Poisoning the Press

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

Mark Feldstein

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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It is March 1972, and the Nixon White House wants Jack Anderson dead.

The syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, the most famous and feared investigative reporter in the nation, has exposed yet another of the President’s dirty secrets. Nixon’s operatives are ordered to “stop Anderson at all costs”—permanently. Across the street from the White House, they huddle in a hotel basement to conspire. Should they try “Aspirin Roulette” and break into Anderson’s home to plant a poisoned pill in one of his medicine bottles? Could they smear LSD on the journalist’s steering wheel, so that he would absorb it through his skin, lose control of his car, and crash? Or stage a routine-looking mugging, making Anderson appear to be one more fatal victim of Washington’s notorious street crime?

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, 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.

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Book Excerpts

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PART I
BEGINNINGS
1
THE QUAKER AND THE MORMON
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 of the 1930s.

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Media

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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)

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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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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)

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Reviews

Praise for Poisoning the Press

“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 skulduggery 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


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About the Author

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

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Available Formats and Book Details

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

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
September 2010
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429978972
ISBN10: 142997897X
400 pages
$9.99

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
Picador
October 2011
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780312610708
ISBN10: 031261070X
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 496 pages, Includes eight pages of black-and-white photographs
$20.00
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From The Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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