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tv   Drew Pearson The Power of Political Journalism  CSPAN  August 27, 2021 8:00pm-9:03pm EDT

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investigated him. the society for history in the federal government hosted this program and provided the video. >> good afternoon, everyone. we are so pleased to have so many of you joining us for our first friday for the society for history in the federal government. and we are very, very pleased to have don ritchie kicking us off. he needs little introduction to this group. as most of you know, he is the
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historian emeritus for the u.s. senate where he served for many years. don was also an executive councilmember for the society and a long time member and supporter of the society. he has written many books and articles. one of his books press gallery, congress and the washington correspondents, received the fhfg henry adams prize. and another book, electing fdr, the new deal, election of 1932, won the george pendleton book prize. his new book is on drew pearson. it will be published this summer. and the book is called the power of political journalism, leaks, lies and libel in drew pearson's washington. and we are very pleased to have don kick off this series for us. we'll first watch a very short video clip. bear with me while i try to
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share my screen. >> ladies and gentlemen, this is drew pearson. we bring you this special television broadcast to give you the very latest information on an amazing phenomenon. the arrival of a spaceship in washington. the army has taken every precaution to meet any emergency which may develop. just a minute, ladies and gentlemen. i think something has happened. >> at the time, pearson was the nationally famous radio commentator and a daily syndicated columnist. it was called the washington merry go round and it appeared in more than 600 numbs in the united states and abroad. drew pearson served as a link between the progressive error and the watergate investigative
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reporters. his willingness to break secrets and reveal what was really happening behind closed doors ruined countless days for members of congress and drove several precedents to apop lexy. going back to the recent talk about fake news, my own research has sought to determine the accuracy of his exposes for readers at the time and for researchers today. first, they ought to answer the question, how is it that a sad historian comes to write a newspaper column? it contemplated making us a public information office. then it thought twice and decided that every senator was going to be their own public information officer. but it was a 200-year-old institution that operated on precedent. so many. questions that came in were historical questions. when we historians were questioned, we tried to stick to
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the past and place current events into historical perspective. the media eventually determined that we were a neutral factor institution and they labeled us straight shooters. the one year that i tried to keep track, i logged in phone calls from 331 different reporters, columnists, broadcasters and fact checkers. i was a being questioned, i became interested in how reporters got their news and how accurate the news was. as an historian, i was citing newspaper articles in my footnotes. did i know who wrote them and could i trust how accurate they were? so those questions led to my writing two books. one about the 19th century called a press gallery, congress and the washington correspondence. and another about the 20th century called reporting for washington, the history of the washington press corps. drew pearson being a connecting link appeared in both books. when i retired from the senate,
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pearson's stepson, tyler abel, urged me to write a book about the columnists. he said his name had faded from public enemy in the half century since his death. in fact if you google the name drew pearson, you'll learn a lot more about the dallas cowboys wide receiver than about the journalist. the future football player's parents had actually named him after their favorite newspaper columnist. tyler abel offered me a complete access to the papers and diaries and took me up to the hay loft in the barn and showed me several file cabinets filled with documents that had not been previously made available. he also offered access to an oral history project that he conducted with the pearson family members and staff and he pledged not to try to shape my interpretation in any way. it was an offer i couldn't refuse.
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the chief thing was the bulk of the payments are at the lbj library in texas and despite having been there a half century, they're not fully processed yet. i spent some time in texas but the saving grace for me came when pearson's former secretary arrived to do her oral history and brought with her two large archival boxes. these were filled with documents that drew pearson had personally culled from his selection to write a memoir he never completed. and those documents which he believed were the most important and served as a shortcut to the rest of his collection. and then there were all those columns that he wrote between 1932 and his death in 1969. it was daily column including weekends and holidays. all of these collected columns came to about 50,000 pages of material and they are all online at the american university's digital archives. as someone who started out doing
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research on news print and crampinging through reels of micro film, it was astonishing to be able to access all of this material on my own computer. as i read through the material, it became clear that for all his stature and prominence, drew pearson had made some powerful detractors. herbert hoover had tried to get him fired. fdr called him a chronic liar. harry truman sent the fbi to investigate him. dwight eisenhower effectively ignored him. john f. kennedy said all the powers of the presidency was unable to control the columnist. lbj did his best to co-opt him. and nixon put him at the top of his enemies list. to register an international perspective on all this, winston churchill once dubbed drew pearson the most colossal liar in the united states. so i discovered a pattern.
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pearson certainly made his share of mistakes. usually through haste of his understanding and sometimes the people who leaked to him were less than honest about their intentions. i never found an instance where he knowingly lied. instead it was his accusers who lied regularly to cover their own tracks. raised as a quaker, he regarded truth seeking as both a moral obligation and a self-defense mechanism. he was sued for liable. at least 120 times. more than any other journalist. and he won every case except for one. and that one he would have tried to appeal except his lawyers said it would be cheaper to settle it out of court. the way he won all those cases was by demonstrating that the information he had written about was true. the one case that he lost in this case, even his opponents'
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lawyers thought that pearson had made a better argument. the courts didn't believe it though. so how does an historian prove whether or not his accusation is true or not? the passage of a half century since pearson's death has opened a massive set of records that have shown what was really happening behind those closed doors within the federal government. for instance there are a thousand pages of fbi records about drew pearson. they demonstrated the arc of his relationship with j. edgar you ever who from friendship to animosity. in the 1930s, a column promoted him as super g-man. and he returned the favor by providing information and authorizing fbi toogts review them in advance to fact check them and then also the fbi began to launch investigations into some of the allegations that
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pearson was making. when harry truman ordered the fbi to tap pearson's phones, hoover alerted the columnist in advance adding, you know how harry is. pearson used to joke that he had so many listeners on his telephone conversations that he could have sold commercials. when government agencies asked the fbi to track down the leakers to his column, j. edgar hoover advised him just to do a better job of securing their own secrets. eventually, pearson and hoover fell out. during the cold war, a correspondent for the soviet newspaper told pearson that the soviet embassy staff in washington wanted to know how pearson could get away with writing all those things about j. edgar hoover and still stay in business. pearson conceded that he would have stood no chance against the secret police in moscow if he had been a russian. after the column took a stance against joseph mccarthy, his
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friendship had ended. and the fbi files were filled with lots of really nasty comments that hoover used to write in the columns about drew pearson. the fbi cut off pearson from its information, except occasionally what when the bureau still found it useful to leak something. another government agency was the u.s. state department. drew pearson had started as a diplomatic correspondent and always kept a close eye on the foreign in service. he collected so much information about the state department that secretary of state kordell once began a meeting by asking, are we talking for this room or for pearson? the columnist benefited from sources high and low within the state department. particularly from sumner wells. they promoted his career and he
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provided information and also confirmed the news that pearson had picked up elsewhere. the trouble was that the column grew so favorable to wells that secretary hillary began to blame him for all the leaks and eventually had him fired. in fact, drew pearson had plenty of sources within the state department. one was the director of the state department's office of special political affairs. indeed, when the colleagues worried about him leaking, it was not to the soviet union but to drew pearson. some of his columns clearly initiated with information about the british actions. several departments received copies of those reports and this was one of them. he always denied being the source. they said that they were regularly visiting the office. they were a squad of reporters that he hired to go out and
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patrol the halls of government to sweep up any news items. the most prominent was jack anderson who eventually inherited the column. he knew that the state department was a hot bed of goss i am and rumor. they gathered private information about local affairs and they continued to do so when they came back to washington. they handled state secrets casually. no field was secretly spying for the soviet union said he benefited by the department's careless records management. fields called the mentality of the state department rather provincial in those days and attested that, quote, the most secret documents sometimes in multiple copies circulated from hand to hand. as a researcher, i can consult the state department's foreign relations series. the official documentary
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records. and whenever the merry go round would make an accusation, i could look back to see what they had recorded about it. so in the interests of a case just before world war ii, the merry go round revealed pro nazi sentiments within the state department had to authorize the sale of helium with german dirigibles. the secretary of state devoted a full hour at his press conferences to denounce the accusation and denying it. it was quite clear that he got the story right. and when he wrote about anti-russian attitudes in the state department during world war ii, president franklin roosevelt called him a chronic liar, not wanting to upset the grand alliance with the soviet union at the time. and when you read through, you can see the anti-russian sentiments building up within the state department and worries
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about the soviets' post-war intentions. i also benefited from a brief announcement in the american historical association's news letter perspectives that said for a month, the churchill archives online would be made free to aha members. so i signed up and i went on. i typed in drew pearson and up popped at least a half dozen memorandum from churchill. furious, totally outraged that some of his top secret telegrams were appearing verbatim in the wash merry go round. if pearson had operated out of london, he would have violated the official secrets act and been prosecuted bust in washington he was protected by the first amendment. in 1944, the column revealed that churchill had ordered the british commander in greece to suppress public protests in athens, and not to hesitate to fire openly on the
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demonstrators. as i tracked this story back, it turned out that churchill himself bore responsibility for the leak. he had dictated the cable so late at night that his exhausted secretary had typed top secret at the top but had forgot the type guard which was the signal that this message should not be shown to the americans. so instead, it went out through american channels and american officials were offended by the thought that u.s. tanks might be used against greek civilians and they leaked the document to the columnist. now, pearson broke secrets throughout his career. even during war time. he had to outmaneuver military brass and spies. when he was accused once of having revealed classified information, he actually sued that it was a defamation that made him appear unpatriotic. at the trial, he testified that the word classified had become
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extraordinarily broad. and the government was using it to cover a multitude of sins. things they didn't want the public to know about. he insisted that a diligent reporter had to determine for himself whether something marked classified should be published. but pearson didn't reveal everything that he knew. for instance, he learned about the development of the atomic bombs months before hiroshima. in a radio broadcast he hinted at what he knew, predicting to his audience that japan would develop a desire for peace before the end of 1945. i can't go beyond that, he added, except to say when peace with japan comes, it will come just as suddenly and unexpectedly as pearl harbor. and earlier in the cold war, pearson also learned that american cryptographers were trying to crack a soviet code full of documents that they had
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collected during world war ii. communications between soviet agents in the united states and moscow. this was known as project. we didn't know about it until 1995. pearson knew about it in 1951. the reason we know that is because a british intelligence agency notified the fbi that the columnist knew that arlington hall has not been able to break a russian code. now, pearson never divulged that but it didn't actually protect that secret from the soviets because the british intelligence agent notified the fbi was kim philby who himself was double agent for the soviets. drew pearson was a liberal democrat who gave basically grief to presidents at both parties. he originally supported dwight eisenhower for president. but became disillusioned with him when he felt that eisenhower's response to mccarthy was too weak.
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and it was about eisenhower that drew pearson made one of the larger mistakes of his career. at least he thought so. and that was a week before the presidential election in 1956. one which democrats had made eisenhower's health a major issue. the merry go round reported that eisenhower collapsed on the campaign trail and that his motorcade, his limousine had pulled out of the motorcade and rushed to the next stop to the airport where he flew to the next city and then he sequestered himself for 24 hours in a hotel suite, not seeing anyone except for his family and his doctor. eisenhower's press secretary jim hagerty deannounced this as a complete fabrication. he showed the press corps pictures of the motorcade and showed that his limousine had not pulled out and he insisted that eisenhower kept his
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schedule the next day. in fact of the matter, it was jim hagerty who was misleading the press corps. eisenhower's own doctors' notes are available at the eisenhower library. and his doctor said that eisenhower had retreated to his hotel room exhausted and suffering from high blood pressure. the doctor said he was emotionally upset because of the exhaustion of these days and the prospect of requirements for days to come. so although pearson had gotten some of the details wrong in the story, he had gotten the gist of it correct. he also didn't aim his fire exclusively at presidents. he made life pretty difficult for members of congress as well. he had capitol hill riddled with people willing to overhear conversations and report back to him about that. he claimed credit for having caused the indictment, imprisonment, censure, at least a half a dozen members of congress, and the political defeats of many more of them.
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it might not have been so bad for members of the congress if drew pearson's column had only appeared in the "washington post." but it was singled indicated in 600 newspapers which meant constituents were getting a chance to read it. among the members of congress that pearson was most ferocious in leveling his act was senator joseph mccarthy who became a regular target of the column. jack anderson, pearson's leg man, complained to pearson when they started doing it. he said mccarthy is one of our best sources on capitol hill. and pearson responded, he may be a good source, jack, but he's bad man. pearson totally disagreed mccarthy's anti-communist crusade and he felt that mccarthy's charges were groundless and that he was ruining people's lives in the process. so the column kept up a drum
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beat of critical reporting on mccarthy. this so outraged senator mccarthy that one night, after a dinner dance at washington's swank club, mccarthy met pearson in the cloak room of the club, pinned his arms, kicked him and slapped him viciously. the fight was actually broken up by california's new senator, richard nixon, who arrived to separate the two. and afterwards, nixon used to tell the story and say that he thought he saved pearson's life that night. and he said do you think it ever did me any good with him? never. after beating up pearson, joe mccarthy was on the floor and accused him of being a communist puppet. he called to boycott the radio sponsor and the sponsor indeed caved and dropped the program. that cost pearson half of his
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income. it was the washington merry go round that undid joe mccarthy. it started by revealing that one of mccarthy's aides had dodged the draft which prompted army doctors to reclassify it. next the column revealed that another staffer, roy cohen, was demanding weekend passes and other special treatment. mccarthy at the time was investigating the army signal corps. the army claimed he was prolonging the investigation to blackmail into special treatment. mccarthy counter pacted the army was holding shine hostage and to make him stop the investigation. strult senate held the televised army mccarthy hearings this gave the nation the chance to see for themselves the type of actions and the behavior senator mccarthy, that drew pearson had been reporting on in his column.
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no other journalist, not even edward r. murrow gets the credit to joseph mccarthy's undoing. drew pearson spent four decades making allies among the heist levels of government and pursuing tips from the lowest level whistle blowers. he knew leakers often had ulterior motives but did he his best to try to verify the information that they were providing. his column contained news that the rest washington press corporal even missed or had been unable to persuade their editors to publish. readers' polls confirmed that drew pearson was the nation's best known columnist. a poll of "washington journal." is rated him as the washington correspondent who exerted the greatest influence on the nation, giving him twice the votes they gave to walter
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lipman. even his most outspent on critics credited him with virtually a government within the government with his own core of agents. newspaper editors often trimmed the column or dropped it entirely for a day if they were worried about something that pearson wrote. they were worried about being sued, perhaps. but unlike investigative reporters who worked for a particular numb or a particular news agency, and ran the risk with the budgets, drew pearson appeared in so many different newspaper that's no single newspaper or editor could curtail him. the column's liberal leanings discomforted the subscribers who appeared his views might distort his reporting. they sometimes published the come up with disclaimers that the views did not necessarily
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match their own. the "washington post" grew so nervous about the merry go round column that they kept moving the column further and further back into the newspaper, away from the editorial numbs until it wounded up among the comic strips. pearson himself professed not to mind because he reasoned that far more people read the comicses than the editorials. in some, drew pearson's career demonstrates the power of political journalism. his reporting influenced public opinion. influenced voters, influenced public officials and public policy. the rest of the press corps, the washington press corps, even though they resented pearson, respected much of the news that he was putting out. a group of reporters were once having lunch at the national
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press club and they were complaining about drew pearson and his column to his elbowing his way to the front of the stories and claiming that some of his reporting was factually shady. and one of them finally spoke up and said, let's face it. not one of us here would have the nerve to write what pearson does or hope to get it printed. the others agreed that they read the column because they could never tell when it was going to cover the story of the day coming out of washington. at times, while his exposes were good, sometimes they would meet with indifference from the rest press corps. at other times, his scoops caught everyone's attention. editors at the "washington post" described his technique as scatter shot. sometimes right on target. and other times, missing it all together. it seemed to them as if it was a conscious strategy. a readiness to risk being wrong
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now and then as a necessity for becoming the necessary price for being right more often. my research has convinced me that drew pearson was more often right. that he performed a valuable public service as a national watch dog. we need more like him. thank you very much. >> that was amazing. so well researched. you're getting a lot of claps from the audience. we do have a few questions. for those of hue might have joined us a little bit late, we'll be giving don questions through the chat function. so if you have a question on the presentation, please put it in the chat function. so our first question is from mike rice. the question is, since pearson might have had a kind of quote/unquote washington confidential reputation, might
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his curious to views on "a," the idea of journalism as the first draft of history, as presented, and part "b," the stone's work which focused on the agency's little known but public documents, in the interests of liberal advocacy. >> yes, well, the first draft of history was a phrase coined by phil graham, the editor of the -- the publisher of the "washington post." and i think he would have agreed that. he wasn't just a newspaper columnist or just a radio correspondent. he also published a number of books during his career. and he did feel that his reporting was going to be useful for historians. in 1949 he started keeping a diary. i think also thinking about how history would want to record.
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the diary often included things that didn't appear in the column and often it gave indications where he got the information from. two volumes of the diaries have been published and i was able to look at the rest in between. so i think pearson understood that he was contributing to history. by the way, anybody can go to american university's digital archives and look at any of the columns from 1932 to 1969. it is quite remarkable. if you're looking for juicy anecdotes and colorful quotes and real i believe side scoops about what was happening at the time, i think everyone would benefit from it. the second half of that question was -- >> one second. let me get back there. i think it that in comparison -- >> to stone. >> right, right. >> that's right.
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and if stone and pearson knew each other. they admired each other. in the '60s, they split apart over vietnam. pearson, despite his scepticism about vietnam, supported lyndon johnson and i.f. stone kept urging him to come out more vehemently against the war. but they both were interested. in kind of information that other people overlooked. i.f. stone was very hard of hearing and also nearsighted. when he went to hearings, he complained that he missed things. so he would read the transcripts after the meetings. he was the only reporter who did that and he picked up all sorts of things rest of the press corps missed. he was quite accurate because he was quoting it back. he was doing for himself what pearson's legmen were doing running around the halls. one thing that jack anderson discovered, in 1947 congress authorized its committees, or mandated its committees to make
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transcripts of the closed sessions. they just didn't release them. but he could always persuade some useful member of congress to slip him a copy of the transcript so co-find out what was going on. and jack anderson discovered that senator john kennedy was quite willing to provide the closed flaergs the senate foreign relations committee so they could see what was got go in those closed hearings. so yes, there is a certain affinity between stone and pearson. pearson was much more popular in his approach. and not quite as ideologically strong as i.f. stone. >> all right. thank you. our next question is from match holland. were you able to determine the sources for his more important stories? did he rely on single sources or try to collaborate the initial source? were any of these sources
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surprising? and he has in parenthesis, along the line of john stennis being a source for seymour hersh. >> pearson used to describe his source collecting like the fbi. he said a story comes in and by itself it doesn't mean very much. so you hold on to it. a second source comes in and you add to it. the third, you pick up another piece of information. eventually you begin to see what the picture is and you start going looking for information. he had sources all over the place. he had sources inside the supreme court. he was good friends with several justices of the court including two chief justices, fred vinson and earl warren. he had members of the cabinet were providing him information about what was going on. in fact, he got so much information out of harry truman's cabinet that truman made the fbi sweep the room the make sure there wasn't a microphone in there.
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so tom clark who was attorney general and had supervision over the fbi, was one of the biggest leakers that pearson had at the time. sometimes the leakers were small fry. quite often they were military officers. a lot of interservice rivalry. so if you want to know about the earl, ask the navy and vice versa. in some cases, it was military officers who felt something was going on that the public needed to know about. so it was an army colonel who leaked the pearson the material about general mcarthur in korea that edition north the intelligence reports that the chinese were building up and were moving forward. so a source within the pentagon. sometimes when government agents would come to quiz pearson about his sources, he would look at
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them and smile and say, my sources were at the top level of your agency. in other words, your boss leaked this to me. >> amazing. all right. our next question is from katherine miller. she says on wikipedia, there is a claim pearson worked the eisenhower staff to publish information on joe mccarthy. have you found any evidence of that? and she has a second question. do you feel anything pearson wrote had an impact on later policies? i.e., public outcry that later led to any change in laws? >> in terms of the second one, yes. many of his issues eventually were enacted into law. in fact, throughout, credited the column saying when he would start to print it, it created an
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aura of inevitability in terms of movements he was dealing with. so sometimes he initiated things. sometimes people came to him with issues he promoted in the column. and he certainly carried that on. in terms of the eisenhower people, he was clearly getting information from the eisenhower folks in some cases. and that was, the way he was able to document that roy cohen was calling the army constantly to tell them that he wanted special favors. well, the reason he knew that was because the army's chief counsel had kept a log of all of cohen's telephone conversations. so that was clearly leaked to the column and pearson was always, he was willing to do things that other reporters weren't willing to do. so other reporters got this information from the eisenhower
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administration. they just sat there until somebody else broke the story and then wasn't so much, wasn't a libelous issue anymore. one thing that certainly happened, many newspapers wouldn't publish it until this congressman stood up and introduced the washington merry go round into the congressional record. at which case they could quote the congressional record and that would free them of being possibly sued for libel on those occasions. so yes. there is definitely a lot of support. even though fdr called roosevelt, called pearson a chronic liar, fdr himself leaked to pearson. a wonderful story about, one day roosevelt was mad about leaks coming out of his administration. he called the staff and he said no more leaks under any circumstances. and one of the staff said, well, you know, there is that story that you wanted to get out so we could test the congressional
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reaction to it. and fdr said, you're right, you're right. you can pleek story to pearson. and the staff member that, i already have. so that's the kind of sources. quite amazing sources. and of course, people knew that was a way to get out and not to have the story attributed to them. >> excellent. our next question is from pat, good to see you joining us today. was there a link between drew pearson and the earlier reports called the muck rakers? >> yes. in the book i talk about the muck rakers and what distinguished them. during the progressive era, for the most part, they were new york journalists who would rush into washington and write there exposes and go back to new york. the washington reporters who were here collecting news on a daily basis, they couldn't
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offend their sources so they often suppressed stories of the new york magazine writers who were quite willing to publish. and the whole idea of muck raking faded with the progressive era. there were a couple in the 1920s who investigated the tea pot dome scandal, prince. but pearson and his partner rob allen really modeled their column initially on the old time muck rakers and tried to keep that spirit alive. for a long time, pearson was the biggest investigative reporter in washington. and he died in 1969. of course, watergate followed and then investigative reporting became much more widespread and they began to win all sorts of awards. pearson was quite often nominated for pulitzer prizes but they never gave him one. he was too. of a rule breaker for the rest of the press corps.
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>> all right. thank you. our next question comes from justin mccleary. pearson reported on a lot of public figures. but justin's question is, did he also investigate and expose actions of federal agencies as well as individuals? >> oh, yes. he investigated everybody. and he was looking into the regulatory commissions back in the 1950s. and a lot of, clearly, there was a lot of quid pro quo going on of regulators who were willing to extend licenses to people being paid for what's going on. as he worked his way up the chain, he realized the person who was really in the middle of all this was the president's own personal chief of staff. that was sherman adams. eisenhower relied, in all his
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illnesses, adams was essentially the acting president. it turned out adams had his finger in a lot of pies. eventually the wash merry go round that to his regret, eisenhower had to fire sherman adams. then i discovered, they found out that afterwards, the kennedy justice department continued to look into pearson's allegations, found out that adams' behavior was even worse than pearson had said. he had been collecting a lot of money from private sources. and they threatened to file a major income tax case against sherman adams. former president eisenhower was so upset that he sent word to
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president kennedy and asked that the justice department not prosecute his former chief of staff. john f. kennedy wanted dwight eisenhower to be indebted to him so he ordered his brother, the attorney general, to drop the case. and his brother said that would be wrong. and john kennedy said which one of us was elected president? so there's a lot of interesting stories in there in terms of other agencies. and also, wasn't just washington, d.c. pearson had people all over the country who were telephoning him tips. he had regular people that he would check in with. newspaper editors, lawyers, politicians in different states. pat brown in california was constantly leaking, especially after he lost to ronald reagan, continued to leak about ronald reagan's administration to pearson. so quite often, the columns dealt with particular states. in one case, in 1939, the former governor of louisiana showed up on pearson's door step with
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evidence that the current governor was corrupt. they were taken money from the wpa for private uses in the state of louisiana. pearson's columns exposed the situation. not only did the governor to go jail but so did the president of lsu and the head of the wpa in louisiana. so there were a lot of agencies, much of which i couldn't cover. not only the speech but in the book i couldn't kofrl there was so much going on in that column. >> yeah. it sounds lying it. we never have enough room in books. this is what happens. we have to make choices. our next question is from todd bennett. he would like to you talk about jack anderson and how the handoff of the column worked.
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and did they have the same journalistic commitment to the truth? >> jack anderson was drew pearson's protege in many ways. he showed up in 1947 and interviewed for a job. there was an opening on pearson's staff. he was a very young reporter. not a lot of experience. he was energetic, determined and willing to work for a very small salary. and pearson was a notorious penny pincher. people who worked for him never got large salaries. most kept other jobs to help sustain them. they felt committed and stayed with them. and anderson was just a determined reporter. the good thing for anderson initially was that nobody knew who he was. so that if drew pearson showed up in the senator's office, it was a huge commotion. if jack anderson showed up, nobody knew who he was and it didn't make much of a difference. it was easier to pick up secrets
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that way. anderson became a public figure for the first time really in 1959. it was during the sherman adams investigation. anderson and a congressional staffer rented a hotel room next to bernard, the person providing funds. next to his hotel room and put a microphone with a tape-recorder right next to the door. unfortunately for them, they figured it out and called a press conference in goldfine's office. the second coat hanger through the door. and then the staff member came out. and poor anderson was quite anxious about. that everybody knew that he was a keyhole peeper. his name became much more well known and he began to share a by
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line. eventually he was going to take over the column. there was never formal agreement and pearson, it was pearson's column. he was very reluctant to give up any credit. if you remember in the 1960s, pearson went after senator tom dodd of connecticut. eventually, dodd was censured and defeated as a senator, really due to the initiative. of those 100 columns, jack anderson wrote 98 of them. so he was really digging up the materials that pearson was going to do. his second said of the two, that jack anderson was really more of a recorder because he would write a story about his own wife if he discovered it. whereas pearson's main objective was he wanted to make a better world. and there were certain things he wasn't going on write. and eventually, jack anderson took over the column, won the
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pulitzer prize but got into trouble for stepping over the line and reporting things that he didn't have really accurate information about. so his career ended in a much of a shakier situation than pearson's did. >> thank you. next question is from danielle ernst. can you generalize about when pearson decided a leak, say from someone in a federal agency, was just an intramural squabble versus when it was something of federal note, that he would then use. >> well, intramural squabbles were good press. so he was always, especially during the new deal. there were always fights between different new deal advisers. one would leak to the other back and forth. both sides had a point of view that he was including that in
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there. some of these stories never went anywhere. they were funny, interesting, they shed light on a particular person or a particular moment. and then they were over and noble remembered them a couple days later. some of those stories became big issues because government agencies started to step in and look into what the truth was. and people went to jail as a result of these columns. one of the more prominent people went to jail was the head of the house on american activities committee, parnell thomas who had sent the hollywood ten to jail for not answering questions at his hearings. well, parnell thomas had a secretary who was very fond of him. and she was quite jealous of the fact that he was driving home a young typist at the office. and she followed him one night. and stopped in front of the woman's apartment and came back the next morning and found the
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congressman's car still parked there. put her hand on the hood and it was cold. so she leaked information to drew pearson that the congressman was taking kickbacks from staff members in his office. and he went to jail. he wound up at the same jail in danforth, connecticut, that some of the hollywood ten prisoners were there. if you see the movie about dalton tremble, there's a point, it was drew pearson's column that started that. that was the case of a secretary who was spurned who leaked this information. but pearson always had, when he got these stories, he would do his best to verify it, to send his legmen to go out. quite often they were going out to find evidence to support something that pearson suspected. and the point was he wouldn't publish it until he was pretty sure that he could prove that most of it was accurate. there were cases where people would tell him things at the
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dinner table but they weren't going to testify about it in court. so he would have to then try to find some other sources. some stories just didn't go anywhere. his diaries are full of suppositions that he's following that don't like the column. he was sued 120 times. and he had to be sure that if he was sued, that he had the evidence to support his case. he kept every paper, by the way, that he ever touched. which is the reason he has this
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i hem them highly. >> there is another tip for everyone. i have two more questions in the chat. and we have a few more minutes if anyone has a last-minute question. this is your time to get it in there. so don, this is from mary jo binker. did pearson have any relationship with walter winchel. or was winchel too much of a gossip columnist? >> no, they were good friends, for a while. in fact, winchel had the even bigger column, it was a broadway gossip column that was mostly -- pearson -- i mean, winchell's was mostly about sex, and romance, and divorce, and hold, hollywood, and broadway. very little of that -- pearson didn't write about sex scandals in the -- for the most part in the washington merry go round.
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but if pearson came across a really good story he would send it up to walter winchel and winchel would publish it in his column. for instance during world war ii, pearson learned a columnist for the washington times journal was having an affair with country of joseph kennedy's sons. it was john kennedy. that's one reason why john kennedy went to the south pacific, so he was aware from that woman in washington. this was a story that pearson picked up and sent to walter winchel. eventually, they fell out over mccarthy. pearson became a ferocious opponent of mccarthy's. winchel became a supporter a cheerleader for mccarthy. and eventually destroyed winchell's career, but their friendship fell apart as a
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result of that. >> thank you. interesting. okay. i have one last question if anyone has one more, this is your chance. another question from catherine miller who also says thank you so much. she's working on her thesis and looks forward to using the book this summer. her question is, what were pearson's thoughts on nuclear weapons? and did that change over time? or did he really not think much about nuclear weapons and nuclear policy? >> there is not a lot -- he was a cowarrior to some degree, and he bought the cover story that came out that the intelligence agencies were putting out that there was a missile gap this the 1950s. he is has a book called "is america a second-class state now". so he was not anti-nuclear. but he was a quaker, and at heart, he was a passivist.
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he made exceptions. he thought the korean war was -- he supported -- he supported world war ii, the korean war. efforts dubious of vietnam. the only reason he supported vietnam is because lyndon johnson twisted his arm and actually made him feel like for the first time in his career like an insider in the white house. and he was reluctant to lose that status. but he didn't write a lot about a nuclear threat. he was really writing more about the strength of the nation in defending itself. in that sense, i think he was fairly in the mainstream, the way people in washington operated in those days. it took a long time for people to realize how precarious the world was with this proliferation of nuclear weapons. quite frankly, that was not an issue that i followed. so i would have to go back and
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take another look to see how much he wrote about this. just he knew that we had nuclear weapons before we dropped them on hiroshima. and he certainly made no objection to using those as a military weapon during the war. >> all right. well, i have received no more questions. but you are getting a lot of thank yous and accolades for a fantastic presentation on a very interesting topic. and i just want to thank you on behalf of the society for talking to us today. this was absolutely fascinating. and i am very much looking forward to reading this book. i learned a lot today about drew pearson. i'm sure everyone did. >> thank you very much. you know, i recognize most of the names of the people who are asking questions. my only regret is we can't be doing this in person. i look forward to our getting back together again and holding in-person meetings. >> yes. >> in the meantime, this has certainly been a very nice opportunity.
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and i thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about mr. pearson? we are excited for the book to come out. everyone will rush out and buy it. our next talk will be on shurs, instead of a friday, it -- on thursday instead of a friday. the miss forical weapons on the war on drugs in the andys. i hope many of you will join us. dope, thank you again. this was a wonderful way to kick off the kilowe yum series. and thank you very much. it is good to see some of your faces. it has been too long.
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