One easy trick to turn a partisan into an honest reporter
When collussion is part of building a brand
Winston Churchill called columnist Drew Pearson “the most colossal liar in the United States”. He was, for a time, the most influential journalist in America. He was an early and persistent critic of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Pearson and his “leg man” Jack Anderson wrote much of the first draft of the history of McCarthyism.
Churchill had a point. Pearson lied about the targets of his muckraking (these also included Richard Nixon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Whittaker Chambers, and James Forrestal.) He lied about the Soviet spy on his staff.
Most intriguingly, he lied about his method and his relations with powerful politicins.
Pearson posed as an honest muckraker: the dauntless investigator rooting out corruption and wrong-doing. He was attacked by all sides because he did not play favorites. Joe McCarthy hated him, but so did Harry Truman.
It was only a pose – a carefully cultivated pose designed to fool the rubes.
Early in the Kennedy administration, Pearson explained to Pierre Salinger how he wanted to play the game:
Salinger was happy to play the game because he knew Pearson was on his team. The reporter was perfectly willing to let JFK know what question he woulld as at a news conference so the President could prepare a response.
I suggested that when the going got tough and I got too much hell from Republican editors, I would ask Kennedy a favor—namely, that he do to me what Harry Truman did: blast me. This would really set me up with the press. Salinger said that when the time was desperate to call on him.
In his diary, Pearson recorded a similar agreement with Khrushchev's son-in-law. The brave scourge of Joe McCarthy and James Forrestal needed to collude with Soviet apparatchiks to bolster his anti-communist credentials.
Did the Soviets play along with Pearson because they thought he was on their team? That the Soviets agreed to play the game shows that they viewed Pearson as a useful asset.
His value went beyond his attacks on anti-communists and cold warriors. The Mitrokhin archives show that the KGB saw Pearson as an effective conduit for disinformation.
The Soviets must surely have been pleased with Pearson in the aftermath of the JFK assassination. He did yeoman's work to divert attention from one inconvenient fact: the assassin was a committed communist. Initially he led the “Blame Dallas” chorus which tried to tie the murder to conservatives and anti-communists. Later he promoted baseless conspiracy theories about anti-Castro Cubans and Mafia hit men. In between he attacked the Secret Service and the FBI.
There is an intersting footnote to Pearson's machinations. In his scathing review of M. Stanton Evans's Blacklisted by History, Ronald Radosh brought up the case of James Wechsler to illustrate McCarthy's perfidity:
In light of the Soviet's entente with Pearson, McCarthy's charge was hardly perposterous. A regime capable of running the Trust and dozens of other deception operations is more than capable of attacking an asset in order to make said asset appear independent. Stephen Koch notes that the Munzenbeg propaganda machine was happy to make use of non-communists and "innocuous" anti-communists "to provide it with the necessary air of independence."
Consider his treatment of liberal editor James Wechsler. Evans acknowledges that calling Wechsler to testify was a “dubious move,” and that McCarthy “should never have had the editor before the committee.” But Wechsler was called and questioned, and McCarthy’s treatment of him reflects why so many regarded him as a bully and a demagogue. All one has to do is read the transcripts. You will not find them quoted in Evans’s book. What you will find is that McCarthy told the fierce anti-Communist editor that he had not really broken with the Communists, and was “serving them very, very actively.” This was preposterous, since the Communist Daily Worker regularly attacked Wechsler for being anti-Communist. McCarthy thought that was all a big ruse so that Wechsler’s New York Post readers would believe him when he attacked McCarthy in his own paper.
McCarthy may have been wrong. He was certainly too undisciplined and impetuous to present the question effectively. But it was hardly a "preposterous" idea.