The house is empty and the front door is unlocked. The man, an old man now with white hair and a watermelon belly and a grandfather's amble, hesitates a moment, glances around at the overgrown and untended yard where as a boy he watered row upon row of his father's carrots and beans and strawberries. God, he hated that job! But he never complained, choosing instead the captive laborer's silent revenge: He refused to enjoy his work. He looks to the east. "See that peak?" he asks, pointing to Utah's Mount Olympus, which towers in the mist only a few miles away. "I've hiked to that peak. I didn't want to. My father did. He won." The man then lets out a kind of chuckle, or perhaps it is a sigh. In the last 45 years, he has never been inside his boyhood home -- a huge, elegant Tudor on several beautifully wooded acres in Salt Lake City's affluent Cottonwood suburb. In the last 45 years, the only times he has even driven past were when his kids insisted.
Always aggressive, quick to step across the little boundaries that deter other men, the man walks right through the front doorway of what is now someone else's home. The house is being renovated -- its wallpaper is stripped, its patched plaster is unsanded, its doors are off their hinges. And for an instant, everything seems wrong. But wait, that crystal chandelier, it was here 45 years ago. He points to it with a kind of excitement, and it seems that nostalgia might sweep over him, but it passes, and he continues to walk slowly from room to room, commenting in the deadpan tone of a bored tour guide: "These were a couple of bedrooms. This was the kitchen." Then he stops, turns to his right and looks down a narrow, darkened stairway to the basement. His voice goes hollow and distant . . .
"And this is where we lived."
In fine Cottonwood, on these fine manicured grounds, in this fine Tudor home, Jack Anderson -- the famed "Washington Merry-Go-Round" columnist, the scourge of the pols, the Pulitzer Prize winner, the pricey speechmaking pundit, the TV celeb -- lived in the basement. Jack, his two younger brothers and his parents all slept in the same room and bathed in the laundry tub. Upstairs, a man who would later become chaplain of the U.S. Senate lived with his family. Only with their rent could Jack's father, on his $200-a-month postal clerk salary, afford this magnificent house. Upstairs, the future chaplain of the Senate had a flush toilet. Outside, Jack's family had an outhouse -- over there, Jack points, across the back yard, where that brown house sits today.
"We had the only crapper in the whole valley," he says, a slight smile finally cracking a granite face. "I would be a little embarrassed to escort my friends to the crapper. We were the Cinderellas. I think Mother was annoyed with Dad for buying a house we couldn't afford to live in." He thinks of his father, and, once again, his voice goes hollow and distant . . .
"He was a weird guy."
JACK ANDERSON, ONE OF AMERICA'S most famous reporters, isn't really a reporter anymore, at least not like he used to be. He doesn't put it exactly that way. As he does with so much in his life, he gives it a grander, nobler face. He describes himself as the "publisher" of the "Merry-Go-Round" column, which is produced by a staff of 10 editors, reporters and interns who are led by the column's co-author, Dale Van Atta. Anderson consults with the staff, slips them story tips and writes a few columns a month.
But it has come to this: Jack Anderson has little to do with Jack Anderson's column anymore. There are many reasons, but one stands out starkly: For about the last decade, Jack Anderson has been busy transforming himself from working reporter to working celebrity -- too busy to spend long hours reporting, as he once did.
Anderson is still busy -- giving 50 speeches a year around the country for $250,000, which is his personal income. The $200,000 a year he earns from his other operations -- his UPI radio broadcasts, his "Insiders" TV show on the Financial News Network and his Washington newsletter -- is all pumped back into the "Merry-Go-Round." Anderson's support for the column is substantial, but not entirely altruistic. The visibility he gains from the "Merry-Go-Round" helps maintain his popularity on the national speaking circuit.
Now 67, Anderson has been a Washington institution for four decades. He broke some of the biggest stories of his generation -- the Sherman Adams scandals of the '50s, the Sen. Thomas Dodd scandals of the '60s and the ITT-Dita Beard scandals of the '70s. He had hundreds of other expose's that, in their season, commanded headlines. He put men in jail, drove one man to suicide. He cajoled and manipulated confessions from some of the most powerful and savvy politicians in the nation. He un-masked the CIA's plans to kill Fidel Castro.
But he also had less grandiose scoops: He revealed that Indiana Sen. Vance Hartke had bad breath, that Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge spat tobacco juice onto the floor of the Senate, and that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover calmed his stomach with Gelusil. Anderson reported such triv- ialities, he said, to deflate the images and egos of men made arrogant and pompous by power, to prove they were no better than anybody else. That sentiment runs deep in Anderson.
Today he is still feared on Capitol Hill, although his influence has waned. He's not universally respected by his journalistic colleagues, who, despite his thousands of genuine scoops, have often seen his reporting as petulant and petty, holier-than-thou. The number of newspapers carrying his column has dropped from about 1,000 in 1975 to about 650 today. While a smattering of big-city papers, The Washington Post among them, carry Anderson's column, it runs mostly in the little towns of heartland America. Again, Ander- son gives this a noble face: The "Merry-Go-Round" reaches the real America. Says one respected investigative reporter in Washington: "The guy's outta gas. He's been outta gas for 15 years."
That is the temptation: to judge Jack Anderson harshly because he has judged so many others harshly. The temptation is to say he's "outta gas," he ain't what he used to be. But the truth is, although Anderson isn't reporting much anymore, he still is what he used to be: layer upon layer of complicated motivations -- some so deeply rooted they seem more instinct than motive, more personality than morality. Like so many other American heartlanders drawn to Washington, Jack Anderson eventually achieved power, prominence and glory. Over the years, he came to see his work as a heroic candle lit against the darkness of political corruption, greed and arrogance. About this he is undeniably sincere. But deep inside Jack Anderson -- in the intimate, painful place where boundless ambition must reside -- a little machine also runs constantly, always has, propelling him ahead in private rebellion and indignation.
Les Whitten, Jack's friend and former "Merry-Go-Round" co-author, recalls a time years ago when Jack asked him this question: "If we didn't have this column, who would we be?"
"STOP HERE, STOP AT THIS bridge," Jack says, as the car crosses a little bridge on narrow Fardown Avenue within sight of his childhood home outside Salt Lake City. "This is a very momentous bridge." He is joking now, enjoying himself, recalling an event that, five decades after the fact, still seems eerily prophetic. Jack's friend, Ray Fritsch, the only man Jack has remained close to from his youth, slows his blue Cadillac but doesn't stop. "Oh, this is the bridge," Ray says, with the mocking deference of friends who show affection and respect by never saying a nice word to each other. If the achievements of a lifetime can have an actual beginning, this bridge is where it began for Jack Anderson, Investigative Reporter. When he was 12, covering local news for the suburban Murray Eagle for $7 a week, a car ran a bicycling boy off this bridge, then only a single lane. The boy was badly bruised, and the public outrage that resulted from young Jack's story in the Eagle ended with a new, wider, safer bridge.
Jack had changed the world. And it was a taste of real power -- used, indisputably, for good. If young Jack was impressed with himself, though, he certainly didn't say so. His father wouldn't have allowed that. Jack doesn't know how it first began, but when Jack was just a boy, his father became convinced that Jack was, well, too big for his britches. Jack was a smart kid. His mother says he knew the alphabet at age 1. But Orlando Anderson was wary of Jack's precociousness.
In Orlando -- and the Mormon faith he held so deeply -- there was a strong vein of egalitarianism that discouraged showiness or flamboyance, getting too far ahead of the pack, which Jack always did and which he always seemed to relish. The phrase "no one is better than anyone else" was a kind of religious-cultural mantra in Jack's childhood. For the ambitious, confident and proud, there was always this cut-you-down-to-size question: "Just who do you think you are?"
It started early. Orlando believed Jack's grandparents doted on him while ignoring his two younger brothers. Orlando wouldn't have said it this way in the 1930s, but, looking back, he feared the other boys would get an inferiority complex. His way of handling this was to remind Jack that he was not as smart as his brothers. Orlando, sitting with his wife talking about Jack's childhood on the weekend of his son's visit to the old family home, still seems miffed when he recalls Jack's confident reply: "That doesn't worry me." With an edge in his voice, Orlando says, "He was very much for himself. I thought Jack was a little uppity-up and would rather be in a job, any job, that would give him a boost. He built himself up. I thought he should have been more common."
"He wanted to be tops," says Jack's 90-year-old mother,
"He wanted to be in the limelight," retorts Orlando.
Jack's father was a mercurial man, with a quick temper and an opinion about everything. He loved to argue. He loved to be righteously indignant. Jack believes his father even liked being poor. "He had a martyr complex," Jack says, "and it suited him to glory in his poverty." Orlando remembers that the happiest time of his life was when the boys weren't yet teens and he had built them a sandbox and swing set in the back yard, where they all played. Without a hint of emotion, Jack says, "Yes, that's when he could run us."
Orlando Anderson was a stern man who could explode at the most minor provocation. "He would erupt like Vesuvius," says Jack, who tried not to stoke the volcano. But that wasn't always possible. Jack's boyhood friend Darwin Knudsen remembers a time when one of Jack's brothers said something that irritated Orlando, and he reached out and squeezed the boy's nose until tears rolled down his cheeks. Darwin remembers looking at Jack and thinking that he was embarrassed by his father.
"He knew what was right," Jack says of his dad. "And even if he was wrong, he was right." Jack doesn't say this with rancor. He says it with a touch of humor, perhaps with a tone of forgiveness. But most of all, he seems to say it with almost no feeling at all. He says, "I understood that Dad's fulminations were meant well."
Over the years, Jack developed a strategy for dealing with his dad: He dealt with him as little as possible. He stayed constantly busy, and out of the house. When his dad barked orders, Jack usually listened intently -- and then paid no attention to what his father had said. When his father would sit down with a pencil and paper and figure out to the penny how much money Jack would need for some outing, Jack would take the coins --
and then go to his mother, who'd slip him a dollar.
"Don't tell Dad," was her constant refrain.
Agnes Anderson, a serene woman who never lost her composure, played counterpoint to Orlando. With her connivance, Jack maneuvered around the slumbering bear. In personality, he grew to resemble his mom -- friendly, well-liked and gentle. In character, he resembled his dad -- self-righteous, certain, opinionated. "I don't think he really enjoyed his childhood," Jack's daughter Laurie Anderson-Bruch says of her father. "He just wanted to get away. My father worked really hard to get away from being raised poor and to show his dad."
Nothing seemed to slow Jack down. His father rode him, and he lived in a basement and wore shabby clothes, but he was president of his junior high and high schools and editor of their newspapers. A lean, handsome, dishwater-blond kid, he got along with everybody. He was an Eagle Scout. When Jack was 12, Orlando got him a summer job thinning sugar beets. Orlando had thinned sugar beets as a boy. But the job was not for Jack, who hated working on his knees in the dirt, under the hot sun. He quit and got his first job with the Murray Eagle. "I think Jack psychologically escaped from his father when he took that job," says Darwin Knudsen, who's known Jack since grade school. "It was obvious that Jack would not kowtow to him."
Jack went on to become editor of the Boy Scout page for the Deseret News, and, while still in high school, the youngest reporter on the Salt Lake City Tribune. Yet at the same time, he was runner-up to the class valedictorian. Orlando didn't attend his son's graduation.
"He thought I was getting too many honors," Jack says.
Soon after, while working as a reporter, Jack angered his father like never before -- and demonstrated just how far he'd go in pursuit of a story. When Jack discovered that a cousin of his belonged to a polygamist cult, he decided to infiltrate it. Polygamy -- condoned by the Mormon Church in the 19th century but banned for decades -- still flourished secretly in the 1930s, and Jack hoped the Saturday Evening Post would buy an expose'. So he went to his cousin -- without revealing he was working on a story -- and feigned interest in polygamy. The cousin fell for the ruse and got Jack into the select fold. Still without revealing his reporter's intent, Jack began attending the cult's social gatherings.
But he wasn't alone in his curiosity. A detective hired by the Mormon Church to spy on the polygamists took the license number of Jack's car -- which was, unfortunately, Orlando's car. Vesuvius exploded. "Steam, fire, brimstone!" says Jack, laughing at the memory. It turned out that Orlando had been called before church officials and questioned about his seeming involvement in the cult. Says Jack, "I don't think he ever forgave me."
Jack reluctantly abandoned the story before heading off to begin his Mormon missionary work in Alabama, leaving the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Jack would eventually become deeply absorbed in his faith, and Mormonism -- with its call for the forces of good to constantly fight the forces of evil -- would come to provide a justification for his often ruthless
muckraking (see box, Page 24). But he wasn't particularly religious as a youth -- didn't want to go on a mission, didn't want to get off the Tribune's career ladder. Still, he went, to make his parents happy, and on his door-to-door visits discovered what every reporter eventually learns: People will tell their deepest secrets to a perfect stranger, if only he strikes a sympathetic pose.
Relentlessly charming and competent, Jack was promoted to a good administrative job in the mission's regional office.
At the same time, he reinforced his image as a man apart. "Jack is an abiding psychological enigma," says Darwin Knudsen. "In a way, Jack was estranged. Everybody regarded Jack as a friend, but not a buddy. He was just too self-centered or self-occupied." Darwin was also a Mormon missionary, in a different state, and he recalls a time Jack visited him for a few days. Darwin was living in the house of a poor family with several daughters and one bathroom. But Jack, used to the privy out back and the washtub in the basement, spent forever each morning "primping" in the bathroom, Darwin says, while the girls waited politely for him to finish. "Jack made no apology for this," he says, still amazed. "It was just his nature. He didn't realize this was an imposition."
For years after Jack left Salt Lake City, Darwin and another old friend of Jack's often talked about how they'd write Jack letters and how rarely he wrote back. "It hurt my feelings that he wouldn't write," Darwin says. "Why wouldn't he sit down and scratch out a note? It says to me that he's so self-contained, happy with his menu, that he doesn't need the friendship. Jack is still the loner, standing against the crowd. But, you understand, that's how he was from the beginning. The Bible refers to people being on the Lord's errands. Jack was always on his own errand."
When Jack finished his missionary stint and returned to Salt Lake City, World War II was raging. He avoided the draft legally by joining the Merchant Marines. He had no conscientious objections to war. He simply didn't want to fight for his country in the infantry, didn't want to fight hand-to-hand. "Cowardice," he calls it today. The Merchant Marines made Jack an officer, which angered Orlando, who figured he should have started at the bottom. But the job was short-lived, because after eight months at sea, Jack wangled war correspondent credentials from the Deseret News. He quit the Merchant Marines and went to China, where the draft finally caught up with him, and he was assigned to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. It was in China, sitting around with the older, seasoned reporters, that Jack first remembers hearing of the "Washington Merry-Go-Round" and its feisty, moralistic, crusading, liberal creator, Drew Pearson. That, Jack decided, was the job for him. Soon after his return to Salt Lake City, he headed off to Washington with little more than ambition and an inflated re'sume'.
As ever, Jack's father was skeptical.
Jack's friend Ray Fritsch will never forget the day he and Orlando dropped Jack off at the bus station when Jack was first heading out for the Merchant Marines. After Jack had ridden off, Orlando turned to him and said angrily, "All these high ambitions he's got. He'll be slapped back, because he's not that smart." Ray's wife, Ella, who was with them that day, could see Ray's ire rising. Ray and Jack, it turned out, shared a mysterious bond. Almost half a century later, Ray still remembers the day clearly: "I was thinking about my own father. Orlando was just like my dad. My dad always told me I'd never amount to anything. He never told me he was proud of me. When I was making more money in a day than he made in a year, you know what he said? He said I was a spoiled brat." That day, Ray blew up.
"Why don't you just quit downgrading Jack?" he raged at Orlando. "You have no right to say these things about your own son!"
WHEN JACK HIT TOWN IN 1947, HE WAS like a character out of Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Jimmy Stewart does journalism. In 1947, Jack really believed his high school civics lessons: great statesmen struggling in marble halls to serve The People. Well, Jack, from his basement home in Utah, was The People, or about as close to them as you can get. He'd been raised in a strict Mormon home -- no drinking or smoking. But perhaps more important, he hadn't shared the birthright of children born to power and privilege: the firsthand knowledge that Great Men really are "just like everybody else." That idea had been pounded into Jack as a philosophy of life, but from the basement, from the bottom of the social ladder, that egalitarian notion was also a kind of populist scream, a little man's cry for self-respect. The absolute truth of the philosophy was a shock.
At 24, Jack was without what novelist John O'Hara called the "unearned cynicism" of the prematurely sophisticated. So he was amazed -- at the booze drinking, great volumes of booze drinking! At the skirt-chasing, wrinkled codgers pursuing sweet young things! At the lying, incompetence, nepotism, corruption, laziness, ruthlessness, stupidity, greed, selfishness, pettiness of his Great Men! It was a naivete that fueled Jack's rebellious indignation, the same kind of naivete that today fuels the indignation of the "Washington Merry-Go-Round's" young reporters, most of whom hail from average American families in average American places like Montana. It's not that Anderson isn't happy to get an application from some Ivy League genius, but he doesn't get many. Somehow, the "Merry-Go-Round" speaks more to State U grads used to seeing power from the bottom up.
Most are like Anderson's current co-columnist, Dale Van Atta, who as a young reporter exposed a police ticketing scam and was called before angry policemen to defend his story. He was terrified, but quickly realized the police were even more terrified. "To have them all in fear of me when I'm usually in fear of them," Van Atta recalls with delight. "It was a great moment."
The tale of how Jack Anderson -- despite his father's dire predictions -- came to Washington and went on to fame and fortune after landing a job with Drew Pearson is today a piece of journalism folklore. Pearson, who headed the "Merry-Go-Round" from 1932 until he died in 1969, was the most influential muckraker of his day. Sending his message into hamlets all across America, he portrayed Washington as a corrupt place inhabited by pooh-bahs, bigwigs and brass hats bent on feathering their nests by promoting big business at the expense of the little people. The view fit Jack like his BVDs. In the next few years, he helped Pearson assault and depose conservative Republican senators Joseph McCarthy and Owen Brewster, as well as Defense Secretary James Forrestal.
Jack had one personality trait that made him a great reporter: He could genuinely like a man, but still be hard as nails when reporting about him. He could later look that man in the eye and convince him again that he liked him personally, that unpleasant reporting was simply his job. This wasn't phoniness on Jack's part. It was at the heart of his nature. He had a way of disarming folks, of outmaneuvering them with genuine sincerity. He wasn't troubled by the ethics of this.
He once convinced Connecticut Rep. Robert Giaimo that he doubted rumors linking Giaimo to a known gambler, and if Giaimo would only let Jack go through his files, Jack would straighten it out. Giaimo did -- and Anderson cited the files as alleged proof of the accusations, although the Justice Department later declined to take any action against Giaimo based on Anderson's information. Anderson once asked Vice President Hubert Humphrey for a letter of introduction when he was going to Iraq. Anderson presented it to the U.S. Embassy there, failed to say he was a reporter and asked to go through the files. It was days before they asked if he worked for the vice president. "No," Jack said. They turned white. Anderson bluffed California Sen. George Murphy into confessing that he was on a cash retainer to Technicolor Inc. by saying, after Murphy denied the allegation, "Now, Senator, you and I have been friends for a long time. I don't think you want to be quoted as denying this whole thing. So, because we've been friends, I'll forget what you said before and give you another chance, in fairness." Murphy cracked and confessed. Says Anderson's former co-columnist Les Whitten, "He was just a wonderful con man."
Jack was a curiosity in Washington -- a city that breeds, even demands, an arching self-importance and arrogance. In contrast, young Jack was refreshingly unpretentious and open-faced. But as his old friends and his father had sensed, as his hours in the bathroom had hinted, Jack could be pretty self-absorbed, even if his charm hid the trait. Then, as a kind of antidote, Jack met Olivia Farley, one of the more amazing and fortunate discoveries of his life.
Libby, as Jack calls her, was from a coal-mining family in West Virginia, and she worked as a clerk at the FBI. If Jack's father was militant in his efforts to keep Jack humble, Libby, also a Mormon, extended that militancy to everyone. Not in Orlando's way, but in her own. She once arrived to meet Jack in President Lyndon Johnson's hotel room -- where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor also were guests -- wearing slacks and beat-up shoes. "My God, Libby!" Jack moaned. She once took her daughter Cheri with her to buy an evening gown for a night at the Kennedy White House -- and they went to Korvettes, where Libby pulled one of about 30 identical gowns off the rack. Her daughter was appalled. "No," Libby said, reassuring her, "I'll be the only one there with this dress."
Over the years, Jack Anderson has made a big thing about how he has refused to be part of the Washington social set because he never wanted to be tainted by friendships with the powerful. "What's wrong is that these reporters adopted the views of the people they're writing about," he once said. "They've become a part of the Establishment they cover." That would never happen to Jack. A noble view, as always. But it wasn't only Jack's idealism that put the kibosh on the Washington party circuit. It was also Libby's down-home militancy. "A lot of it was my mother," says the Andersons' daughter Cheri Loveless. She says her dad would have gone to parties to help his career, but her mother refused. To Libby -- with her plain beauty, a lingering West Virginia twang and nouns and verbs that don't always match -- the Washington soiree scene consisted of people putting on airs and wasting a lot of money doing it.
From their first date, she performed a familiar role: She kept Jack's massive ego in its place. "He was trying to impress me and took me to a French restaurant on Vermont, where they played violins at your table," Libby says. "And then he took me to a nightclub in Baltimore, and Jackie Gleason was playing. He was trying to impress me, but I didn't care about those things. After he stopped trying to be debonair and I brought him back to earth, he was all right."
They had nine kids.
ORLANDO ANDERSON WAS ONCE A hefty, strong man. Now he is thin and frail and fragile, George Burns without the cigar. At 92, he has the look of a man curling inward upon himself. The less the old curmudgeon complains and gripes about everything and everybody, the less ornery he is, the more people worry about him. Agnes is his reverse image. She never interrupts. She's quiet and sweet and radiant. Ninety years old and using a walker, she still moves gracefully. Orlando pounds out "Rock of Ages" on the piano. She smiles warmly. All this morning, Orlando has insisted, loudly, that Agnes' 90th birthday party is tomorrow. No, she says, it's today. When the grandkids finally come to pick them up at the nursing home to take them off to the party this afternoon, Orlando says nothing about his mistake.
"Where should I sit?" he grumbles as he gets to the car.
"Put him in the trunk," says Agnes, sweetly.
Jack is in Salt Lake City for his mother's birthday party. Jack's son Kevin, who lives there and organized the party, has invited dozens of his grandparents' old friends, and it's like a scene from "This Is Your Life." It will turn out to be the last big gathering of friends and family while Agnes is alive, because in only a few weeks she will suffer a fatal stroke. But today at her birthday party, she glows with delight. Orlando, the tough old coot, is overcome: He's so touched by seeing his old friends and family that when people walk up to him in the kitchen, where he is leaning with his left hand on his cane, Orlando looks at them without expression, drops his head, puts his right hand over his eyes and sobs. People smile, put an arm around his shoulders and say, "Oh, oh, that's okay." Posted at the buffet nearby, Jack watches: "It's the first time I ever saw my father cry."
Orlando is trying. Just the day before, Jack visited his folks, and his father seemed, in his own way, to be struggling to reach out to his son. "We're proud of you, Jack," he said out of the blue. "You know that." Well, yes, Jack knew that, somehow he knew that, but in his entire life he couldn't recall hearing his father ever say it. Just like Ray Fritsch. Not once. Later, Jack chuckled and said wryly, "I guess you get to be 90 and you repent."
That same day, Orlando also mentioned Jack's first newspaper job with the Murray Eagle. "Remember that, Jack?" he asked proudly. Pleasantly, Jack said, "Yes, I remember you wanted me to thin beets." Orlando said nothing, looked down at his lap. Did he comprehend? Recognize that even now, at the end, his son could not let him off the hook completely?
Orlando: "Jack, did I ever tell you that you were a hard birth?"
Jack, cheerfully: "I heard it all before."
This time, Orlando didn't drop his head. And when Jack left the room, Orlando's voice went hard and angry: "Did you hear what he said? He said, 'I heard it all before!' That's what he said." Yes, Orlando comprehended. He talked of a time when Jack was just a toddler and he got a bladder blockage and was in excruciating pain. Orlando, who didn't own a car, carried Jack all the way to the hospital. "He was so little," Orlando said. "I felt so sorry for him." Later, he said, "He was obedient to me. He was obedient to me. But he didn't like it. I could tell."
AT DREW PEARSON'S DEATH IN 1969, the "Washington Merry-Go-Round" seemed destined for the dustbin. But Jack Anderson bought the column from Pearson's widow and worked like a madman, night and day. He eventually hired his own staff of hungry novice reporters who came and went, and he hired a handful of crackerjack investigative reporters. In those days, Jack did half the columns himself, rewrote the others and oversaw the whole operation. After 20 years in Washington, he had the place wired. By this time, Jack had come to see his journalism as a sword for the little people in their epic struggle against greed and corruption in government. But these heroic mo- tivations aside, at age 46, Jack also wanted the recognition that had eluded him in the shadow of Drew Pearson.
Les Whitten, who was for years Jack's heir apparent, once asked when he could start sharing Jack's byline on the "Merry-Go-Round." Without hesitation, Jack said, "When I'm as famous as Drew."
That happened almost overnight. In the early '70s, Anderson's flame burned so brightly that it would have taken a waterfall to douse it. President Richard Nixon despised Anderson, who with Pearson had revealed during Nixon's unsuccessful 1960 presidential race that Nixon's brother Donald had received a secret $205,000 loan from billionaire Howard Hughes. Anderson's name adorned Nixon's infamous "Enemies List." Future Watergate felons and then-White House operatives G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt talked of killing him. The CIA gave him a 24-hour tail. When Anderson discovered his CIA shadow, he dispatched his own nine children -- his "Katzenjammer paparazzi" -- to tail the tailers. It was high, mocking theater, and Anderson won the publicity war hands down. But at the time, there was no guarantee he would win his battles with the Powers That Be, and Anderson showed real nerve, even bravery, in his zealous crusades against the outrages of Nixon and his minions.
For his crowning coup, Anderson revealed that Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger, while denying it in public, were privately tilting toward Pakistan in its 1971 war with India. The expose' won him a 1972 Pulitzer Prize -- and the cover of Time. In a Playboy interview, at the peak of his power, Anderson said: "Too many bureaucrats in Washington have developed an elitist attitude. They are our servants and they want to become our masters. I just want to deflate them a little, remind them of their proper place."
Orlando and Libby must have smiled.
In three years, Jack Anderson had eclipsed the fame of his mentor. But if this tale is mythic, then the hero -- made prideful and overly certain by his rise -- undid himself. The same year he won the Pulitzer, Anderson reported on one of his radio broadcasts that he had located doc- umented evidence that Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, had been arrested for drunk driving. But Anderson didn't have documented evidence in his hands. He had relied on sources, who then didn't deliver the goods. After days of stubbornly refusing to retract his story, Anderson was forced to admit that he had no proof after all. He had been deflated, reminded of his proper place. And he had done it to himself.
It's hard not to wonder: Did Orlando smile again?
THE DIRECTOR OF THE NURSING HOME where Jack's folks live is bluntly solicitous when the famous investigative reporter visits: "I said, 'We better have this place up to snuff if Jack Anderson's coming.' " So he ordered the staff to clean and scrub and shine the whole place. Jack chuckles, having gotten used to such royal treatment. His son Kevin seems more im- pressed. He whispers, "They kiss our ass." When Jack arrives at his parents' room, Orlando must be helped out of his chair, but as soon as he's up, he starts complaining that too many of the old people in the home stink of body odor.
"He's feeling fine," says Jack, laughing. "He's more mellow now."
Funny, so is Jack. He was always a great boss, easy to work for, demanding as hell but never harsh or rude. As a father, he was very unlike his own dad. Jack rarely even raised his voice with the kids, almost never disciplined them. He didn't spend much time, say, tossing around the old football, but he was always "available," say his children. He'd always stop whatever he was doing when a child entered his office at home, where he often worked. He once put President Kennedy on hold. Less driven today, Jack sees his two dozen grandkids a lot more than he did his own children. Daughter Tanya Neider says that three years ago was the first time her dad ever went on a
family vacation when he didn't work. She thinks that's great. But this new mellowness -- and the implication that at age 67 he's slowing down -- isn't something Jack is quick to admit. He says he could yet win another Pulitzer. "No reason I shouldn't," he says grandly. "I've got the sources."
His wife, Libby, knows it's hard for a workaholic like Jack to retire, but she'd at least like him to cut back, sell the big house in Bethesda (it's worth about $1.5 million, she says) and buy a little place in the Virginia countryside. That would mean Jack could afford to do only 25 speeches a year instead of 50. But Jack says he can't retire, that he needs the money, that he has a daughter with a permanent debilitating disease, children with their own kids who occasionally need financial help, huge medical bills from Libby's successful treatment for cancer last year. No, he can't retire.
But, never one to abandon the moral high ground for long, he also says the "Merry-Go-Round" is too important, that Drew Pearson's legacy is too historic, that somebody has got to ferret out wrongdoing and defend the little guy, the milkman in Kansas City, that even though he doesn't report much for the "Merry-Go-Round" anymore, his fame is important to its existence. Jack acknowledges that without the "Merry-Go-Round" his demand as a well-paid speaker would diminish, but it's also true that without the money from Jack's radio and TV contracts, the "Merry-Go-Round" couldn't stay afloat. No, he can't retire.
Yet there were times in the '80s when Jack considered it. He'd become a kind of folk hero by the mid-1970s, and when TV knocked at his door, he answered. For almost a decade he appeared on "Good Morning America," bringing in up to $550,000 a year. "My folks were finally impressed when I was on televison," Jack says. With the huge TV income, all of which Jack poured into the "Merry-Go-Round," the staff burgeoned. But Jack Anderson was less and less a part of the daily operation. He came to think of himself as the column's "publisher." Staffers were less subtle: They called him a "figurehead," a "front," a "public relations man." There was a strong feeling among column staffers that it wasn't only Jack's parents but Jack himself who was impressed with the fame that television brought to him.
"He loved it," says one former staffer who worked with Jack for many years. When somebody walked up on the street and said, "Aren't you Jack Anderson?," the man says, Jack "flared up like a peacock." Even some of Jack's children, his good friends and loyal allies lovingly chuckle at what they see as his fascination with fame. "It inevitably went to his head," says Jack's daughter Laurie Anderson-Bruch. "There was a time we had to bring him down. He was just full of himself." For a while, she says, it even seemed to her that getting another TV show was more important to her dad than his Mormon faith. Jack once confided to Les Whitten that when he gets on a plane and is recognized, he hates it because he has to talk to the guy for the whole flight. But, Jack said, if he gets on a plane and nobody recognizes him, he then worries about why nobody has recognized him. When Whitten told Jack he was leaving the column to write novels, Jack asked, "How can you give up this fame?"
"I have a visceral love for the column and Jack," says a reporter who worked for him for several years. "But I'm angry at him. I've been angry at him for years because he betrayed the ideal. It started with 'Good Morning America.' He stopped being a reporter and started being a celebrity. It was a big mistake because he was a great reporter. He had this Everyman quality that was really corrupted by his ego." Says another former staffer, "We always joked on the staff that he'd give up the column for a weekly TV show." Says another, "He craves being on television." Says another, "This is one story where you don't follow the money. You follow the fame." Says still another, "He really wanted to be famous, a household word."
Jack doesn't see it this way. In his mind, his motives were heroic: He could reach tens of millions of people through his column, but he could reach many millions more through TV. It wasn't his name that needed to be a household word, but his message -- the message that people must be constantly diligent in policing their public officials. His only interest in fame, he says, was its "market value" -- the power it gave him to reach a wider audience. He says that his question to Whitten -- "How can you give up this fame?" -- was meant only to suggest that Whitten might find it harder to make a living without the public visibility of the "Merry-Go-Round." "Reveling in fame?" he asks. "I'm surprised anyone would say that. It's not true."
Says Whitten, "Fame meant a lot to him."
In the late '70s and early '80s, Jack entered a variety of business deals that brought him the kind of press he was used to giving instead of getting. He held an interest in a bank, for instance, that turned out to have links to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Increasingly, questions were raised about his use of poorly paid young reporters to produce his column while he was earning a six-figure income on the speaking circuit. Libby says she and Jack got tired of the criticism and talked about his retiring, maybe teaching at Brigham Young University. But Jack gave up the idea, two of his children say, after experiencing personal religious insights from which he concluded he should continue his work. Says Jack's son Rodney, "He has received guidance from the heavenly father."
Whatever the reason, in the '80s Jack Anderson began putting his fame and credibility behind what he considered to be "good causes." He told his partner, Dale Van Atta, that he was going to be more involved in policy issues than in the past. It was a kind of warning, Van Atta says, because Jack knew his activities would be controversial. Jack asked President Ronald Reagan to support his idea for a Young Astronaut Council to promote interest in math and science in the nation's schools. Jack became its chairman, and Reagan made many public appearances for the group. Jack also became co-chairman of Citizens Against Government Waste with corporate executive J. Peter Grace. The group backed controversial proposals for reducing the deficit. Jack also helped his son Randy launch a Hollywood anti-drug organization aimed at putting pressure on moviemakers to stop glamorizing drug use. He advised Randy to begin his group in Washington by first winning the backing of key politicians, because that would pressure Hollywood to fall in line. It worked nicely. Nancy Reagan was honored at one of the group's early fund-raisers.
At the column office, they grumbled. The deficit recommendations of Citizens Against Government Waste were off limits, says "Merry-Go-Round" economics reporter Mike Binstein. So was any hint that a tax increase -- Reagan's worst bogyman -- might be necessary to fight the federal budget deficit. Jack was plugging the Young Astronauts often, and some staffers believed critical stories on Reagan were increasingly hard to get in print. Other staffers deny this. But Jack's son Randy remembers hearing Van Atta himself once ask, "Who's the sacred cow this week, Jack?" There was much armchair analysis about what had happened to the tough Jack Anderson.
"Jack has a deep need for acceptance," says Joseph Spear, who worked with Jack on the "Merry-Go-Round" for 20 years, but who knows nothing of Jack's childhood. "He was between the devil and the deep blue sea, because there was no way he could write the stories he did and be accepted in this town. It was a fund- amental conflict in his personality -- the need to be accepted at the same time he did things that kept him from being accepted."
Jack's friend Lee Roderick, a journalist and fellow Mormon, says Jack was attacked from all sides so often that he got sick of it: Journalists demeaned him, politicians despised him, and even Mormons, with their strain of political conservatism, often criticized him for supposedly tearing down America rather than building it up. "I definitely think he was tired of it," says Roderick, who agrees with those who say Jack was enamored of fame. "Everything about him tells me the guy lives for it, but I think that in recent years what he craves more than fame is acceptance." Says Jack's son Kevin, "He liked Reagan and he liked that Reagan was interested in helping him. It just didn't fit the image I had of Dad from the Watergate days."
Again, Jack sees it differently. "I just decided that at this point in my life, I'd do it, be a good citizen." Drew Pearson had often thrown his public clout behind worthwhile causes, he says, and he decided to do the same.
It is Jack's son Randy who is left to frame his father's heroic role, which he does in the context of his father's religion: The Book of Mormon says that righteous societies can be undermined by evil forces, Randy says, and his father believes that the three greatest threats to America are its eroding educational system, the deficit and illegal drugs. His dad's three causes -- Young Astronauts, Citizens Against Government Waste and his anti-drug work -- are all aimed at battling these great threats to the nation. "To put it bluntly, individuals are used to further the work of the Lord, as vessels and instruments," says Randy, who adds that he and his father have talked about this before. "I think he feels there's more to it than just being a journalist."
Jack is asked how his recent involvement with these interest groups squares with the remark he made years ago, soon after winning his Pulitzer: "What's wrong," he said then, "is that these reporters adopted the views of the people they're writing about. They've become a part of the Establishment they cover."
Says Jack now, "I believe these are good causes."
JACK IS VISITING HIS FATHER FOR THE last time on this trip to Salt Lake City. And at his father's age, Jack can never be sure if it will be the last time he sees him alive, although he believes beyond a doubt that he will see him in Heaven someday. Yet on this Earth, on this trip, it has become clear that the lifelong struggle between the father who tried to humble his son and the son who chafed and rebelled is near its end. The son has won. Strange, how that troubled bond between them set the stage for Jack's remarkable life, as if in trying to restrain his son's ambition Orlando unleashed it a hundredfold.
Jack stands at the door, and his father sits in a chair across the room. Only yesterday Jack saw his father cry for the first time, only the day before he heard him say for the first time that he was proud of his son. Jack is uncomfortable with emotional goodbyes, and with a strained cheerfulness, he says, well, gotta go, gotta catch a plane. His father is quiet for a long, awkward moment, until he says, "You're the most generous son a father could have." He then drops his head, covers his eyes and sobs. Jack hesitates, looks plaintively to his right, shrugs, walks over and hugs his father, pats him softly on the back. "It's all right," he says quietly. "It's all right."
Then Jack falls silent, fighting back his own deep tears.
Steve Weinberg, executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors, contributed research to this article.
A GRAND AND HEROIC VISION
JACK ANDERSON PUTS FORTH THIS TRUTH IN JEST: "NO matter how favorably you write my story, you will not portray me as nobly as I think I am." He laughs and says that over the years he has noticed that he always seems to remember his own role in events as more heroic than it actually was. He means this as a funny aside, but Jack is on to something. His son Kevin mentions in passing that when he and his dad were picking a nursing home for Jack's parents, Agnes and Orlando, they had to be careful of every legal detail because of his dad's high visibility. No, Jack says, quickly correcting him, they had to be careful of every legal detail because it was the right thing to do. It is his instinct to seize the moral high ground.
That instinct is deeply embedded, perhaps going back to Jack's childhood, when he continued to think highly of himself despite his father's repeated attempts to humble him. But the instinct also is tied to his Mormonism, because Jack came to see himself, his life and his muckraking as part of the righteous struggle portrayed in the Book of Mormon.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons, believe the Book of Mormon is the third testament of the Bible and that it was divinely revealed to Joseph Smith in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1823. The book describes a lost tribe of Israel that migrated to this continent in 600 B.C. It reports that Jesus visited this tribe after his resurrection and gave it his New Testament teachings. Today, Mormons believe that God has a perfect physical body, that all the people who will ever live already exist as souls before entering bodies on Earth, and that people's chief character traits are therefore already shaped at birth. Mormons also believe that mankind is in its last days before the Second Coming of Christ and that America, God's newly chosen land, will keep its special status only if the powers of evil and force don't overtake the powers of good and freedom.
The Book of Mormon describes centuries of battles between the Israelite tribe's descendants -- the Nephites, who were mostly God-fearing -- and the Lamanites, who were mostly wicked. "The lesson of the Book of Mormon," Jack says, "is that those who are righteous prosper." The Nephite-Lamanite wars, Mormon scripture says, finally ended in A.D. 421 with a titanic battle in Upstate New York and the annihilation of the Nephite nation, which by then had lost much of its righteousness -- and hence its power. The Mormon truths, inscribed on golden tablets, then lay buried until God revealed them to Joseph Smith.
These Mormon beliefs have created for Jack Anderson a grand and heroic vision of the world and people's role in it. How but for the power of God's providence, asks his daughter Tanya Neider, can you explain the hiring of the unknown and inexperienced Jack by Drew Pearson, the once-famous Washington muckraker? "The way he talks about it," she says, "he knows it was more than coincidence." Adds Jack's son Randy, "For some purpose or reason he had been elevated into the limelight."
The events in the Book of Mormon, its descriptions of the rising tide of evil that preceded the Nephite nation's demise, says Tanya, are akin to the rising evils in modern America. About this, her father agrees: "Some of the things we were warned against in the Book of Mormon are happening in our own society. Mormons don't believe God will punish us, but that if we are unrighteous we will suffer from our own behavior."
The Book of Mormon tells of evil men who made secret compacts and who infiltrated the Nephite society. Does this not sound like the Mafia? Jack has asked over the years. Does this not sound like the South American drug cartels? he has asked more recently. And some of the evil infiltrators were lawyers! And
haven't they hounded Jack Anderson throughout his career? His daughters Tanya Neider and Cheri Loveless say their father's exposing of government corruption helps preserve America's righteousness -- and thus helps Amer- ica avoid the fate of the Nephites.
Jack says he has never believed that God determined the events of his life, only that God created opportunities for him to seize. "I've never written a story with the Book of Mormon in mind," he says. "I go after corruption because it's wrong. This is not a religious calling."
Jack's son Randy doesn't share his father's view. "He feels like his work is a calling," he says. "I don't know if he wants that said, because it's not like God has anointed him. This was something he was called to do, a mission in his life, although he wouldn't put it that way because it can be misconstrued." His children, Jack says, overstate his religious motivations. But, no doubt, Jack Anderson's Mormon beliefs have helped motivate, justify and sustain his ambition, his muckraking journalism and his heroic view of him- self. He would never say of his work, "Hey, it's a job." Or, "I get a kick out of the power." Or, "It made me rich." Or, "I love the fame."
He says, "The Constitution is a divinely inspired document."