nthposition online magazine

Poisoning the press

by Harry Reynolds

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Poisoning the Press is a detailed rendering of the pursuit of Richard Nixon by legendary investigative reporter Jack Anderson, whose work, viewed through a rear view mirror, contributed to a sea change in American journalism. Before Anderson, government and press enjoyed a symbiotic relationship built on jointly intuited rules of conduct. They ate out of one another's plates. After Anderson, the government looked forward to scandals and exposures for breakfast.

Feldstein describes a Nixon frighteningly paranoid, foulmouthed, an obsessive hater of Jews, a confessed despiser of intellectuals, a common bribe taker, constantly on the hunt for homosexuals, the reckless mastermind of Watergate's crimes, a cruel man grown out of a mean-spirited grammar school boy called "Gloomy Gus", now President, seated as in a family photograph with the usual suspects, ambitious young lawyers hungry for his favor. Outside, he was a pious Quaker. Inside, he was grasping and conniving.

As for Jack Anderson, Feldstein gives us an extroverted 25-year-old Mormon reporter, gifted in loosening the tongues of people eager to talk. Newly arrived in Washington in 1947, he was employed by the nationally syndicated Drew Pearson of "Washington Merry-Go-Round" fame. Anderson would eventually publish any classified document with the ease with which he combed his hair, for he believed that he was doing God's work. Outside, he was righteous and evangelical. Inside, he was an irreverent, quick-footed rascal. His disclosures, down the road, would lead to parts of the articles of the impeachment of the pious Quaker.

In 1952, Pearson and Anderson disclosed that Nixon, campaigning with an embarrassed Eisenhower, was the beneficiary of a business men's slush fund about which Nixon deceitfully claimed innocence in a televised, repellant speech about 'Checkers', a dog given to his daughters.

In 1956, they accused Nixon of receiving Mafia money and disclosed his crooked role in a $250,000 "loan" by Howard Hughes to Nixon's brother. President Truman joked that Nixon now needed "a bigger dog".

In 1958, Anderson revealed that Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adams, collected bribes. Exit Adams.

In 1960, the Kennedy camp thoughtfully gave Pearson proof of the Nixon-Hughes deal, a beautiful hit just days before the election. Nixon lost by a stinging one-tenth of one per cent, for which he blamed Pearson and Anderson. When Nixon thereafter ran for Governor of California, Pearson and Anderson treated him to 26 columns rehashing their top hits against him. He lost.

After Pearson died in 1969, Anderson limbered up by causing House Speaker McCormack to resign and his employee to be imprisoned for corruption.

When Senator Edward Kennedy cowardly fled the Chappaquiddick Bridge, Anderson astonished the nation by publishing the secret transcripts of Kennedy's inquest. Once spurned as a scandalmonger, Anderson was now greeted by Congressional leaders as if he were the Pope.

Nor was Anderson above fox-trotting with Nixon. Anderson obtained George Wallace's IRS file from a Nixon aide and published it, creating a political firestorm. As Nixon planned, Wallace's prosecution was magically dropped, he ran as a Democrat and not as an Independent, and thus strengthened Nixon's chances for re-election.

Nixon ordered Hoover to list homosexuals in the Washington press corps, instructing his White House aides to leak derogatory information about the most vicious of them for the purpose of targeting them for tax audits, government lawsuits, and criminal prosecution, all in John Dean's words, "to screw our political enemies".

Nixon approved illegal wiretaps of newsmen critical of the administration. He secretly bombed neutral Cambodia, slaying the innocent, and then ordered troops to invade it. Rounding out his irregularity, Nixon began to drink.

Anderson, using classified documents, described the deceitfulness of our peace talks with North Vietnam and showed that our casualty figures were lies.

When the Pentagon Papers were published, the White House was aflame with unbridled anti-Semitism. Nixon referred to Kissinger to his face as "My Jew Boy". He declared that "The Jews are born spies" and that the New York Times was filled with "Those Jews". He said that "most Jews are disloyal... you can't trust the bastards" and that "there's this strange malignancy that seems to creep among them... radicalism." He thought of Daniel Ellsberg as "a marvelous opportunity" for his old House Un-American Activities Committee to win public acclaim. (Emphasis in original.) "Going after all these Jews [is] what's going to charge up an audience. Jesus Christ, they'll be hanging from the rafters." (White House Tapes, 536-016, July 3, 1971; 537-004, July 5, 1971)

He ordered his aides to do whatever had to be done to stop the leaks, no mater what means were used. He created the "Plumbers" to use burglary, forgery, wiretapping, and sabotage. "They've got to be done", he said. Enter Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the burglaries of the Democrat Watergate office and of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.

In 1971, Anderson used secret documents to show that Nixon brought us to the brink of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets over the India-Pakistan war in which Nixon illegally supplied weaponry to Pakistan. Anderson obtained secret diplomatic dispatches showing Russia's assurance to India that the Soviet fleet would not allow our Seventh Fleet to intervene. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his exposure of Nixon in that war.

Pleasure awaits readers of the use by Anderson of the incredible Charles Radford, a Navy yeoman in the liaison office between the National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Radford had been ordered by the Joint Chiefs to spy on Nixon for them because of Nixon's and Kissinger's secret foreign policy. Radford upped the ante and spied as well for Anderson whom Radford and his family knew as a fellow Mormon. Nixon declined to prosecute Radford because, in this Gilbert & Sullivan opera, it was too dangerous for Nixon and the Joint Chiefs.

In 1971, while Nixon was meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Anderson, in what arguably was a breach of ethics, published secret White House papers warning of potential Japanese rearmament.

Anderson revealed that Hughes gave $100,000 in cash to 'Bebe' Rebozo, Nixon's confidante, for Nixon's nonexistent campaign. It drove Nixon to order the Watergate burglary to learn what the Democrats knew of Hughes's money. Ultimately, the burglary led to Nixon's resignation.

In 1972, Nixon, for a $400,000 bribe, personally cut a deal with ITT to stop an anti-trust prosecution of ITT and to grant it anti-trust relief it sorely wanted. Thereafter, Anderson published the secret memo of ITT's fixer expressly describing the deal. The White House tapes show Nixon ordering Attorney General Kleindienst to stop the anti-trust prosecution of ITT.

Among the earthly pleasures God grants man is chapter 14 of Poisoning the Press. It describes Hunt's and Liddy's plans for the assassination of Anderson after Anderson disclosed a conspiracy between the CIA and ITT to overthrow Chile's president, Salvatore Allende, a scandal that led to the conviction of CIA Director Richard Helms. The outraged Nixon concluded that it was time to rid himself of Anderson. Nixon's advisor, Charles Colson, told Hunt to stop Anderson "at all costs". An ordinary street murder, poisoning, ramming Anderson as he was driving, the use of mind disorienting drugs, and, among other methods, Liddy's offer to "knife" Anderson or break his neck, were discussed by Hunt, Liddy, and a CIA poison expert. Proof of Nixon's complicity is lacking, yet Hunt and Liddy admitted the conspiracy and it is improbable that Colson would misrepresent Nixon's order. In any case, the conspiracy came to nothing.

When Hoover died, Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a proven ally of Nixon, to succeed Hoover, angering Mark Felt who, as second in command, thought that he should have been appointed. In retaliation, Felt became "Deep Throat" and leaked to reporters other than Anderson, marking the beginning of Anderson's end in any coverage of the presidential kill.

The implosion of Watergate left Nixon drunk, bent and broken, sobbing in the White House in Kissinger's arms as Nixon's staff busily burned or shredded incriminating evidence while Nixon cried, "What has happened? What have I done?", all as recorded in Mark Feldstein's fine hand.

Pardon tightly in hand, Nixon successfully reincarnated himself by refusing "to get down and grovel", uniquely claiming innocence because "when the President does it, that means it is not illegal". By the mid-1980's, the New York Times called him "an elder statesman, commentator on foreign and domestic affairs, adviser to world leaders, a multimillionaire and a successful author and lecturer honored by audiences at home and abroad."

As for Jack Anderson, he plummeted from being a wrathful pursuer of the politically wicked to, among other repugnant things, scamming ignorant investors and taking money from targets he was investigating, to say nothing of his covering up President Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair. A national survey of editors ranked Anderson as Washington's worst columnist for both accuracy and integrity.

As between the two, I favor Anderson. He did not murder the tens upon tens of thousands of men, women, and children of Cambodia whose deaths drove Nixon to drink and psychiatric help.