Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, and Jack Anderson were some of the most widely read columnists in newspaper history. Recently I’ve been reading about Pearson and (mostly) Anderson in Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture, while a few years ago I read one of the best books I’ve ever read, Neal Gabler’s Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity.
In the course of reading these books, I’ve wanted to find their actual columns and been less than succesful at it. Still, what I have found of them they seem to have a lot in common with blogs. Quick, newsy nuggets rather than one long 750 word column. The most extensive archive I’ve found is Drew Pearson’s work on the “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column, which tracks his whole career – see here.
In the case of Pearson and Anderson, they did a lot of original reporting, whereas Winchell had a lot of things handed to him. They all dealt with a lot of leaks, which remains a tradition in journalism until today. They all had biases, Pearson and Anderson hated Nixon, while Winchell moved from the left to the right as his career went on. They worked in an era of American journalism before the obsession with “objectivity” sucked out all the color from the business.
They’re all interesting characters, both as part of U.S. journalism tradition as well as American history.