Murray, Utah and the making of a muckraker
Mar 16, 2020 02:07PM
By Shaun Delliskave
Former Murray Eagle reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Anderson. (Photo courtesy of C-Span)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
In the beginning, the American Eagle begat the Murray Eagle, which begat the Green Sheet, which begat the Valley Journal, which begat the Murray Journal. In that lineage of newspapers, a young reporter got his journalistic start on his way to earn journalism’s highest prize, the Pulitzer.
Jack Anderson was raised on the eastside of Murray (then called South Cottonwood) and always had a flair for writing. As a teenager, Anderson hated working in the beet fields and declared himself “the world’s worst beet digger.” However, amid The Great Depression, Anderson knew he couldn’t just quit the job since his family was counting on his income.
Fortunately for Anderson, in 1935 the publisher of the Murray Eagle needed a reporter to cover the local news. Anderson had some experience at the age of 12, writing as scribe for his Boy Scout troop, which led to an unpaid position with the Deseret News, writing about the National Boy Scout Jamboree.
In the book “Mormons and Popular Culture” by James Michael Hunter, Anderson recalled that the publisher, “was looking for the cheapest reporter he could find. And that was me. He hired me, I remember, for $7 a week.”
So, at age 13, Anderson pedaled his bicycle around the streets of Murray, reporting on traffic and house fires. The gig certainly paid Anderson more than what he was making in the beet fields.
“I probably wrote the only lucid account ever written of the financial report of the City of Murray,” Anderson said. “Because I was only 13, the city treasurer had to explain it in the simplest possible terms in order for me to understand.”
After serving an LDS mission, Anderson served his country during World War II in the Merchant Marines. Stationed in China, Anderson wrote stories for the armed forces’ Stars and Stripes newspaper. While conversing with other reporters, he learned of the Drew Pearson crusading newspaper column called Washington Merry-Go-Round. Immediately after his military stint, Anderson left Murray for Washington, D.C.
The Washington Merry-Go-Round was a syndicated column started by Pearson, which chronicled the political and public interest stories in the nation’s capital. The column, which was a thorn in the side of many of the nation’s leaders, broke stories such as General George Patton’s slapping incident and FBI overreach.
Pearson called his style of reporting muckraking, after the early 20th century’s style of reform-minded journalism. Anderson’s ambition attracted Pearson, who offered him the job to help write the column. Anderson was handed the reins of the column when Pearson retired.
As a muckraker, Anderson exposed the Nixon Administration’s harassment of John Lennon, the savings and loan crisis, the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the Iran-Contra affair. In 1972, he won the Pulitzer Prize for covering U.S. policy with Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
Anderson also wrote extensively regarding the Nixon Administration, to the point that three of Nixon’s men, G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt and Charles Colson, plotted to poison Anderson. Their idea was to find Anderson’s aspirin bottle and replace it with poison, but their plot was complicated by the fact that Anderson had nine children who could inadvertently be killed—but also, they were arrested for the Watergate break-in.
Anderson scaled back his columns after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but not before he mentored many well-known journalists, some of whom are still actively reporting, such as Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel. Anderson eventually retired from writing.
In retirement, Anderson still looked back to his days as a cub reporter for the Murray Eagle. “On reading them now, I find that it was good journalism. Good journalism is getting the facts and presenting them simply.” Anderson died in 2006.