Thursday Bookshelf: Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture

Normally our focus is on books related to the state of Florida, but this topic in particular was on my mind, and since Richard Nixon was the closest thing we have gotten to having Floridian in the White House (During Nixon’s 1972 reelection he was registered to vote in Florida and was nominated both in 1968 and 1972 for President at the Republican National Convention held in Miami) I thought Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture would be an interesting book to discuss.

Mark Feldstein’s book is an excellent narrative about the times and the parallels between eventual adversaries, President Richard Nixon and Syndicated Columnist Jack Anderson. Both raised in strict religious families, where a strong sense of right and wrong were imparted, the inflexibility of both men and conspiratorial minds would lead to constant conflict once Nixon became President and Anderson took over Drew Pearson’s “Washington Merry-Go-Round”  column in 1969.

President Nixon’s attitudes toward the press are well known. He went after at various times in his administration just about every prominent Washington-based journalist or media outlet. But his constant feud with the muckraking Anderson represented perhaps his most consistent handling of a single-media member.

The book delves directly into some of the most appalling and offensive Nixon White House tapes. The efforts to gag the press, mislead the public and intimidate those who owned media outlets is detailed not only through the author’s analysis but thanks to Nixon and his lieutenant’s own words captured via the White House taping system.

Anderson is eventually portrayed in a negative light, perhaps too negative a way. Certainly major character flaws existed in Anderson’s psyche, but he served an important role as a watchdog of an arrogant and entitled White House. The lessons from this book are important to understand today as efforts by politicians to intimidate the media and cover-up scandals continue in earnest. Despite Feldstein’s almost universal negativity about the characters of the day, I would strongly urge everyone to read this book.

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