When they answer the phone they do not say, "Jack Anderson"; they say, simply, "Hello." The next move is yours.

If you ask, "Is this Jack Anderson?" they say, "Yes."

There are 17 paid staff members, including 13 who are primarily reporters, working on the hub of the Anderson news wheel, the daily column, and all the spokes: the weekly column, the radio show, the television shows, the magazine pieces and the Nostradamian newsletter, "Jack Anderson's Future File." These are the associates, referred to in the column as ". . . told my associate . . ." If you ask for one by name, you get him.

If you don't ask for someone in particular, and instead say something like, "I've got a story that's bigger than Watergate, it'll blow this town wide open; I'll talk to anyone," you hear, "Please hold." The next voice you hear will be one of the unpaid staff members. These are the interns, typically five on a three-month tour, referred to in the column as ". . . told my reporter . . ." Interns take the anyone calls, which promise pearls but often yield swine.

The associates and the interns, the paid and the unpaid, the young and the restless, all work in a mansion at 1401 16th St. NW, in large rooms, some of which might be said to be decorated in frat house contemporary. From here the most widely syndicated news column in the country--"Washington Merry-Go-Round" by Jack Anderson--is written, rewritten, edited and distributed to more than 900 newspapers, daily and weekly. A column that pledges to deliver "exclusive investigative material to its clients," a column of tweaks, leaks and piques, born of idealism, stoked by cynicism, a brazen, high-risk, righteously indignant antiwaste, anticorruption, anticommunist watchdog of a column that has been called everything from "gold" to "garbage." Sometimes on the same day. Sometimes in the same sentence.

"We do what The New York Times and The Washington Post can't do--kick ass and name names," Joe Spear, the managing editor of the column, says defiantly. "I remember the first column we did about Somoza. We called him 'a potbellied potentate.' Now, who else can do that?"

Seven days a week, 365 days a year. The Paul Revere of Journalism.

Gold: "Jack Anderson continues to get stuff before major newspapers do," says Eileen Barth, editorial page editor at Newsday.

Garbage: "The column is very repetitious and niggling in many ways; he's forever patting himself on the back," says Virginia Hall, editorial features editor of The Kansas City Star.

Muckraker Extraordinaire. America's Ombudsman.

A United Features Syndicate publicity flier asks: "Who is the most trusted and best read newspaper reporter in the nation? In 1982, President Reagan put this question to his private pollster, Richard Wirthlin, who conducted a nationwide survey to find the answer. His report to the president: columnist Jack Anderson." But according to David Hendin, editorial director of United Features, no one at United Features saw the survey; Hendin says Anderson told the syndicate that Wirthlin had told him about it. Neither the White House nor Wirthlin's office will confirm or deny its existence. Anderson says he has "verification of it the poll in writing," but he will not release it because "it would compromise my source."

More than 900 newspapers. An estimated 40 million readers. Mutual network radio, "Good Morning America" and Metromedia TV. Between 50 and 70 lectures a year guaranteeing him a minimum of $250,000 a year in personal income. More than $1 million in gross income from his combined news ventures. (Anderson says his personal income from news enterprises is derived only from the lectures; all other news income goes "to support the staff.") A media mogul. A living legend. No name too big. No cause too small.

Gold: "He has tremendous credibility throughout this country. If he blasts you, it has authority," says Mark Smolonsky, a former Anderson associate from 1975 to 1978, now a Senate staff investigator. "If Jack Anderson says you're bad, you're bad." Says Melvin Mencher, professor of journalism at Columbia University: "Taking the historical view, Jack Anderson is a good thing, a moral force; he's one of the people journalists can point to with pride."

Garbage: "Everything is written at the same shouting level, whether it's secret nuclear testing in Nevada, or some guy not getting his Social Security check," says Jonathan Mandell, a former Anderson intern and now a writer at The New York Daily News. "When everything is blown up like that it makes the intelligent reader feel that nothing the column does is really important."

Keeper of the Faith. Protector of the Flame.

Gold: "Go look at the record," says Seymour Hersh, the famed investigative reporter. "Jack Anderson has done some amazing reporting. You need somebody like him around. He's been in some very tight spots and done some very gutsy things. When push comes to shove, Jack's there. On balance he's a big, big plus."

Garbage: "It's inaccurate, irresponsible and profoundly sanctimonious," says one Senate press secretary who requested anonymity lest Anderson come back at him. "I read it just long enough to make sure my guy isn't mentioned in it. Anderson and his staff write like they're missionaries standing at Armageddon fighting for the Lord."

Some of Anderson's greatest scoops include: Columns on Nixon-Kissinger and the U.S. tilt away from India toward Pakistan, for which Anderson received a Pulitzer Prize in 1972; columns on the ITT-Dita Beard affair, linking the settlement of an antitrust suit against ITT by the Justice Department to a $400,000 pledge to underwrite the 1972 Republican convention; columns on the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Fidel Castro; columns presenting testimony leaked from the Watergate grand jury; columns on secret National Security Council plans leaked from Henry Kissinger's office; columns exposing plans for the Glomar Explorer to salvage a downed Soviet sub salvage; columns recounting the final days of Howard Hughes; columns revealing efforts by the United States to undermine the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende; columns quoting from the Abscam tapes; and recently columns alleging a Bulgarian connection in the shooting of the pope and an Iranian connection in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

Then, too, there are the explosive columns that produced a lot of smoke but, as yet, no fire: February and March columns that reported grand jury testimony that Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) "received at least $20,000 from a middleman acting for ex-CIA agent Edwin P. Wilson"; the April Capitol Hill drug scandal column that reported that several current and former members of Congress, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), "stand accused of violating the narcotics laws they have prescribed for the rest of us"; the columns in which he alleged that fugitive financier Robert Vesco "made a deal with some Georgians to fix the federal case against him . . . the circumstantial evidence implicated President Carter"; and those columns in which he alleged that Carter, motivated by political considerations, was planning to invade Iran in October 1980. Anderson repeated the last two charges as recently as two weeks ago. Writing last week about the Iran invasion columns, Jody Powell, former press secretary to Jimmy Carter, said, "In specifics and in general, what Jack Anderson wrote was flat wrong."

"Editors sometimes have trouble confirming the stories I publish, because my stories come from my sources," Anderson says. "It may take years to confirm them because I'm dealing in classified information that doesn't seem to be available to them . . . I get classified documents that nobody else gets. That's why I can confirm a report that nobody else can . . . I'll challenge The Washington Post: If you can duplicate the documents we get, I'll eat them."

If that sounds self-serving and theatrical, it is. Anderson, at 60, a man of ample girth, with marble gray hair, tranquil blue eyes and a rich waterfall of a voice, is not only an entrepeneur of news, but a showman as well. It is said that his mentor, Drew Pearson, persuaded Anderson not only to lift the corner of the tent and show people something they wouldn't ordinarily see, but also to toot his own horn about it--because if he didn't, no one else would.

Classified documents. Hot docs.

"The scoop is what sells him," says Indy Badhwar, 38, one of Anderson's top reporters.

Secret. Top Secret. Eyes Only.

"I have to do almost daily what Woodward and Bernstein did once," Anderson says boldly, without a trace of embarrassment. "How many times have they done it? How often does The Washington Post break a story that no one wants to talk about? We do it every day . . . We're not preoccupied with what's on the front pages today. We're looking for next year's story, and the story behind the story . . . I contend, and I can prove it, that we are ahead of the news. Many major stories, particularly involving foreign affairs that have to do with intelligence reports, we are well ahead of. Things that are now coming out in the Middle East and Central America are old stories to us."

Cultural hero. Nixon enemies list. Hunt and Liddy wanted Anderson killed! Always on the cutting edge, always in the hot seat.

Gold: "I'm a fan. Jack takes on a lot of tough stories," says Ron Nessen, former press secretary to Gerald Ford. "He digs around on stories that nobody else will touch. I think he's doing a very creditable job, a valuable job."

Garbage: "I found Anderson's brand of journalism to be so much worse than anything I saw anywhere else that it fell into an entirely different category," says Jody Powell. "I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him left-handed, and that's an understatement."

"Combat journalism," says Jim Grady, author of "Six Days of the Condor" and an associate from 1975 to 1979. "You feel like you're such a rebel, such a crusader--like you're doing battle against the bad guys. It's such a good feeling."

It is not such a good feeling, however, to be crusaded against. Asked how he thought it felt to be a politician or a bureaucrat getting a phone call from his office, Anderson said coolly, "I imagine it would be rather chilling."

"His call is a grand clong," says a Senate administrative assistant, citing a political term of art defined as: when things get hopelessly fouled up and you suddenly feel your bladder rushing to your heart. "Your first thought is that you're in big trouble. His power is incredible. The vast majority of people who read him represent the vast majority of people in the country. He can paint you any way he wants to."

"We have impact," says Spear. "Because of what we write, heads roll."

"One thing that makes other journalists uncomfortable," says Jack Mitchell, an investigative reporter for Cable News Network and an Anderson associate from 1975 until this year, "is that they have no control over what Jack does. You guys tend to report together, you tend to know each other, your reputations are established. Everyone knows the jerks from the heroes. But at Jack's you don't know who the players are. Who the hell is Dale Van Atta? Who the hell is Indy Badhwar? I was there for eight years and nobody ever heard of me. I didn't have a byline. I didn't have a specialty. I didn't go to the press briefings. Nobody knows who works for Jack, their backgrounds, their biases, their motives. It makes people nervous. Nobody know how Jack puts it together."

Dale Van Atta, 31, one of Anderson's top reporters, says, "The column is whatever Jack says it is." But Anderson says that he writes "usually one or two columns a week." And in recent weeks many of his columns have been repetitious of those he wrote previously, particularly during the Carter administration. Overwhelmingly, the column is a product of the staff.

Typically, a staff member pitches a story idea to Spear, 42, a former science teacher who has been with Anderson as a reporter and editor since 1969. With Spear's approval the staffer reports and writes the story and hands the copy to Spear, who then files it with the other prospective columns that sit like airplanes on a runway awaiting clearance to take off. If Anderson is in town and not off reporting or lecturing, he and Spear meet in the morning and discuss what columns are available. Spear offers three or four and Anderson chooses one, then tells Spear the angle or theme he wants the column to take. (If Anderson is out of town, as often happens when he lectures, they converse via phone.) Spear then relays the information to Dave Braaten, 57, for many years a respected reporter, columnist and rewrite man at The Washington Star. Braaten may confer with the staffer about the raw copy, then rewrites it in the Anderson style, crediting the staffer by the code " . . . told my associate . . ." and hands it back to Spear. Spear reads it, then calls in the staffer to make certain the changes have not altered the facts and intent of the story. When they are satisfied with the column--assuming Anderson is in town--Spear "lays it on the old man's desk." Anderson has the final edit and, according to Spear, "usually runs at least the first page through his own typewriter." The column then goes to Opal Ginn, Anderson's longtime confidant and office manager, who checks for factual errors and questions of taste. The column then goes back to Spear, who consults with the staffer "if substantive changes were made." When all parties are satisfied, Spear okays the column for transmission to United Feature Syndicate in New York, which distributes it to all the clients.

Because no client can print the column before any other, and because many clients can receive it only by mail, the Jack Anderson column you read in the paper was finished seven to nine days ago.

Staffers not only have to scoop the world, they regularly have to do it by 10 days.

Conventional news coverage is out; if Anderson has a story that won't hold, he shifts it to radio or TV. "Because of the lag time we just can't write in the firestorm," says Tony Capaccio, 31, after almost six years with Anderson the most veteran associate. Mentioned equally with the problem of lag time is the problem of length; the lead item of the column is routinely 600 words or shorter. John Dillon, 28, who worked on weekly papers in Vermont before joining Anderson two years ago, calls this "USA Today disease." Staffers acknowledge that details and subtleties get lost; complex stories appear simplistic; denials sometimes seem treated as afterthoughts, one brief paragraph at the end of the lead. "Our facts are there," says Bob Sherman, 35, who will leave Anderson at the end of the summer to cover the Vermont statehouse. "But a lot of them end up on the cutting room floor."

On the whole the reporting staff is young--only Sherman and Badhwar are over 31--aggressive, idealistic, liberal, ambitious, earning $16,000 to $25,000 a year and sharing, as Spear says, "the common trait of a low threshold of outrage." Van Atta and Badhwar were hired away from other papers--Van Atta from The Deseret News in Salt Lake City and Badhwar from Federal Times, a weekly that covers news of and for federal employes. The other associates advanced from Anderson's intern program. There are 11 of them now: Capaccio, Sherman, Dillon, Jon Lee Anderson (unrelated to Jack), Vicki Warren, Mike Binstein, Charles Bermant, Jock Hatfield, Lucette Lagnado, Corky Johnson and Donald Goldberg.

Typically the staffers were drawn to Anderson for similar reasons: Because of his mythic name and reputation, because they wanted to be investigative reporters and expose corruption and because they were excited by the prospect of working in Washington, called "the Big Time" by Corky Johnson, 27, who worked on papers in Odessa, Tex., and Las Cruces, N.M.

Typically they see the Anderson shop as a credential, a chip to play as they move up the investigative reporting ladder; they all know, for example, that Brit Hume moved from Anderson to ABC-TV. Typically they stay because they dearly like Anderson and deeply respect him as a mentor and boss. His only currency is "the good investigative story." He turns them loose. "People remain here for the sense of freedom Jack gives you to do your job," says Badhwar, a native of India. Kick ass and name names.

"I have," Anderson says emphatically, "the best staff in the country."

There is no question of Anderson's missionary zeal to expose corruption; he continues to be thought of as a white knight by people who consider themselves disenfranchised and who see him as a court of last resort. He says such people send him "maybe a couple of hundred letters a day." Anderson's feature columns on such topics as boat people, political prisoners, victims of insurance fraud or medical overcharging reflect his willingness to be their spokesman. "They're figuring Jack will do it tougher than anyone else," says Les Whitten, one of journalism's most respected investigative reporters and a longtime associate of Anderson. "They see Jack as an individual, not a massive organization, someone who'll help the little guy take on the big guy."

And yet there is a sense among many former and some current staffers that the column's impact here and its credibility with Washington journalists has perceptibly eroded in recent years. The turning point most often mentioned is 1978, when Whitten left the full-time staff to write novels. "Les Whitten is the best reporter I've ever seen" is said so often by so many former Anderson staffers that it seems a mantra. Trying to explain the gradual erosion, Jack Cloherty, an investigative reporter for WRC-TV and an associate from 1972 to 1976, says, "When I came Jack was the only game in town. Watergate changed everything. Suddenly everyone wanted to be an investigative reporter. The competition for stories got rougher and rougher, and Jack spread himself thinner and thinner. The place was a copy inferno . . . We didn't have time to be investigative reporters; we were basically leak catchers . . . The column began to slip because the same amount of material had to be spread over more outlets. Now a lot of people leak to The Post, The Times, the networks--more bang for the buck. I guess the perception is that those places are more responsible and tonier than Jack."

Many Washington newsmen decry the column's brash, often self-congratulatory style. For example, here's the beginning of the July 29 column: "The CIA's presiding curmudgeon, William J. Casey, placed his financial holdings in a blind trust just in time. I was all set to reveal that he has access to inside financial transactions that would be an investor's dream . . . The penetration of secret files is my traditional forte." Anderson has cultivated an image as outside the mainstream Washington press corps. He disdains press briefings, discounts politicians as generically self-serving and is fond of saying, "We don't cover the news; we uncover it."

He is almost contemptuous of journalistic critics, whom he likens to "crabs in a barrel trying to pull down anyone who climbs to the top" in his attempt to distance himself from them and their comments: "I say the people who are making the criticism aren't being read, and we are. And the reason we are being read is because of our style . . . It doesn't really matter to us what is said by our contemporaries in this town who gather at the now-defunct Sans Souci to titillate one another over their latest pieces, people who attend press conferences here and get bogged down in elaborate questions about H.R. 560, Clause No. 2--something that nobody is going to read and is printed only to impress other newspaper people . . . We don't address the column to them. We address it to the Kansas City milkman. He is our audience, and our job is to let him know what's happening here. He's the guy that owns this country, and he reads it."

In fact, the skepticism with which the Washington press treats the column does matter to the staff; you can be a cowboy without being an outlaw. Many of them seek acceptance from their peers in town. "We cultivate a maverick image," says Capaccio, formerly a night police reporter at The Milwaukee Journal, "and I'm sure a lot of the criticism is jealousy of how we operate; we're out of the loop. But maybe it hurts us that Jack touts how much we're outside the press corps. Maybe they see that as an arrogance on his part, a self-righteousness. It probably smacks badly with the press corps."

For all his scoops, critics still remember Anderson's greatest gaffe--his unsubstantiated radio report that Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri, then the Democratic nominee for vice president, had been arrested for drunken driving in the 1960s. Anderson said he'd "located" documentation; later the word was changed to "traced," but he never produced the documents. Anderson has more clients now than he did then, but the Eagleton incident was a move down the greasy pole. Eleven years after the fact, Anderson still carries the Eagleton baggage.

"Jack's reputation on the Hill is awful, absolutely awful," says a former associate. "People up there assume the column's often wrong--in fact, it's often hyped, but rarely wrong." As if to underline that reputation, a recent survey of Capitol Hill staffers printed in the Washington Journalism Review named Anderson "least favorite journalist." And that reputation extends into some Washington news bureaus as well. Says one correspondent: "He discovers some diamonds, but I think he runs too quickly with things--it takes very little proof for him to believe a story." There is a persistent cough in Washington that the Anderson column is a loose cannon, an unguided missile, a little information powered by a lot of innuendo.

One example might be in the May 23 column about the United States Synthetic Fuels Corp., which Anderson called "one of the biggest government boondoggles of all time." He accused the corporation of "an unrestrained orgy of spending," and referred to "examples of the way Synfuels officials have been slurping at the public trough," including that eight Synfuels officials earned more than Cabinet secretaries, that Richard Nixon's son-in-law, Edward Cox, then general counsel and secretary, earned $76,000 a year and that Kathryne Schroeder, wife of Synfuels president Victor Schroeder, earned $45,000 a year "as a special assistant to the corporation's chairman."

William F. Rhatican, Synfuels vice president for external relations, sent Anderson a two-page letter alleging certain inaccuracies. At the end of the July 19 column, also about Synfuels, Anderson acknowledged these errors: Only four Synfuels officers earn more than Cabinet-level salary; Cox earned $67,200, and Kathryne Schroeder earned $32,000 as secretary to Board Chairman Ed Noble. Anderson added that Schroeder was Noble's secretary before he joined Synfuels and before she married Victor Schroeder.

Gold and garbage: Over two months nearly 30 former and current Anderson staffers were asked to discuss what they felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the column.

At the top of the strengths was Anderson himself. Staffers are united in their support of Anderson, a devout Mormon whom they call a fearless and passionate crusader for government and for institutional and personal morality. "I get so tired of Jack getting criticized," says Lagnado, 26, Egyptian-born and a Vassar graduate. "Jack Anderson is a good thing." They believe Anderson to be unremittingly fair. "The first thing he ever told me was 'Be fair.' " says Ira Rosen, now a producer for "60 Minutes" and a former intern. " 'Be fair. Be accurate. Give the guy an honest shake.' He'd instill it in you with a branding iron." They believe Anderson to be scrupulously honest. "People trust us," says Capaccio, "because they trusted him."

It is precisely Anderson's reputation for integrity that has led, over the years, to his institutionalization as America's Ombudsman. He enjoys unique notoriety as a newsman. "I can tell you the strengths of the column in three words," says Mike Binstein, 26, who worked as a security guard for Mobil Oil before taking an internship with Anderson. "Access. Exposure. Impact. People return our calls, they read our stuff, and what we write makes a difference." This is true in both hard news and feature stories. In recent months Van Atta's reports on the Reagan administration's proposed sale of computers with potential military value to China and Badhwar's reports on the Ashland Oil foreign bribery scandal were later covered with front-page stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times. "We're out there, a beacon, if you will," says Badhwar. Says Van Atta, Anderson's specialist in national security and often mentioned as the heir apparent to the column: "And given how we work, I feel good knowing that if another Watergate ever comes along, we'll be there in the thick of it." On the feature front, the Anderson column remains a place where people can blow a whistle or plead a case. (The June 18 column, for example, happily follows up on the successful two-year quest of a California woman to adopt a Taiwanese girl, a story Anderson first reported in 1981.) "Jack runs stories that need to be told that don't get into the mainstream press," says Gary Cohn, an investigative reporter for The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and an associate from 1975 to 1980. "For a lot of people it's a court of last resort where they can come and get relief."

But the staffers also see weaknesses in the column. The lag time is one. The length another. The unevenness of the column a third. (Newspapers have, at times, refused to run specific columns. The Miami Herald and The Washington Post, for example, refused to run the Capitol Hill drug column. Herald editor Jim Hampton ruled against publication "in fairness" to those congressmen named, and Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee said the column "failed any reasonable test of credibility." In those cases where The Post has refused to run a column Anderson has provided a substitute instead.) Few people expect Anderson to hit the long ball 7 days a week, but there is no internal mechanism to distinguish the singles from the homers.

Gold: On July 5 the column carried Jon Lee Anderson's eyewitness account of the speech Eden Pastora gave to his counterrevolutionary troops in Nicaragua, telling them that they had to give up their war because their funds had run out.

Garbage: On July 11 one of the items in the column was a note from Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr., to a Penthouse writer expressing Hinckley's pleasure at a piece the writer had done on him in the magazine and hinting for a free subscription.

The style of the column is a bone of contention inside and outside the staff. Anderson inherited the column and the punchy, exclamatory "Front Page" style from Drew Pearson (the column was already being run on the comics page of The Washington Post because of a dispute Pearson had with Post management) and is reluctant to change it. Anderson describes the style as "brazen"; Van Atta describes it as "colorful"; Lagnado as "dramatic"; Johnson as "refreshing." But the column is often laced with predictable choruses of " . . . as I reported earlier . . ." And it is occasionally clangorous. Somoza, a potbellied potentate. There is the sense that Anderson occasionally hypes the column; the notion is not disputed by staffers. Dave Braaten says, "I guess I do use 'shocking' and 'appalling' more often if it's a weak story; if it's a strong one it tells itself." Says Badhwar: "There is a certain amount of hype--anyone can see that. But the basic facts are there." Says Charles Bermant, 29, who was a free-lance writer before taking an internship with Anderson: "If you live here you know a lot of what we write isn't as special as we present it." The problem with hype was faced by the boy who cried, "Wolf!" Says Capaccio: "If they think we're always hyping, when we do have a big one they might not think it's so big."

A specific form of hype that troubles former and current staffers has to do with the labeling of documents. "Jack would write we'd 'discovered' things when in fact they were leaked to us," says one former associate. "He'd call certain documents 'confidential' when they were, in fact, just unreported public documents." Anderson says the column's labeling is "accurate," and that he knows of "no misuse of the terms 'confidential,' 'secret' or 'top secret.' " But David Ainsley, an editor on the San Jose Mercury and a former intern, says: "One of my 'secret' sources that got hyped on a radio show was really a story on Page 3 of The Post." Says Capaccio: "Sometimes we overidentify material. Like 'confidential' when it's only internally generated and not stamped 'confidential.' We use 'secret' when we should use something a bit more refined; we've talked about it. I think it's a competitive function; we're to provide exclusive investigative information for our readers."

Another frequently mentioned criticism of the column is that the staff is spread too thin because there are so many mouths to feed in the separate news fiefdoms; there is so much pressure to produce stories that not all the stories are being adequately checked. This charge is vehemently denied by the staff and by Anderson, who dismisses it as "ridiculous," saying his staff is more than equal to the task. Some former associates, however, say the load is too heavy for the staff, and that the overall consistency of the column has deteriorated. "Jack has three or four top reporters, and the rest should be researchers," says one former associate. "He doesn't pay enough to keep good people. The record shows he'd rather hire more people and pay them less to do all his various enterprises than have a small, good, well-paid staff that would want to forget all the extracurricular ventures and concentrate on the column."

Finally, there is the view held by many former and current associates who express profound admiration for Anderson's reporting acumen--that as generally good as the column is, it would be better still if Anderson would devote more time to reporting it, and less time to his other projects.

Besides his lectures, Anderson does six weekly radio broadcasts and television broadcasts for "Good Morning America" and Metromedia. Beginning this fall Anderson is slated to appear on a new daily television show, "Breakaway." He produces 12 to 15 cover pieces for Parade magazine per year, various other magazine pieces, books and the monthly newsletter "Jack Anderson's Future File," which subscribers can get for the regular yearly rate of $125, but which was recently available for free at the Eastern shuttle gates at National Airport. Anderson has long been fond of such outside-the-column projects, though not all have succeded: A previous newsletter failed; a proposed comic strip, "Capital Hills," never got off the ground; a syndicated TV show, "Jack Anderson Confidential," was canceled in March after 26 weeks; a magazine, "The Investigator," later named "The Investigative Reporter," also failed.

"Jack Anderson, media giant, is many things, one of which is a businessman," says Sherman. "He has an opportunity to trade on his name, and he doesn't shrink from it."

It is early evening and Anderson is on his way to Fairfax County to address the graduating class of Oakton High School. Miles away from his office, miles away from the clatter of typewriters and the incessant ring of telephones. What has been a long day for most isn't nearly done for him. Another microphone, another show. He has been on center stage for so long now, 14 years since he inherited the column. The rewards have been bountiful. A large home in Bethesda, a beach house in Delaware, a large personal income, a news empire the power, the glory. But it takes its toll. There is the pressure to produce, and to be right, and there are the critics, of course, and there has been so much time on the road away from his wife of 33 years, so much time away from their nine children. Sometimes he gets so tired of it.

"Every week I think seriously of quitting the whole thing," Jack Anderson says, as he has said before, as he will likely say again. "I find myself assailing politicians who I like. I don't think it's human to react to people who treat you nice by assailing and attacking. I tend to want to be nice to those who are nice to me. To ridicule someone in print, to make them look foolish in the eyes of their family and friends and neighbors, is a cruel thing to do. I don't think I would like anybody who'd enjoy doing it." He pauses. It sounds like a sigh. It's a jungle out there. "I do it because I think it's necessary. Someone needs to do it."

Another pause. Reflections in a golden eye. "It would be so much easier for me just to write a column of opinion. Just abandon investigative reporting, avoid the threat of lawsuits, stop antagonizing so many political powers. I'd make more money because I wouldn't need a staff. I'd have a more pleasant life. The reason I don't is because I believe strongly that investigative reporting is an essential ingredient to democracy." Another sigh. "Yes, the simple thing to do is say the hell with it. That's the easy thing. Maybe someday I will." A smile. A kicker. "But I kind of would be disappointed in myself if I did."

Jack Anderson is introduced to the graduates and guests with these words: "The most trusted, most respected newspaper columnist in the country--champion of the hopeless against the mighty."

He speaks into the microphone with authority.