Poisoning the Press Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture

Mark Feldstein




Trade Paperback

496 Pages



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Winner of the Frank Luther Mott-Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award

Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture recounts not only the disturbing story of an unprecedented White House conspiracy to assassinate a journalist, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, who exposed one Nixon administrative secret after another, but also the larger tale of the bitter quarter-century battle between the postwar era’s most embattled politician and its most reviled newsman. The struggle between Nixon and Anderson included bribery, blackmail, forgery, spying, and burglary as well as the White House murder plot. Their vendetta symbolized and accelerated the growing conflict between the government and the press, a clash that would long outlive both men.

Mark Feldstein traces the arc of this confrontation between a vindictive president and a flamboyant, crusading muckraker who rifled through garbage and swiped classified papers in pursuit of his prey—stoking the paranoia in Nixon that would ultimately lead to his ruin. The White House plot to poison Anderson, Feldstein argues, is a metaphor for the poisoned political atmosphere that would follow, and the toxic sensationalism that contaminates contemporary media discourse.

Melding history and biography, Poisoning the Press unearths significant new information from more than two hundred interviews and thousands of declassified documents and tapes. This is a chronicle of political intrigue and the true price of power for politicians and journalists alike. The result—Washington’s modern scandal culture—was Richard Nixon’s ultimate revenge.


Praise for Poisoning the Press

"There's a great deal of high comedy in Poisoning the Press, Feldstien's meticulous recounting of Anderson's life and times . . . It comes fearsomely alive in its depiction of Nixon and Anderson as the King Kong and Godzilla of sleaze, paranoia, and dirty tricks . . . A master class in gutter politics."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Entertaining and well researched."—Evan Thomas, The Washington Post

"Essential . . . Poisoning the Press artfully tells the tale of how two ambitious men drove ach other to the brink of madness (and occasionally beyond) in a lifelong battle that  changed the country, the presidency, and the media, and left both men bloodied and beaten . . . Students and practitioners of journalism can learn much from Feldstein's portrayal of Anderson, whose unmatched success in breaking story after story is as inspirational as his downward slide is cautionary."—Columbia Journalism Review

“The rise and fall of Jack Anderson is a newspaper story that needed to be told, as Mark Feldstein has done brilliantly. But there is an even more compelling saga tucked inside this book—Anderson versus President Richard Nixon. Feldstein has given us the disgraced Nixon at his best and worst, and in his own words—scatological, criminal, paranoid, and willing to do anything to rid himself of Anderson’s sensational reporting.”—Seymour Hersh, author of Chain of Command

“Mark Feldstein’s compelling reconstruction of the Richard Nixon-Jack Anderson conflict is a groundbreaking history of modern political skullduggery and media scandalmongering. There are no heroes in Feldstein’s book—only the ugly truth about two men who had a lasting impact on American politics and journalism. Poisoning the Press is required reading for anyone interested in the current world of Washington politics and media.”—Robert Dallek, author of Lyndon B. Johnson and An Unfinished Life

Poisoning the Press is an important book. It couldn’t be more timely and deserves widespread readership . . . [There’s] masterful research and reporting rivetingly written . . . Besides that, it reads like a thriller. Pick it up and you’re not likely to be able to put it down.”—Dan Rather, host of Dan Rather Reports

“I lived through a lot of this while working for Jack Anderson and found it a fascinating and evenhanded account.”—Brit Hume, senior political analyst, FOX News

“When gutter politics are practiced, gutter journalism may be democracy’s last line of defense. In Poisoning the Press, Mark Feldstein eviscerates the two giants of those black arts, Richard Nixon and Jack Anderson . . . A superbly told, hilarious tale, which will also scare the hell out of you.”Morley Safer, 60 Minutes correspondent

Poisoning the Press is a stunning tale of political and journalistic dirty tricks. Mark Feldstein reveals how the news is often manufactured in the nation’s capital, and how Washington’s most feared investigative reporter exposed serious abuses of power even while he smeared his targets with sexual innuendo. More significant still, this enthralling account explains the larger story of how our modern era of political scandal was born.”—Michael Isikoff, national investigative correspondent, NBC News

“Mark Feldstein’s Poisoning the Press is a crucially important, brilliantly illuminating work of intense scholarship. As presented in these pages, the legendary feud between Richard Nixon and Jack Anderson reads like a potboiler. It’s essential reading for anybody interested in postwar America. A monumental achievement!”—Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History, Rice University, and author of The Wilderness Warrior

Poisoning the Press is a fast-paced tour de force. Riveting and often eye-popping, Mark Feldstein’s revelations take us right into the Oval Office, where President Nixon plotted the destruction of his relentless nemesis, columnist Jack Anderson. Feldstein’s voluminous research doesn’t flinch from Anderson’s seamier side, but at his best, the muckraker held the powerful accountable through the kind of investigative journalism often missing in an era of disappearing newspapers and dwindling news budgets.”—Cokie Roberts, news analyst, ABC and NPR, and author of Ladies of Liberty

"For a quarter of a century, politician Richard Nixon and columnist Jack Anderson engaged in a bitter battle royal, each occasionally using blackmail, bribery, spying, and burglary to try and defeat the other. Media scholar and former reporter Feldstein offers a deliciously detailed account of the backstory, fierce enmity, and legacy of scandalmongering and poisonous conflict between the media and political figures. Despite their similar backgrounds—both grew up in working-class families steeped in religion (Nixon a Quaker, Anderson a Mormon)—they nurtured career ambitions, with no compunction about moral ambiguity, that eventually led them to Washington. While Nixon climbed through the ranks of the Republican Party until he reached the presidency, Anderson exceeded his mentor, Drew Pearson, to make his “Merry-Go-Round” column a powerful force for destroying political careers. The two battled through the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, with Anderson riffling through garbage and bugging conversations to document each and every Nixon misstep, triggering Nixon’s retaliation with wiretaps, smears, and even a plot to kill Anderson. Feldstein delivers an engaging chronicle of the poisoned relationship between two powerful men and its lasting impact on political journalism."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"The long feud between Richard Nixon and muckraking journalist Jack Anderson, told here in skunk v. skunk detail, was the opening salvo in the ongoing American war between the presidency and the media. Feldstein—formerly a college intern for Anderson and network TV correspondent—includes more than 200 interviews he conducted in recent years, which show how Anderson ruled the press from his 'Washington-Merry-Go-Round' column and revealed some of Nixon's most flagrant pre-Watergate scandals. Feldstein writes that Anderson would bribe informers and rely on false information to nail his story; he lost much of his clout following Watergate, when investigative reporting became the media norm, but not before Nixon had conspired to murder him, according to Feldstein's sources. This exposé vividly shows the worst qualities of both Anderson and Nixon and traces the devolution of the modern media to its present state, in which unbiased reporting is often overwhelmed by sensationalism and rage spewed through cable TV, blogs, and the Internet. This fast-moving narrative will fascinate readers of recent American political and journalism history."—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Library, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Library Journal

"Feldstein, an award-winning journalist and professor at the University of Maryland, chronicles the controversial careers of two iconic figures, former president Richard Nixon and the investigative reported he feared most—Jack Anderson. With the astute analysis of a psychotherapist, Feldstein shows how the emotional and religious strengths, or flaws, of Nixon, the over-ambitious Quaker politician, and Anderson, the pious Mormon scribe, play out in a three-decade-long game to win over American public opinion. Whether Nixon was engineering a homosexual smear through wiretaps and doctored photos or the muckraking columnist was probing the Republican's hidden slush funds and numerous scandals, the book chronicles a slew of wrongdoings worthy of a sleazy pulp bestseller. Neither man escapes unscathed: Nixon, the schizoid schemer, or Anderson, the self-righteous campaigner. Brutal, brilliant, and gripping, this dark parable of tainted Beltway politics and an overreaching media lays the groundwork for the current cultural stench of celebrity exposes and bed-hopping lawmakers."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

They were born barely thirty miles from each other, in the dry air and open skies of the early-twentieth-century West, before asphalt and strip malls conquered the soil and spirit of the southern California desert. Although Richard Nixon and Jack Anderson would ultimately become fierce antagonists, what is most striking about their early years is not their differences but their similarities. The politician and the reporter both were raised in small Western towns, sons of the struggling working class during the Great Depression
Read the full excerpt



  • The Situation Room: Paper Chase

    CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer and correspondent John Roberts report on the FBI's attempt to seize the archives of the late investigative columnist Jack Anderson and Professor Mark Feldstein (April 19, 2006)

  • Anderson's family refuses to turn over private papers to FBI.

    CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports on the FBI's attempt to seize the archives of the late investigative columnist Jack Anderson from George Washington University and Professor Mark Feldstein (April 19, 2006)

  • FBI demands Anderson papers from Mark Feldstein

    MSNBC host Joe Scarborough interviews George Washington University Prof. Mark Feldstein about the FBI's attempt to seize the archives of the late columnist Jack Anderson (April 2006).

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  • Mark Feldstein

  • Mark Feldstein, who teaches media and public affairs at George Washington University, was an investigative correspondent for CNN, ABC, and other news outlets for two decades, earning dozens of journalism awards, including an Edward R. Murrow Broadcasting Award, an Alfred I. Dupont—Columbia University Award, and two George Foster Peabody Awards. He received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.

  • Mark Feldstein © Morgan Ashcom