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Drew Pearson (journalist): Wikis


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Andrew Russell Pearson (December 13, 1897–September 1, 1969), known professionally as Drew Pearson, and born in Evanston, Illinois,[1] was one of the most well-known American "yellow" journalists of his day. He was best known for his muckraking syndicated newspaper column "Washington Merry-Go-Round," in which he attacked various public persons with little or no objective proof for his allegations. He also had a program on NBC Radio entitled Drew Pearson Comments.

His parents were Paul Martin Pearson, an English professor at Northwestern University, and Edna Wolfe. When Pearson was six years of age, his father joined the faculty of Swarthmore College as Professor of Public Speaking, and the family moved to Pennsylvania, joining the Society of Friends, with which the college was then affiliated. After being educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Pearson attended Swarthmore (1915-1919), where he edited its student newspaper, The Phoenix.

From 1919 to 1921, Pearson served with the American Friends Service Committee, directing post-war rebuilding operations in Peć, which at that time was part of Serbia. From 1921 to 1922, he lectured on the topic of Geography at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1923, Pearson travelled to Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, India and Serbia, and persuaded several newspapers to buy articles about his travels. He was also commissioned by the American "Around the World Syndicate" to produce a set of interviews entitled, "Europe's Twelve Greatest Men."

From 1925 to 1928, Pearson continued reporting on international events, including strikes in China, the Geneva Naval Conference, the Pan-American Conference in Havana, and the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in Paris.

In 1929, he became the Washington correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. However, in 1931 and 1932, with Robert S. Allen, he anonymously published a book called Washington Merry-Go-Round and its sequel. When the Sun discovered Pearson had co-authored these books, he was promptly fired. Late in 1932, Pearson and Allen secured a contract with the Scripps-Howard syndicate, United Features, to syndicate a column called "Washington Merry-Go-Round". It first appeared in Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson's Washington Herald on November 17, 1932. But as World War II escalated in Europe, Pearson's strong support of Franklin D. Roosevelt, in opposition to Patterson and the Herald's isolationist position, led to an acrimonious termination of Pearson's and Allen's contract with the Herald. In 1941, The Washington Post picked up the contract for the "Washington Merry-Go-Round." In 1947 Pearson wrote an infamous article about Preston Tucker's revolutionary new car, the Tucker '48, which started a series of negative articles about Tucker and his car. This article fueled a controversial media feeding frenzy and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, which led to the demise of the Tucker Corporation.

Drew Pearson had one daughter, Ellen, in a short marriage (1925-28) to Felicia Gizycka, daughter of the newspaper scion Cissy Patterson and Count Joseph Gizycky of Poland. Thereafter, Pearson maintained a strained relationship with his former mother-in-law, and they frequently exchanged barbed comments in print. His second wife was Luvie Moore Abell, whom he married in 1936; they had no children together.

Pearson died of a myocardial infarct (heart attack) in 1969, at age 71.


Radio and film

With Robert S. Allen, he anonymously co-wrote the book Washington Merry-Go-Round in 1931, and went on to write the column of the same name. In 1935-36, Allen and Pearson broadcast a 15-minute program twice a week on Mutual Broadcasting System. They continued with a 30-minute music and news show, Listen America, in 1939-40, ending their partnership in 1941. Pearson continued alone on NBC with Drew Pearson Comments from 1941 to 1953 for a variety of sponsors (Serutan, Nutrex, Lee Hats, Adam Hats). His commentary was broadcast through 1968 on the now-defunct Intermountain Network.

In addition to radio, Drew Pearson also appeared in a number of Hollywood movies, such as the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still and RKO's Betrayal from the East, a World War II propaganda movie. In the former film, Pearson is the only journalist who urges calm and restraint (versus the fear and paranoia evoked by his colleagues) while Washington is panicked by the escape of the alien visitor Klaatu. In the latter movie, Pearson narrated, in his "now it can be told" style, an alleged exposé that accused Japanese Americans of being part of a Japanese conspiracy to engage in acts of terrorism and espionage. The movie was based on the 1943 best-selling book Betrayal from the East: The Inside Story of Japanese Spies in America by Alan Hynd. Pearson also appeared as himself in City Across the River (1949).

Washington Merry-Go-Round

The "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column started as a result of the anonymous publication in 1931 of the book, Washington Merry-Go-Round (New York: Horace Liveright and Co.), co-written with Robert S. Allen. The book was a collection of muckraking news items concerning key figures in public life that challenged the journalistic code of the day. In 1932 it was followed by a second book, More Merry-Go-Round. Pearson and Allen were successful enough in their books to become co-authors of the syndicated column, the "Washington Merry-Go-Round," that same year. Allen would later be succeeded by Jack Anderson as Pearson's junior partner.

It has been said that disclosures in Pearson's column sent four Congressmen to jail and led to the resignation of President Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adams. Pearson was the first to report the incident of General George S. Patton's slapping of soldier Charles Kuhl. General Douglas MacArthur sued Pearson for defamation, but dropped the suit after Pearson threatened to publish love letters from MacArthur to his Euroasian paramour, Isabel Rosario Cooper.[2]

In 1943 Pearson hired David Karr, a disgraced former employee of the Office of War Information as his chief aide.[3] Karr earned a reputation as an unscrupulous investigative reporter who misrepresented himself to sources.[citation needed] In 1944, Karr, a supporter of far left political causes and a former employee of the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker, became active in Vice President Henry Wallace's effort to remain on the presidential ticket. President Franklin Roosevelt himself referred to Karr as a “chronic liar.”[citation needed]

In 1945, Pearson hired Jack Anderson for the staff of his column, the "Merry-Go-Round", which Anderson eventually took over after Pearson's death in 1969.

Following World War II, Pearson was largely responsible for the "Friendship Train" which raised over 40 million dollars in aid for war-torn Europe. On December 18, 1947 the much-needed food, medicine, and supplies arrived in France.

He had a role in the downfall of U.S. Congressman John Parnell Thomas, Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, in 1948. After revelations in Pearson's column, Thomas was investigated and later convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government for hiring friends who never worked for him, then depositing their paychecks into his personal accounts. Pearson was a staunch opponent of the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy and other attempts by Congress to investigate Soviet and communist influence in government and the media, and eagerly denounced what he viewed as demagoguery and scurrilous allegations by Senator McCarthy and the House Committee. Yet Pearson's largely unfounded allegations against the fiercely anti-Communist James V. Forrestal, reportedly contributed to Forrestal's "mental breakdown" and resignation as US Secretary of Defense.[4][5]

At the time of Pearson's death of a heart attack in 1969 in Washington, D.C., the column was syndicated to more than 650 newspapers, more than twice as many as any other, with an estimated 60 million readers, and was famous for its investigative style of journalism. A Harris Poll commissioned by TIME Magazine at that time showed that Pearson was America's best-known newspaper columnist at the time of his death.[6] The column was continued under the byline name "Jack Anderson."

American University Library received the typescript copies of the columns distributed to newspapers around the country in 1992. Shortly thereafter, the Library embarked on a project to digitize the collection.[7]

Criticism of Pearson

In the early 1950s Pearson was one of the few journalists to stand up against McCarthyism. Senator McCarthy referred to Pearson's associate David Karr as Pearson's "KGB handler". Karr (born David Katz) had been exposed by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1943 as having worked for two years on the staff of the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker. In response, Pearson claimed that Karr only joined the Daily Worker because he wanted to get into baseball games for free. Karr ostensibly covered home Yankee games for the Daily Worker, a paper not known for its sports readership, but his other activities remained unknown at the time. Years later, however, the release of the FBI's Venona decrypt of June 1944 revealed that Karr was an informational source for the NKVD. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Soviet investigative journalist Yevgenia Albats published an article in Izvestia quoting documents from KGB archives that Karr was “a competent KGB source” who "submitted information to the KGB on the technical capabilities of the United States and other capitalist countries”.[8][9]

Another member of Pearson's staff, Andrew Older, along with his wife, was identified in 1951 as a Communist Party member in testimony before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Older's sister, Julia Older, was also suspected of having spied for the Soviet Union.

Those accusing Pearson of having been either pro-Communist or "soft on Communism" called attention not only to the affiliations of his subordinates, but also to his support for policy positions and personal actions that worked to the advantage of international Communism. He was an early and vociferous critic of the anti-Communist government of Chiang Kai-shek in China. He was responsible for publicizing the infamous slapping incidents by America's most outspokenly anti-Soviet General, George S. Patton, Jr., which led to Patton's being relieved of command of the Seventh Army.

In the 1940s, Pearson made several largely unsubstantiated allegations against the Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal, who served under both Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.[4][10] Although Forrestal was admired for his efficiency and hard work, he was despised for his Wall Street background and strong anti-communist views by some in the media, particularly Pearson, who began attacking Forrestal while Roosevelt was in office. Pearson told his associate Jack Anderson that he (Pearson) believed Forrestal was "the most dangerous man in America" and claimed that if he was not removed from office he would "cause another world war". Pearson also openly suggested[citation needed] that Forrestal was guilty of corruption, though he was unable to prove any wrongdoing.

After President Truman took office, Forrestal attempted to moderate President Truman's policy of large-scale defense economization, which was radically reducing the size of the U.S. armed forces at a time of increased Cold War tensions. The policy had infuriated the U.S. armed forces chiefs, and Pearson, sensing an opportunity, began to publish information he had received from Pentagon sources on Forrestal's mental condition. Pearson unrelentingly continued his attacks on Forrestal in his columns and radio broadcasts, openly berating Truman for not firing Forrestal.[10] President Truman asked for Forrestal's resignation, replacing him with an administration insider, Louis A. Johnson. Forrestal's removal and Johnson's appointment would have serious consequences in coming years with the sudden outbreak of the Korean War.

After Forrestal's death in 1949 (caused by a fall from a 16th-floor window of the Bethesda Naval Hospital), Pearson falsely stated in his column that Forrestal suffered from "paranoia" and had attempted suicide on four previous occasions. This misinformation was an obvious attempt to lend credence to the conclusion that Forrestal's death had indeed been self-inflicted.[11][12] Pearson's claim of previous suicide attempts by Forrestal is corroborated by no known evidence whatsoever and was contradicted by the testimony of Forrestal's attending physicians at Bethesda.[13][14] Pearson's own protege, Jack Anderson, later asserted that Pearson "hectored Forrestal with innuendos and false accusations."[4] Following Forrestal's death, Pearson never expressed any remorse over his actions or statements, which had bordered on being libelous.

In May 1948, Pearson leaked news in the Washington Post that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Justice Department were talking to Preston Thomas Tucker of the Tucker Corporation, an automobile company in Detroit. Pearson stated — erroneously, as it would later turn out — that the agencies would uncover financial crimes at the company. Tucker stock dropped from $5 to $2 based on Pearson's charges. The SEC and Justice later found Tucker and his company innocent of any wrongdoing, but the damage was done. The Tucker Corporation was never able to recover and went out of business. It is widely believed that Pearson's claims cost Tucker investors and 2,000 car dealers millions of dollars, and American customers perhaps the most innovative automobile of its time.

Published works

  • Washington Merry-Go-Round (New York: Horace Liveright, 1931).
  • More Merry-Go-Round (1932)
  • American Diplomatic Game (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1935),
  • U.S.A.: Second Class Power? (1958),
  • The Case Against Congress: a Compelling Indictment of Corruption on Capitol Hill (1958)
  • The Senator Doubleday (1968)
  • The President Doubleday (1970)
  • Diaries, 1949-1959 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974),
  • Nine Old Men (American Constitutional and Legal History) with Robert Allen, (1974) ISBN 0-306-70609-1

Awards & recognition

Pearson was awarded two honorary degrees, Norway's Medal of St. Olav, the French Legion of Honour, and the Star of Italian Solidarity. He also was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Character actor Robert F. Simon played Pearson in the 1977 NBC television movie Tail Gunner Joe, a critique of U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.


"I just operate with a sense of smell: if something smells wrong, I go to work."[15]

"His ill-considered falsehoods have come to the point where he is doing much harm to his own Government and to other nations. It is a pity that anyone anywhere believes anything he writes." --President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Pearson, in letter to General Patrick J. Hurley, August 30, 1943, cited in Patrick J. Hurley, a biography by Don Lohbeck, 1956.

See also


  1. ^ Current Biography 1941, p. 658.
  2. ^ "MacArthur". PBS. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  3. ^ In1943, a U.S. Civil Service Commission hearing concluded that Karr was both untruthful and unreliable.
  4. ^ a b c Akashah, Mary, and Tennant, Donald Tennant, Madness and Politics: The Case of James Forrestal (PDF). Proceeding of the Oklahoma Academy of Science, 60: 89–92 (1980)
  5. ^ Time Magazine, Washington Head-Hunters, New York: Time Publications, 24 January 1949
  6. ^ "The Tenacious Muckracker, Time Magazine, September 12, 1969.
  7. ^ Gregor, Clark. "American University Library Offers Digitized Columns From Ground-Breaking Journalist, Drew Pearson". American University News. Retrieved 2006-09-12. .
  8. ^ Albats, Yevgenia, Nieman Reports, The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, Vol. 53 No. 4, Winter 1999
  9. ^ Albats, Yevgenia, Senator Edward Kennedy Requested KGB Assistance With a Profitable Contract for his Businessman-Friend, Moscow: Izvestia, 24 June 1992, 5.
  10. ^ a b Time Magazine, Washington Head-Hunters, New York: Time Publications, 24 January 1949.
  11. ^ Who Killed James Forrestal? Part 2, David Martin, Sept. 19, 2004
  12. ^ Willcuts, Morton D. (RADM), Proceedings and Findings Of The U.S. Navy Medical Review Board On The Death Of James Forrestal, National Naval Medical Center, 13 July 1949. The diagnosis of paranoia and prior suicide was flatly denied by Forrestal's own psychiatrists, nor can they be found in the doctors' reports, Forrestal's own medical file, nor in the official Navy investigative report of his death.
  13. ^ Willcutts (Admiral), M.D. (October 2004). "Willcutts Report on the Death of James V. Forrestal (1949)". Princeton University. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  14. ^ Searchable HTML version of the Willcutts Report
  15. ^ "Querulous Quaker". Time Magazine. December 13, 1948.,9171,799488,00.html. Retrieved 2006-09-12. 

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