TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Obituary: Pulitzer Winning Columnist Jack Anderson Dies

Re: Obituary: Pulitzer Winning Columnist Jack Anderson Dies
18 Dec 2005 12:19:11 -0800

Connie Cass wrote:

> Considered one of the fathers of investigative reporting, Anderson was
> renowned for his tenacity, aggressive techniques and influence in the
> nation's capital.

The above generally, but by no means always, is a good thing.
Journalists such as Anderson had tremendous power and influence over
the public but they had no check or balances. Their choice of words
or way of coloring a report could turn a low thing into a major
scandal, or make a big thing modest; and that in turn would save or
destroy a person's reputation. Major journalists such as that have
made plenty of mistakes, doing great harm to political reputations.
(It is extremely difficult for a public figure to sue for libel.)

Writers in the journalism publiation, Columbia Journalism Review, tend
to take a very priestly view of their powers, rationalizing any
excesses, "well it's all in the public good", or "our record of
success far outweighs our errors". Often journalists have a very
"holier than thou" attitude.

Let's take a look:

> The column broke a string of big scandals, from Eisenhower assistant
> Sherman Adams taking a vicuna coat and other gifts from a wealthy
> industrialist in 1958 ...

At the time, that incident _appeared_ to be a big scandal, but in
hindsight, it does not appear to be that big of a deal. Adams was a
very effective (although abrasive) member of the Eisenhower
administration. Adams was forced to resign and that was a loss to the
administration and the country.

> "He held politicians to a level of accountability in an era where
> journalists were very deferential to those in power."

The question is "to what _standard_ of accountability"? A good
columnist (watch Fox News) could take a normal satisfactory political
record and make anyone look like the scum of the earth.
"Accountability" is a tricky thing. I've seen local muckraters
destroy politicians by presenting the facts in such a way that
seriously distorted their meaning in the public's mind. For example,
showing personal business investments as if they were improper, or
implying normal tax deductions were fudged.

> Known for his toughness on the trail of a story, he was also praised
> for personal kindness. Anderson's son Kevin said that when his
> father's reporting led to the arrest of some involved in the Watergate
> scandal, he aided their families financially.

Interesting aspect. McCarthy did the same thing -- after smearing and
ruining someone publicly, he would privately help them out.

> After he went to work with Pearson, the team took on communist-hunting
> Sen. Joseph McCarthy ...

Let's remember that other equally promient journalists assisted
McCarthy by printing leaks from McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover that
smeared and ruined people. Again, once the damage is done, it's very
hard to undo.

Hoover (and other power brokers) used secret leaks to prominent
journalists like Anderson (or probably even to Anderson) to control
their enemies. Many congressmen were terrified that Hoover would leak
something negative on them and ruin their careers; this was a reason
Hoover (and others) stayed in power so long without challenge.

Is it fair and proper for a journalist to have the power as judge,
jury, and executioner? To put it another way, who watches the
watchers? Something to thing about.

I am not against muckraking journalists such as Anderson, I am just
concerned that they'll abuse their power and have no checks and

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