It was there, adjacent to “Dennis the Menace,” that Washington readers were informed in real time that the administration had sent a nuclear fleet to the Indian Ocean, bringing the world to the brink of an atomic confrontation; that the president was planning to bomb Hanoi and mine its harbor; that ITT had paid $400,000 to the Republican National Convention in explicit exchange for approved mergers; that the same company and the CIA were plotting to overthrow Salvador Allende; that the U.S. Army was making undisclosed raids into Cambodia. The Post’s comic page readers, in other words, were treated not to the first draft of history, but to a sneak preview, if they cared to glance over. “He has more people around this government than, I guess, anybody has ever had,” Feldstein records Attorney General John Mitchell marveling to Nixon.
Brit Hume, the Fox News anchor, was, surprisingly, a legman for Anderson for years. He tells Feldstein that the Washington establishment thought of him as “a janitor.” One night on the cocktail circuit, when a “doyen of Washington’s media establishment” learned he worked for Anderson, she asked him: “Have you considered going into journalism?”
Whether official Washington paid attention, Nixon most certainly did. Feldstein convincingly makes the case that Nixon’s infamous and fatal obsession with enemies, particularly those in the media, was nourished by his blood feud with Pearson and Anderson.
Almost from the moment Nixon arrived on the national scene in the 1940s, Pearson and Anderson, who served as his legman until Pearson died in 1969, dogged him. Muckraking had largely gone out of favor, as corporate-sponsored media replaced a partisan press. Anderson, though, kept the professional mythology alive. He is what people think of when they think of an investigative reporter: he staked out targets, bugged hotel rooms, rummaged through trash, bribed bellhops, blackmailed, bluffed and lied. He ended careers, spiked nominations and sent high-level officials to prison.
Yet in many ways, he was the opposite of what we think of when we think of yesterday’s hacks. A Mormon, he didn’t smoke or booze or even drink coffee. He married, stayed married, and fathered nine children. A family man (to the max), Anderson flatly eschewed the Washington social scene. His unwillingness to become part of the capital’s social fabric contributed to the lack of respect his work garnered, but it also allowed him the freedom to tug at those threads without caring what unraveled. In the end, his syndicated outlet and willingness to offend the accepted order made him a dangerous and despised man.
Nixon was ruined and Anderson was left behind. In time he morphed into a cashing-out caricature of himself, going so far as to write for supermarket magazines and do cheap stunts for TV tabloid shows. Anderson’s legacy, in fact, would have been well served if one of the many abortive plots by Nixon’s henchmen had succeeded. In 1972, the administration, in the form of Charles Colson, G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt—a gang that wouldn’t flush the toilet without Nixon’s permission—planned to assassinate the reporter and solve the “Anderson problem” once and for all. Woodward, of course, broke that story, too. (Hunt and Liddy have admitted to the plot; Colson denies it and no proof exists Nixon ordered the hit.)
Feldstein, a former investigative reporter himself, and now a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, ably makes the general case that Nixon’s downfall was aided by Anderson’s career-long assault on him. But he has a more specific case, too. The ITT scoop—that the company paid off Nixon for favorable treatment by the Justice Department—was covered up by the White House in what would be a rehearsal for Watergate. Two of Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment would come directly from Anderson’s reporting. Even the president and his underlings knew they had been nailed.
“This son-of-a-bitch Anderson really knows how to work it,” Nixon judged.
“He does,” John Ehrlichman replied. “He’s a master.”
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