Prize-Winning 'Muckraker' Jack Anderson Dies

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Anderson dies at 83. The syndicated columnist was best known for investigating political corruption. Veteran columnist Jack Germond and Debbie Elliott discuss Anderson's impact.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Newspaper columnist Jack Anderson, known as one of the last great muckrakers, died today at the age of 83. For more than 50 years, Anderson pursued corruption in the halls of Washington power. He described his work in a 1980 interview with NPR.

(Soundbite of 1980 interview)

Mr. JACK ANDERSON: I discovered several years ago that politicians can't be trusted and that they distort the information that comes to them from the career people. And so, I decided a long time ago that I should get my information from the same place the president does, that I should get it from the career people, the professionals, and that I should see what they tell him so that I can better gauge what he tells us.

ELLIOTT: Anderson began working as a reporter for legendary columnist Drew Pearson in 1947. He took over when Pearson died in 1969 and kept it running until Parkinson's disease forced him to retire in 2001.

To get a better understanding of what Jack Anderson meant in the world of journalism, we've called former fellow columnist Jack Germond.

Hello.

Mr. JACK GERMOND (Columnist): Hi. How are you?

ELLIOTT: Good. Teddy Roosevelt was the one who coined the term `muckraker,' and he did not mean it kindly. But Jack Anderson gloried in it, didn't he?

Mr. GERMOND: Yeah, he sure did, and he was very good at it. It was funny because he was so clearly a muckraker that he was sort of held apart from the rest of the mainstream media in the eyes of the editors. He--The Washington Post carried his column on the comics page, as they had Drew Pearson's. The suggestion was--the implication of that was he wasn't fit to be in there with all the regular columnists, which was, of course, nonsense.

ELLIOTT: So they somewhat held him at bay?

Mr. GERMOND: More or less, yeah. He--one of the problems with Jack, in some respects, is that he was such a moralist; a very moral person himself. And he expected everyone else to be and he was very moralistic in his column. Now that doesn't fit ordinary journalism very well.

ELLIOTT: What were some of his biggest stories?

Mr. GERMOND: Oh, he had a lot of stories about, you know, presidential candidates going wrong. And, you know, the thing he said about going to the government staff rather than to the politicians was the thing that made his column different. He knew there were always going to be people who were angry at the politicians, who were--who--feel they were crooked or they were doing something that they shouldn't do. And this gave him a place--for them to go and he--they could peach to him and he would use it and he broadcast it. And that wasn't the case with most other columnists. And he sometimes made big ones out of little ones. You know, the format of the column was that it had to be reasonably sensational to satisfy Jack and to satisfy his advertising. Put it that way. And there was always--sometimes he ran stories that were even sort of minor peccadillos and made them into big things, almost bigger than they were. That was the only fault I ever found with him.

ELLIOTT: Is there anyone writing a column today that's anything like what Jack Anderson wrote?

Mr. GERMOND: Not really. There are things like this on cable television, some of these talk shows where the hosts sort of damn whole classes of people. That's the closest thing to what Jack Anderson did now. And it's not really very close. I man, Jack was a conservative guy in terms of his personal style, but he was not a Democrat or a Republican or if--I mean, I'm sure he was. But you didn't see that bias in his copy.

ELLIOTT: Is there a place in journalism for this type of column? I mean, is that going to be missed?

Mr. GERMOND: I sort of don't think so. There were cases where he had to back off of columns and he had to make corrections. He had to make changes. Newspapers are having enough trouble with people who don't have all their facts straight without taking chances on sort of wild-hair accusations. That wasn't always the case with Jack. But I didn't--I'm not trying to suggest that all his work was wild-hair. On the contrary, he was very effective and very valuable in a lot of ways. But he did go off the deep end on a lot of things.

ELLIOTT: Jack Germond is a former syndicated columnist for the Baltimore Sun. We reached him at his home in Charlestown, West Virginia. Thank you, sir.

Mr. GERMOND: Thank you. Bye-bye.

ELLIOTT: Longtime newspaper columnist Jack Anderson died today. He was 83.

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