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"Poisoning the Press": The story of a real-life plot by the Nixon White House

Author Mark Feldstein tells of a real-life assassination plot that he says topped off an epic feud between columnist Jack Anderson and President Richard Nixon.

By Randy Dotinga / October 8, 2010

Jack Anderson's epic feud with President Nixon led to an assassination plot against the columnist in 1972, when he appeared on the cover of Time.

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Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson had the White House on the run.

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With just months until the 1972 election, he'd exposed a blatant bribe within the Nixon administration. Now, the president's men had him in their sights more than ever before. They discussed poisoning his aspirin or sending him into a dangerous hallucination by smearing LSD on his steering wheel.

This was no joke. In his new book, Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture, journalist and University of Maryland professor Mark Feldstein chronicles the real-life assassination plot that topped off an epic feud between the columnist and President Richard Nixon. Both men, he writes, lost their bearings in a world of lies, blackmail, and corruption.

I talked to Feldstein, who once worked for Anderson as an intern, about what he discovered while researching "Poisoning the Press."

Q: You write that Richard Nixon was paranoid about the press and had every right to be because it really was out to get him. Which came first, his paranoia or the reason for it?

The paranoia came first. There were people in college who talked about him being paranoid long before the press started attacking him, even before [columnist] Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson started going after him in the early 1950s. He would completely overreact to the very mild criticism at the time he was sending [accused spy] Alger Hiss to prison when he was a congressman.

He was lionized by almost the entire media except for a handful of dissident liberal critics, but he was so sensitive and paranoid that he really overreacted.

He viewed himself as a victim and never seemed to realize that he made himself a target by his own initiating of these slash-and-burn attacks on supposed Communist subversion. By the time he became a national figure, there were critics on the left going after him. Certainly Jack Anderson and his boss, Drew Pearson, were out to get him.

Q: Why did they hate him so much?

Drew Pearson was a liberal, very ideological and, like Nixon, was a Quaker. But he was a pacifist compared to the fundamentalist, almost evangelical strain of Quakerism that Nixon was raised in. He was very much of what we'd call a born-again Christian today.

With Anderson, it wasn't so much ideological. He was willing to attack people on the right or the left, but he thought Nixon was a crook, and he was right.

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