This post is our regular weekly Purple State of Mind feature. Why not hop on over to Purple and read it there instead?
"Poisoning the Press" is a favorite fantasy of politicians caught in the crosshairs of a dogged investigative reporter. It's also the title of a new book about Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture.
The author is journalist turned media ethics professor Mark Feldstein. The storytelling skills Feldstein honed over years of Peabody and Emmy award winning reporting make Poisoning the Press a scholarly work wrapped in a rockin' good beach-read. For Village Squares trying to understand how our political culture got so ugly, Feldstein cracks the code.
Using previously classified documents and interviews with folks who were there, the author shows how Nixon and Anderson fed off each other in a twisted, mongoose-and-cobra kind of way. Nixon was obsessed with the press. He spent countless hours talking about journalists, but hardly any time with them.
Feldstein's forensic autopsy of Nixon and Anderson raises an intriguing possibility: What if Nixon had Liz Joyner and other advocates of civil discourse appealing to his better angels instead of a palace guard pandering to his paranoia? Might the two Navy veterans have come together over a burger and a baseball game? Would we have a healthier body politic today?
They would have had lots to talk about. Nixon and Anderson both grew up poor and worked like dogs for the success they craved.
The future president and the future Pulitzer Prize winner both arrived in Washington in 1947. Nixon was a newly-minted congressman and Anderson had landed a job as a legman for Drew Pearson, whose syndicated column, Washington-Merry-Go-Round, Anderson would eventually inherit.
Nixon became Bud Abbott to Anderson's Lou Costello. With no moral compass in his inner circle, straight-man Nixon would take bribes; suborn perjury and stage overseas military coups. Anderson would merrily report all of it, in close to real time.
Nixon's press paranoia grew as Anderson racked up scoop after scoop at his expense. He even toyed with the idea of having Anderson assassinated.
Feldstein concludes that Anderson's coverage of Nixon and Nixon's reaction to Anderson's coverage "has tainted governance and public discourse ever since."
The toxic legacy lives on in Florida. A recent Florida TaxWatch study found that the recession has yet to reach our state's multimillion dollar public relations payroll. TaxWatch documented that communications people out-earn police, prison guards, and social workers who risk their lives to serve and protect.
Real communications people—also known as schoolteachers—are being laid off en masse while Florida's public officials cling to their publicists like Linus to his security blanket.
Thanks to Mark Feldstein for reminding us why this worked badly for Nixon and to TaxWatch for shining a light on how his dark legacy still casts shadows in the Sunshine State.
Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at email@example.com. Find more posts by Florence HERE.
(Disclosures: Mark Feldstein interned for Jack Anderson in the 1970s. Florence Snyder represented Feldstein in what were his first libel suit and her first jury trial.)