s use of mandatory fitness for-duty exams against whistleblowers.
Like the whistleblowers who provided him with information, Anderson was a frequent target of government surveillance, investigations, smear attempts and even death threats. Released CIA documents, part of a collection known as “the Family Jewels,” described CIA surveillance of Anderson and his investigative team in the hope of identifying the journalists’ sources. Bob Woodward reported that a Nixon aide gave E. Howard Hunt an order to kill Anderson using poison provided by a CIA physician (September 21, 1975 Washington Post article cited in Crime Magazine). Another Nixon associate, G. Gordon Liddy, threatened to slit Anderson’s throat with a knife, making it look like “a Washington street crime.”
Murray Waas, who worked with Anderson on Washington Merry-Go-Round, wrote of Anderson:
From Joe McCarthy to Richard Nixon, he took them all on. Despite all his shortcomings, when it came to his journalism, he was fearless. In the current day, the public has pushed back against insider, access journalism—whether practiced by Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, or Robert Novak. Anderson always understood it was his role to be an outsider, not just in regard to the politicians he covered, but also vis-a-vis the established order of journalism, that established order having always been part of the problem. (Village Voice, 2005)
Anderson died of Parkinson’s disease on December 17, 2005, at the age of 83. But, even death did not end the government’s hysteria and harassment over his exposes. “Not long after columnist Jack Anderson’s funeral,” USAToday reported, “FBI agents called his widow to say they wanted to search his papers. They were looking for confidential government information he might have acquired in a half-century of investigative reporting.”
Jack Anderson’s massive collection of information now safely resides at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.
– 30 –
More information about Jack Anderson and his work
Find-a-Grave page for Jack Northman Anderson
Donation page for support of Anderson’s document archive at GWU.
Jack Anderson: An Appreciation, by Murray S. Waas, Village Voice
Jack Anderson: An American Original, by Sally Denton
Tribute by Citizens Against Government Waste
Jack Anderson, Supersnoop, Time Magazine
Nixon Plot against newspaper columnist detailed, Michael Isikoff, NBC News
Nixon White House Plotted to Kill Columnist by Mark Feldstein, The Daily Beast
Drew Pearson’s Washington Merry-Go-Round (collected articles)
Guide to the Jack Anderson papers, 1930-2004, George Washington University
CSPAN videos are available at www.c-spanvideo.org and at the following links:
Nov. 19, 1997: Anderson discusses his book, “Washington Money-Go-Round,” about government waste and mismanagement.
Aug. 7, 1991: Anderson discusses the importance of preserving freedom of speech and freedom of the press; also the BCCI scandal and the use of international financial institutions for global political dominance.
Sept. 14, 1985: Anderson’s speech on “New Challenges and Opportunities of the Media,” at a meeting of the Radio-Television News Directors Assn.
Nonfiction books by Jack Anderson include:
The Anderson Papers (1973)
Confessions of a Muckraker (1979)
Peace, War and Politics: An Eyewitness Account (1999)
“Who Murdered JFK?” (video documentary) by Jack Anderson