Saturday, December 17, 2005

Once again, media emphasizes the wrong obituary

I have always loved politics. I enjoy reading biographies of politicians, novels about politicians, and I have enjoyed "The West Wing" since it first went on the air. I was saddened to hear about the death of John Spencer who played Leo McGarry on the show.
His death received big-time attention in the media today. It deserved to be mentioned, but once again as in the overemphasis last week of Richard Pryor's death, as compared to the death of former Minnesota senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, the media has its priorities wrong.
The death which should have received the most publicity, was well publicized in print sources, but not as much on the TV channels. Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Jack Anderson, a man who was breaking major stories long before anyone ever heard of Bob Woodward, died Friday at age 83.
George Clooney's recent movie "Good Night and Good Luck," made CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow out to be the journalist who brought down alleged Communist hunter Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Murrow came into the fray after McCarthy was already on his way down, thanks to others who stood against him. At the forefront of that small group of courageous journalists was Anderson and his boss at the time, Drew Pearson.
Pearson and Anderson's book, "The Case Against Congress," was one of my early inspirations as a reporter. In the book, which was mostly written by Anderson, he detailed the way special interests were latching on to Congressmen. His reporting brought an end to the career of Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd.
Anderson also played a major role in bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon. It was Anderson who obtained transcripts of damaging grand jury testimony that brought to light for the first time just how far the Nixon White House was going to stonewall the Watergate investigation.
His Pulitzer Prize came as a result of his reporting on how the Nixon White House and national security advisor Henry Kissinger were tilting American support toward Pakistan in the ongoing battle between India and Pakistan.
Anderson was a showman, no doubt about it, but he never kissed up to the people in power. He made it a point of honor not to become part of the Washington circuit, partly due to his Mormon upbringing, but just as much due to his belief that you had to maintain your distance in order to be able to treat politicians fairly.
If you have a chance, pick up a used copy of one of his old books, "The Case Against Congress," "Confessions of a Muckraking Journalist," or his last memoirs, "Peace, War, and Politics."
I suppose I may have overstated the case about the lack of coverage of Anderson's death. After all, a quick check of Google News shows 280 articles, covering his life and his 57 years of public service journalism.
Of course, there were more than 500 articles about John Spencer.


Anonymous said...

The print edition of the Neosho Daily News has Jack Anderson's obit on the front page in its briefs column.

Randy said...

I just saw that a little while ago. I was especially pleased since I always flipped through the pages of the Daily to page four to see who Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson were after in their Washington Merry-Go-Round column.

Anonymous said...

Jack Anderson was a fine columnist. On the other hand John Spencer was a fine actor who never saw his 60th birthday.

The total number of net hits, in and of itself, doesn't tell the whole story. I read several obituaries of Jack Anderson; I didn't see or read one of John Spencer, although I heard the story on NPR.

"The media" constitute a massive assortment of publications--everything from "The Star" to the "New York Times."

Was Jack Anderson really more important and more deserving of column inches than John Spencer? I suppose it depends on one's point of view. Is Popeye more important than Spongebob Squarepants?

I think the coverage, by and large, was fair.