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tv   QA Donald Ritchie The Columnist  CSPAN  July 12, 2021 5:58am-7:00am EDT

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called you a vicious liar. you were called in ignorant liar a late tennessee senator called you a liar by profession, a liar by day and by night. date used up different -- six different pages calling me a liar. what is there about drew pearson that inspired such bitterness? >> for one reason, when you hit the truth, sometimes it hurts most. i dearly loved roosevelt and it hurt me deeply when he called me a chronic liar, which he did. i did not enjoy being called that by truman, either, but truman after all had a vocabulary. host: that is mike wallace in a 1957 interview with drew
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pearson. he is the subject of donald ritchie's new book. who was drew pearson? mr. ritchie: he was a newspaper columnist that appeared every single day. he did a column from 1962 until he died. it continued on to jack anderson. he also had a radio show monday nights, a popular radio show and also tried to make it into television in the early 50's. he was a best-selling author for his books. he told the truth, as he said, and he said when you hit the truth that hurts the most. he told what politicians would prefer not to see in newspapers and he tried to get behind the news and tell people what was really going on in washington. as a result, he ruffled a lot of feathers especially presidents of the united states and
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senators and representatives, british prime ministers, other politicians. host: why is this story interesting for people in 2021? mr. ritchie: public confidence in the news is at an all-time low. i think one poll said half the population does not believe that newspaper reporters and other media are giving them the truth. but they are exaggerating stories for political purposes. i thought that writing about a man who was accused to be a liar by so many people, was he telling the truth? did he get it right or wrong? who was right and who was wrong? who was lying and who is telling the truth? i thought that would be a useful way in looking at the media how much can we rely on information we get from the media? host: you are the united states historian emeritus. why does this columnist story
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interest you? mr. ritchie: when the senate historical office was created they thought , briefly about making public information and the senate is a 200 year old institution and often reporters were calling the historical office for information and we could not talk about politics or policy, but we could talk about the president and history of the institution. so eventually they discovered we were not taking sides. we were just telling the story as best as we could determine what it had been so we got so many calls and i had so many personal visits from reporters, , famous reporters, foreign correspondents.
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i got just foreign correspondents, i got curious about them collecting the news. so i am always going back to look at historical newspapers and i got interested in finding out how reliable the information was and how good a reflection of what congress had been at the time. earlier i wrote a book about the 19th century press called "press gallery" and then about the 20th century press. it was called reporting from washington. interestingly enough drew , pearson is in both books. one ends in 1932 and one begins on the other ends in 1932 which is when he was emerging as a figure on the scene. so he is a continuation of my interest in using the press as a historical source. host: you have an interesting story in the acknowledgments about how this surrounded a family number. -- family member. mr. ritchie: that's right.
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drew pearson's stepson lives on the merry-go-round form which is his old farm. my wife and i talked to media through mutual friends and a library board so we went to their home and heard stories about famous people who had been there before and about drew pearson. when i retired, tyler came to me and said, people have forgotten who drew was. he has faded into history but is an important story people should know. do you want to write his biography? i said i had other things in mind. tyler was persistent. he came back and came back and one day he invited me to his farm and took me into the hayloft and took me to a file cabinet. he pulled a tarpaulin off these file cabinets and he said this is the material we have not yet sent to the library. you can look at whatever you want. we have oral histories and you have carte blanche to look at this.
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and we are not going to tell you how to write a book but it's up to you to make that decision. i thought, this is a gift. i began looking into it and the more i did, more interested i grew and the more i could see a book developing. host: where did the title "washington merry-go-round" come from? mr. ritchie: a book he and his partner wrote in 1932. they wrote it anonymously. they were originally going to call it washington carrousel but the editor thought merry-go-round sounded more american. it was a big bestseller 1931. it exposed a lot of what was going on in the hoover administration just when the economy was collapsing and people were losing faith in hoover. it also poked fun at political and social pretension in washington and at some of the press they thought were deferential to the politicians.
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everyone loved it except hoover, who got the fbi to try to figure out who the authors were and get them fired. they did not fire pearson but when they wrote a sequel, he was fired. it was called more merry-go-round. that is when pearson and alan thought, why don't we take this writing and turn it into a newspaper column. host: he is the school of journalism known as muckrakers. what does the muckrakers mean? mr. ritchie: the term starts at the beginning of the 20th century. there were mass-market magazines and they hired a lot of colorful writers. here in washington you had washington correspondents who developed high placed sources
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and got accurate information but they did not want to embarrass their sources. muckrakers breezed into town, they were magazine writers, they breezed into town and found the stories the regular correspondents were not publishing and published the exposes. one lead to the amendment of the constitution. one was called the treason of the resident was led to the amendment where senators are directly elected by the public. they were influential but the regular washington writers hated them. they would have their regular gridiron dinner and theodore roosevelt spoke and attacked the muckrakers as wanton sensational lists. he got great cheers. a few days later there was an unveiling of a building and
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roosevelt gave the speech again in which he attacked muckrakers. he toned it down a little bit. the term stuck. some saw it as a slur and others as a badge of honor. i think drew pearson was proud to be called one. he carried on the tradition. he is the link between the old world muckrakers and post-world investigators. -- post watergate investigative reporters. host: he was responsible for half a dozen indictment of senators. was congress more corrupt in his years? mr. ritchie: they were different than. they did not police themselves the way they do now. it was not an ethics committee. pearson prompted the house and senate to create ethics committees. his exposes led to censures and in some cases indictments and imprisonment of members for
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kickbacks on staff salaries and insider trading, things that are illegal and would be prohibited today, it was looser in those days. so he spent a lot of time exposing what was happening in congress. he was immediately attacked as being a liar by members of congress. he wants published a liar's -- he wants - once published a liar's scoreboard. members that accused him of being a liar and then what happened to them. they all wound up in jail or losing their seats. one was jay parnell thomas, he had sent many of the hollywood 10 to jail for contempt of congress and because of pearson's expose, he wound up in the same penitentiary as some of the hollywood 10.
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pearson had a lot of skins on the wall essentially from going through congress. he also argued these were a tiny fraction of the members of congress and if their actions made the rest look bad, but he was not trying to disparage congress as an institution. he wrote about the accomplishment of members, as well. he promoted careers as well as destroying them. host: much of his source material came from leaks. you've been observing this town for a while and writing about it for a long time. every administration tries to control leaks. what is it about leaks and why they happen? mr. ritchie: for everyone who has a reason to keep something a secret, there is someone else who has a reason to open it up. sometimes it is administrations trying to suppress information and lower level civil servants who think this is a disgrace and sometimes it's the very top, the president's press secretary.
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politicians in general are satisfied with the leaks they leak themselves and are outraged at the ones others have leaked. franklin roosevelt, the "washington merry-go-round" column was pro new deal so he got good press. but he hated to be anticipated before making up his mind. he wanted to wait and spring it on the press and when he opened the newspaper and read in the "washington merry-go-round" it really annoyed him. there was one instance where he got his staff in the oval office and said, we are not going to leak again. we going to stop it and no one is allowed to leak again. especially to drew pearson. one staff member said, we have the story we would like to get out in advance so we can test public opinion and congressional opinion, and roosevelt said, ok, you can leak that story.
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and the staff member said, i already have. host: you describe his philosophy not just that the public had a right to know, but they needed to be excited and entertained to become better informed. how would you describe his style? mr. ritchie: he had a very lively style. in those days there were social columns that had gossip about celebrities. he was not writing about sex and divorce. walter winchell was doing that. he had the most singular popular column in the country and pearson had the second most popular column. pearson wrote about politicians. he did not write about their private lives, although sometimes he would leak information to others. but he put in the things you would not read in the regular newspaper columns. for instance, the vice president's winnings at his poker game.
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human interest stories. sometimes outrageous, sometimes funny. you never could predict what the column would have. sometimes it had a lot of different stories, sometimes just one. editors found it was easy to clip because they could drop out a paragraph and it will not change much. walter lippmann was an erudite columnist were you had to learn the -- had to read the whole column to get what he was talking about. there were lots of pieces. it was entertaining and scored high on the polls of newspapers. it was a problem for editors and publishers. they sometimes hated the column because it attacked the politicians they liked but if they tried to cut it out, readers complained and they put it back in. sometimes they would put a disclaimer.
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host: readers will see you included snippets in your book. why did you decide to do that? mr. ritchie: i think most people have not read "washington merry-go-round" and you need a flavor about what it was about the column that made it interesting. some are hard news stories and others are funny. president roosevelt goes to wellsprings and forgets to cancel his order of breakfast pastries and they started piling up in the white house. roosevelt did not like that. pearson said it was danishes and roosevelt did not like danishes but he did like breakfast roles. there are funny little pieces like that. there were other cases where he predicted things. he was famous at suggesting things that were about to happen. one of the things he wrote in the 1930's, he was always attacking the navy for being old-fashioned.
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he said they were unprepared for modern aircraft warfare because right after pearl harbor is -- his editors pointed out, his publishers said he was right about his predictions. so it was exciting, funny. the washington post put it on the comics page. not because they thought it was funny, but because it irritated them a lot when it was on the editorial page so they thought they would hide it but pearson said a lot more people read the comics so he was happy. at least he said he was happy for being there. host: he was a quaker. how did that affect his worldview? mr. ritchie: that's one thing i learned. i knew him vaguely. i had read his column for about two years when i came to graduate school in the 1960's at the university of maryland but i did not know a lot about
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him. religion is an important factor in people's lives, but you do not know how important. it comes up enough that i realized it shaped his worldview so on civil rights, for instance, he was not initially in favor of civil rights. it wasn't a big issue. a lot of the newspapers were southern newspapers and like a lot of other whites, he lived in the south and look the other way but he became offended by what , he saw and offended by the ku klux klan and segregation and and even offended by the national press club not allowing black members. so it became a crusade for him of inequality and justice. and his family he used the old quaker style of speaking. they did silent prayers at meals. just enough to indicate it was on his mind. he judged politicians by the standards the quakers and he
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had. interestingly the two presidents , he got along the worst with were the two quaker presidents herbert hoover and richard , nixon, who were both quakers. it did not help them in the long room that they were quakers. host: the column appeared every day and later they added radio and television. i wanted to show a clip we have of the television program. the question is how did he do , all of this? it's a lot of work so let's watch and we will come back. [video clip] ♪ >> with congress back in town, the news is certainly breaking. eisenhower has decided he has to get this program to congress at any cost and here are the developments. he has finally picked a successor to senator taft.
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the man he has picked is none other than the vice president mr. nixon who one year ago, his , name was mud but today he is the white haired boy around the white house. this will naturally cause trouble with mr. nolan of california because both men are young, ambitious, and aspire to be president of the united states. host: 365 columns a year. how many brady shows? mr. ritchie: radio, every sunday night. television was sporadically. late in his career he did not quite make the transfer. a lot of radio reporters just could not move to this new form of radio, as they called. he was also giving lectures, traveling constantly giving public lectures. the cover of the book is pearson working late at night. he worked all hours of the day and night. he learned to sleep on trains and planes and wake up and work.
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he would write the weekend columns during the week. those were sort of out of the way but he was not necessarily , writing on those days but his family said pretty much every day he was doing some kind of work and it was a grind. but they also had younger reporters called leg men he hired for low salaries to go out and walk the halls of congress and go to the pentagon and pick up all the rumors and news and if he came up with a story, he would send them out to prove the information. get the facts to back that one, he said. so we had help. -- so he had help. in some cases he was the managing editor of the column but he wrote a lot of it and some of them were personal letters he would write to his daughter, stepson, or other family members and people he knew explaining what he thought
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about the korean war or whatever issue of the time. it was a constant drain and he had few hobbies other than farming. he loved to farm but his stepson said he wrote more than he read. he did not play golf. he had good friends he liked to dine with. his evenings were spent with washington politicos. those at the dinner table would wind up in the column. host: one of his most famous leg men was jack anderson. who is he? mr. ritchie: when pearson hired him in 1940, he was a young reporter for the stars and stripes. an old-time reporter told him if you go to washington, you want to work for drew pearson.
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he knows are all the bodies are buried. they had 100 applicants for the job and jack anderson got the job. he said it was either because he was so young and malleable, he could be shaped the way pearson wanted, or he was willing to work the least amount of money. he had a terribly low salary. almost all of the staff complained about the salary they got and almost all of them had second jobs. jack anderson also worked on parade magazine to have more income. part of this was even though pearson made a lot of money from the column and radio show, he was sued for libel so often that he had enormous attorneys fees. so he basically was shunting money to the court cases, not to the staff. but the staff was loyal to him because they knew he believed in what he was doing and they were
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willing to work at the low salary he paid. host: jack anderson ultimately succeeded drew pearson in the column. what was it about their relationship that he became his successor? mr. ritchie: jack anderson was a good, determined reporter who really pressed and also pressed pearson in areas where pearson stepped back. a classic case is about thomas dodd, the senator from connecticut, jack anderson found out from the former staff that dodd was taking campaign contributions and using them for personal finances. so, he collected in norma's of information. his staff went in on the weekend and took things out of the file and gave them to anderson and then returned to them. anderson published about 20 columns on this and eventually the editors were saying, this is over the top, this could be a libel case, people are going to get bored because you are doing the story so often.
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pearson pulled the plug and said that's enough. anderson showed up with a young staff member at pearson's home and presented him with the case. he finally said, ok, let us go with it. they eventually published 100 articles and dodd was censured. by the senate and defeated in reelection. the pulitzer committee gave the pulitzer prize to pearson and anderson. the people who ran the polar surprise -- the pulitzer prize of those are not the people we want to award and they withdrew it step jack anderson on his own later won the pulitzer prize. drew pearson was too controversial during his career. host: you said it was a great regret in his life that he never got that prize. mr. ritchie: he felt he never got the recognition.
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he would have loved to have been secretary of state. he started out as a diplomatic correspondent. he was always interested in diplomacy and he wrote a lot about foreign policy over the years. lyndon johnson hinted that might be a possibility just enough to keep him sympathetic to the johnson administration. but it did not happen and the pulitzer prize did not happen. host: he regularly violated appropriate journalistic practices, lobbying for the causes, he would testify before congressional committees. he wrote speeches for politicians. how did he square that role with him being a reporter? mr. ritchie: he was a columnist, not a reporter. colonists have more freedom. they can take sides and have a political point of view.
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they can argue in favor of a bill. they are allowed to have an opinion. regular newspaper reporters are supposed to be objective. and especially in pearson's age, the objectivity was much further than it was today. today you will see newspaper articles in which a reporter will call a politician a liar because they can prove what they said was not true. in those days, they would just say, senator mccarthy made an outspoken claim, not that it was true or false. but pearson could do that and he carried that on to supporting bills and legislation he was in favor of. he promoted careers and wrote speeches for members of congress. he testified before committees. he was open about a lot of it. he wrote speeches for presidential candidates and got involved with a lot of things. he felt that as a columnist, it was part of his responsibility and he had permission to do it.
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host: he was married twice. as you describe it both , marriages helped advance his career. mr. ritchie: as a young man he met the daughter of the wealthiest woman in washington who became an editor of the washington times herald. so being married to her daughter open the doors to high society and gave him a lot of leeway around washington. it helped when he was getting started as a columnist. that marriage lasted two years. they had a daughter but she was a free spirit and did not want to be confined in marriage. a little later, he married the ex-wife of his best friend in washington, which ruined the friendship along the way. she shared his interest in politics.
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she had the velvet touch. pearson could ruffle feathers and she could smooth them out. if the washington post was irritated or embarrassed, his wife was playing bridge with -- catherine graham and her father. she helped his career considerably. the only thing they disagreed on was during the vietnam war, he supported lyndon johnson and his daughter-in-law was the white house social secretary during the administration. his stepson was chief the protocol. -- chief of police: eventually. but his wife was picketing the white house with antiwar groups. she became passionately antiwar. in the end he came to believe
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she was right and in march of 1968 he wrote to lyndon johnson and said he would have to stop supporting him on the war and that we need to withdraw from vietnam. host: one character that appears throughout his work is j edgar hoover, longtime director of the fbi. you say there are thousands of pages of documents collected about pearson by the fbi. he was also using them as sources for his work. what was the relationship with the fbi? mr. ritchie: that 1000 pages was a big asset for me in writing the book. among other things every sunday , night they made some agent listen to the radio show to report to hoover every monday morning. if he said anything negative about the fbi and have a rebuttal ready to go.
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host: he was that important? mr. ritchie: absolutely. in 1935 the fbi was being formed the justice department was , worried the public was more enamored with gangsters like john dillinger and others and not with the government agents so they called in pearson and his partner and said, what can we do? they said, you have to build up the public relations of the fbi and the column began to promote j edgar hoover's career as a super g-man. he liked that and reciprocated by providing information from the fbi. if they came across a claim they could not substantiate, they would show to the fbi.
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they would tell them what their files set on the issue. in some cases the fbi would go investigate. -- that's how many of those members of congress ended up in jail. the fbi followed up on a column that pearson had published. when the red scare started in the 1950's, pearson was fiercely opposed. joe mccarthy had been a great source for the column previously but once he started on this communist crusade, pearson started running negative columns. jack anderson said, he is a great source. pearson said, he might be a great source, but he's a bad man. pearson went anti-mccarthy. hoover embraced mccarthy and became outraged at what pearson was writing. i could tell because hoover wrote many nasty comments about pearson in the margins and was so offended by what he was saying. but as late as 1968 when the fbi
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had information they thought was in the interest of the public to know, they leaked it to the "washington merry-go-round" they knew it was valuable even though it offended them. host: you work your way through the administration's and i want to do a little more of franklin roosevelt. you talk about the relationship between the columnist and white house. speak specifically about the challenge of reporting during wartime and the creation of the censorship office and how it impacted pearson. mr. ritchie: the column started as the new deal was starting. the public was fascinated. it put the column on the map. in 1941 the u.s. went to war. suddenly the question is, can you be honest and open about reporting on the government and wartime?
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pearson said yes, the public has a right to know. we are still voting in elections. we do not want the government hiding things the public should be aware of. for instance what was the nature , of the destruction at pearl harbor? he thought they needed to know what was happening. he didn't get everything right. the government was troubled by this. they created an office of censorship. they looked over his scripts and told him to change the wording. he read the censorship code so well he could quote it back to them. he was adept at getting things out. he could switch back and forth. he could get things in the column and he if he couldn't get it in the column, he would put it in the radio. he is the reporter that wrote
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the story that general patton put two shellshocked soldiers in a military hospital, thinking they were slackers. no one dared to publish it. pearson found out. he got it on the radio. he couldn't get into his newspaper column. once he broke the story, all the war correspondents in europe verified it and pearson got through it. he was threatened with prison or being sued. if he had been in england when he wrote about some things about winston churchill, he would've ended up in jail. but he felt like it was his responsibility. the first amendment protected him in washington. he hated all these documents marked secret. he said 90% of them were not to protect the public, it was to protect the civil servant.
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he felt it was his right to decide if something was really secret or not. he did not publish everything he knew. he learned early about the atomic bomb and did not reveal it. he did say on the radio program that the war would end as abruptly as it began. that was his hand to what was about to happen -- that was his hand -- hint as to what was about to happen. but there are things he suppressed for national security reasons. the fbi investigated him. they tapped his phone lines. he said he could sell commercial since note -- since so many people are listening to his telephone. the british planted a spy in his household to find out where he was getting information that was critical of churchill. the spy was a british royal air force officer named roald dahl, the children's author. they had an interesting
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relationship. he became best friends with pearson during the war. pearson figure out he had an ulterior motive. he never developed who his sources were. they had an interesting relationship. it indicated how much other governments were concerned about what went in the column. the british noticed we did not have a national newspaper. even the new york times only went around new york. the newspaper column appeared in every newspaper, big and small. and that really affected public opinion. so british agents worked hard to get pearson on their side.
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winchell did propaganda for them but pearson put his own interpretation on the information they gave him. he didn't use things they leaked to him. host: an opening clip, pearson made reference to truman's animosity. how would you describe their relationship? mr. ritchie: he hated him because pearson dared to criticize his wife and daughter. he called him a gossip columnist. he hated what pearson was writing. truman said we put our women on a pedestal. he got under his skin constantly. he shut him out of the administration. the only time pearson got in the oval office was at the beginning of truman's presidency and he got a tongue lashing.
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an aide of truman was getting in a lot of trouble and the column was exposing what he was doing. he was doing influence peddling. so the column basically said truman needed to fire the man and president truman spoke at a meeting and said, "no s.o.b. is going to tell me who to fire in my administration." the official photographer said no press would tell me but other reporters were there and picked it up. pearson pointed out it was brotherhood week and said that truman was referring to sons of brotherhood. pearson wrote his own memoirs that appeared and the title was "confessions of a s.o.b."
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host: guest: host: we have the president appearing on the television program. [video clip] >> mr. president, a lot of people have been criticizing me because i had been critical of mccarthy. mccarthy says it is important to put communists in jail. what is your opinion? >> i do not think the methods of mccarthy are ever necessary. in a republic such as ours. the bill of rights is the basis of the freedom of the individual and his idea of an approach is by suspicion, not facts. the facts in the case are that the communists who were working for the subversion of the government of the united states were indicted long before mccarthy ever heard of a communist. host: the outcome was that drew pearson was one of the contributors to mccarthy's downfall.
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i didn't want to leave this here without you telling the story. mr. ritchie: that was the first interview truman did after leaving the presidency. mccarthy brought back people who had been fighting for each other with year. they sort of united. pearson and truman had been on the outs but became friends. same thing with senator miller tydings, a great opponent of -- pearson in the 1930's. they buried the hatchet at that stage. pearson columns irritated senator mccarthy and from time to time mccarthy threatened he would beat up pearson. mccarthy had been a fighter before, a prizefighter, and he said he was going to punch him out or beat him up or break his ribs, all sorts of threats. in 1950 a socialite in
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washington was famous for having parties in which she brought enemies together. she didn't tell them they would be at the same party and she wound up seating pearson and mccarthy at the same table. they were both outraged. pearson was there with his wife and trying to be polite. mccarthy harassed him through the evening and finally pearson got up and came around and leaned over and whispered, when are they going to put you in jail? he was studying his income tax problems. mccarthy jumped out of the chair and said, let's go outside and settle this. everyone separated them. pearson and his wife went out to dance. at midnight they were in the men's cloakroom at the club and pearson was getting his coat and reaching for change in his
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pocket and mccarthy accused him of going for a gun. he pinned his arms he slapped , him in the face and kneed him in the groin. who appeared, richard nixon, who separated them. he was the newly elected senator from california who stepped between the two of them. even as he stepped in, mccarthy slapped pearson across the face hard. pearson grabbed his coat and left. mccarthy said to nixon, you should not have stopped him. nixon got very bad press from pearson over the years. but nixon was a quaker and felt he should break up the fight. he stepped in at that moment. host: the eisenhower administration was a tight ship with not many weeks. -- leaks and not much drama. but i want you to talk about the incident that started a press government relations down a slope credibility gap.
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mr. ritchie: as a former military man he was used to controlling the press and thought he could control them as president. this was dwight eisenhower. he had an effective press secretary, jim haggerty, who provided the press the information they were seeking but made sure they did not see the information the administration wanted to protect. they did not want leaks. they wanted a leak free administration. eisenhower did a lot of foreign policy through the cia. there were instances in iran, guatemala, vietnam, that we did not know about at the time but it affected our foreign policy for generations. they are still feeling the effects in iran. at the time, everything was hush-hush and eisenhower was happy. one of the issues that came up
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was, is the u.s. falling behind russia and producing missiles? so the image of a missile gap developed. some federal agencies were promoting that gap because they thought by scaring the public, the military budget would increase. eisenhower knew there was not a missile gap. do u-2 flights over russia were showing that the russians were not that well developed. he knew the u.s. was well ahead of russia but he couldn't say it did not want to. he didn't want to say these were spy flights. when a plane was shot down, we thought he just crashed. jack anderson went to the pentagon on behalf of pearson and went to his sources who confirmed it was a weather flight that crashed.
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so the column printed that. couple days later the russians said, we have the plane we shot down and we have the pilot he was still alive. the administration had to admit that the story they had produced was a cover story and pearson was outraged. he wrote a column to his readers saying, the story we got before, we thought it was true. we got it from our sources. it was not true. so now the government is not telling us the whole truth. it turned out some of the most prominent reporters knew all about the flight but they thought it was their duty for national security not to reveal the information. so the idea that reporters would sit on information was offensive to pearson and is what drove him to reveal things.
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the slippery slope is that up until that point most americans never believed their government would like to them. -- would lie to them. a lot of reporters thought the government gave them straight stories. but people began to question things. it increased during the kennedy administration when there were questions about news management and during the johnson administration when the pentagon papers revealed the stories that robert mcnamara was saying in public conflicted with what he said privately and that the situation in vietnam was much more dire. so johnson really lost credibility severely during his presidency but i thought it started in 1960 when people became more skeptical of information from the government. host: what did drew pearson and
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his column inc. about the -- and his column think about the kennedy administration? mr. ritchie: he got off on the wrong foot by going on the mike wallace show. mike asked him what he thought about john kennedy and pearson said, he's the only person who got a pulitzer prize for a book that was ghostwritten. there were rumors that sorensen had really written profiles encourage. -- profiles encourage. -- profiles in courage. kennedy was sensitive of that. the project was developed when kennedy was recuperating from back surgery. a lot of people contributed. he spent a lot of time listening to them and making notes but he was more like the managing editor of the book, not the author. sorensen did a lot. but it was not ghostwritten. that charge hung over kennedy and he was sensitive to it. he kept pearson at a distance. also because pearson was critical of kennedy's father, who he thought was pro-german at the beginning of world war ii
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and he continued to write critical columns about papa joe, as he called them. -- called him. he was critical of robert kennedy because he had worked for joe mccarthy in the early 1950's. so the kennedy family sort of kept pearson at a distance. pearson was a generation older than john kennedy. all of the the president's up to that point where his age or older and now this president was 20 years younger. ironically in many ways pearson , was the generation of khrushchev. he got along better in some respects with nikita khrushchev than john kennedy. he was one of the few american correspondents invited to do interviews with him. he came away convinced that he wanted to avoid war at all costs.
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that's the message he took back to kennedy and it played a part in kennedy's thinking during the cuban missile crisis. host: lbj administration, civil-rights legislation was passed and pearson became a real advocate. how did he view lyndon johnson's work on the bill? mr. ritchie: when johnson was vice president he was writing columns saying johnson is speaking out on civil-rights, chairing the commission on civil rights at the time and looking at hiring equal opportunity. johnson was talking about the issue well kennedy was not. as president, he was trying to downplay the civil rights issue. he didn't want the south to explode. in 1963, kennedy gave three speeches in the south in which he did not mention civil-rights. pearson thought johnson would
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come up with a more forthright program on civil-rights. he was right and bills and voting rights acts passed because of johnson. pearson gave him credit for that. johnson wanted that kind of credit and cultivated pearson. he was criticized a lot as a senator but determines the column would be on his side when president. host: richard nixon was the final president he covered. in 1960 nine, richard nixon was president. let's watch pearson talking about the reputation in washington. [video clip] >> are people fearful of you in washington? >> they shouldn't be.
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some of them are, i guess. >> in a room, if two people go, there is pearson. >> usually it's the other way around. i look around to see if there is tom dodd in the room and if i should get ready to give him the cold freeze he would surely give to me. i do not think people are fearful of me. some are. host: where was his career in 1969? mr. ritchie: at the end. he died that september. he had been opposed from the day nixon was elected to congress and they had a terrible relationship. then he was elected president. pearson gives nixon a honeymoon. for the first six months of the administration, he did not go on the attack. but before he became president,
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nixon told his chief of staff that no one was allowed to talk to pearson. but we will read the column every day to make sure no one is talking to him. pearson was the first person on the nixon enemy list. then he died before watergate and jack anderson took over and began to expose things going on in the administration. as watergate broke, anderson wrote a column saying, pearson was right. he nailed what nixon was all about and how untrustworthy he is. i can feel his spirit hovering over my typewriter. pearson did not get to live long enough to see how seriously the public would take investigative reporting and how different it would become after his death. he was the link between the muckrakers and post-watergate investigative reporters.
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he died at the cusp of when it began. moses did not get to the promised land. host: when he died there were services in the national cathedral in 1000 people attended. all these people were calling him liars. they came to blows over stories. how do we square 1000 people? mr. ritchie: when his mother-in-law died, she had been viciously opposed to him and he showed up at his funeral. -- her funeral someone said, now , i know she is dead. she would not have tolerated this. but he was popular to people who agreed with him. people like him. we think only about the people he attacked. but the fact is, he was promoting causes that a lot of people were trying to get through and they valued the publicity that came out of the column.
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they liked him as a person. he had a lot of people that stayed friendly with him because it was a good way to get good press in his column but others thought he was doing a noble job as a columnist. he was very influential for a long time and probably helped a lot of careers of those in the audience. host: jack anderson talking about investigative journalism in this interview. to follow up on your comments about the cusp of investigative journalism. in that year was just beginning to blossom when he died. [video clip] >> i remember when investigative reporters were pariahs. i think we are going back to that again. the reason is the government does not like to be investigated. publishers and tv station owners are close to the people in power.
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they belong to the same social circles. they attend the same soirees. they are embarrassed by investigative reports. they have to explain to their friends. editors and program directors, it causes them problems. they are asked embarrassing questions. they get notes from the publisher. a lawyer might threatened to sue. it's easier just to cover. cover the press releases in the press conference. host: i want to use that as closing comments on the state of journalism today. is investigative journalism alive and well? is anyone doing the kind of work that pearson and anderson did? mr. ritchie: it is alive. i do not know if it is well.
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seymour hersh commented that eventually editors get tired of difficult stories and they pull the plug on things they do not want to spend more money and time on or things they think will embarrass the media they are dealing with. they couldn't do that with pearson. he had a 600 editors and publishers. certainly people got offended on the column was dropped from time to time but other newspapers would pick up the slack. so he had more freedom than a lot of investigative reporters who worked for individual newspapers. there are groups of investigative reporters who work on the state and national level to get around some obstacles. yes, we still have investigative reporting. things appear in the newspaper political leaders would prefer not to see and print.
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there have been times when i've looked at the washington post and thought, what were they thinking? people thought they could get away with something like this in a town where everyone watches what is going on. yet politicians often think they can go around and withhold and present a rosy view. eventually someone will crack the story. pearson spent years doing it. we think about the pentagon papers but pearson was doing that every day for 40 years. he was constantly digging up information, offending presidents he liked and those he didn't. evidence shows pearson got stories pretty accurate.
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sometimes he made some mistakes about it but he got the gist of stories correct. it was the person who was accusing him who was lying. the presidential press secretary saying it didn't happen. but it did. the president saying that's not true about my administration. and it was true. so i came away more confident in him and his abilities as a reporter and also the fact that almost every column he wrote is available online today. american university has digital archives. i could look up every original column and i can go back and cite the information with confidence after studying his life.
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host: your book is chock full of 20th-century history. it's called the columnist and it's about the life of drew pearson. thank you for your time. mr. ritchie: thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] ♪ >> q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at ♪ ♪ c-span is your unfiltered view of government. brought to television companies and more. >> at spark light it's our home too and we are facing our greatest challenge. that's why spark light is working round-the-clock to keep you connected so it's a little easier to do your part.
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>> spark light support c-span as a public service along with these and other television providers giving you a first row -- front row seat to democracy . coming up on c-span. federal and state supreme court judges testify before a house judiciary subcommittee about the judicial branch. live at 10:00 a.m. eastern. at 1:00 p.m. the house administration committee holds a committee on congressional authority. in agriculture subcommittee meets at noon on c-span two to review food assistance programs. at 3:00 p.m. the senate is back to complete the nomination of the undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. >> coming up this morning on washington journal, a discussion on critical race theory with bryn mawr college professor of education chanelle wilson


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