Another Jack on the 'Merry-Go-Round'

Therefore thus saith the Lord God; an adversary there shall be even round about the land; ... the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord... they afflict the just, they take a bride, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right... Woe to them that are at ease in Zion... though they dig into hell, thence shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down... And though they be hid from my sight at the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them. --from the Book of Amos, King James Version

If there is an archetypal adversary, an angry Amos unearthing evil in America today, it is Jack Anderson. He is the latter-day, stinging serpent of the Lord at the bottom of the bureaucracy, slugging away at slime and moral decay, six days a week.

The Jack Anderson the public knows from "The Washington-Merry-Go-Round" is not merely one person. In fact, he is five.

One of his five ghostwriters, Jack Cloherty, came to Cambridge earlier this week to talk to an Institute of Politics seminar. Cloherty joined Anderson on a three-month trial run as a researcher on energy and Watergate affairs in December 1972. Now he is a full-fledged fifth of the Merry-Go-Round team, which means, in his words, "one and a half to two 'leads' and a handful of 'shorts' for the column each week."

Already, he shows the imprint of his mentor, that mixture of the morally-incensed minor prophet of Zion with the more modern, less pious, Superman of DC Comic aura and Nietzchean ethics.


The prophetic sense of indignation and immediacy flash forth from Cloherty--15 months of investigating the Washington super-structure, multinational corporations and other "sacred" cows has not dulled or desensitized his idealism.

He speaks with humility, yet fervor about his most recent gangbustings for truth: tracking down one of the "Big Eight" oil companies which is siphoning oil from neighboring naval reserves; scaring a Congressman who padded his expense accounts away from a re-election bid; and being the prime force behind a just-passed (but "totally ineffective") Senate resolution barring the use of U.S. ships to float oil tax-free from the Arab states to South Vietnam.

Cloherty points without pretension to the reasons behind his precocious success as an investigative reporter: "Hard work, and knowing how to handle sources, yes, but mostly luck, being in the right place at the right time, just like it's always been," he says.

Cloherty's beginning in journalism came when his collegiate athletic career turned sour. After winning a football scholarship to the University of Montana, he played for a year, but quit when he learned how his own and his teammates' free rides were funded. The athletic department was supplementing gridiron subsidies with government monies for work-study programs, and Cloherty launched a series in the Montana Kaimin, the campus daily, which ended in scandal, indictments, and two convictions.

One fateful step followed another: editorship of the Kaimin, a Sears journalism internship grant in Washington, a random letter to Anderson when there was an opening on his staff. Now millions read Cloherty's copy "three or four times in a good week," on the op-ed (or less prominent) pages of hundreds of newspapers.

"I'm not sure I'll do this forever, but I know I will for at least a few years," Cloherty says. "I like the schedule, hopping by jet from city to city, on for a week or so and off for four days."

Yet velocity is not the unnerving aspect of Cloherty's presence. Rather, it is the black-and-white complexion of Anderson's operation, a good-or-evil world-view, which unsettles.

Phrases like "you have to be exploitative with sources," and "we decided to hit him hard" orient the onlooker rapidly to Cloherty's everyday battle jargon. Quiet, qualmless talk of a decision to print Watergate grand-jury transcripts in the column, even when "we knew it [news of the cover-up] would come out sooner or later," or of the staff's standard operating procedure to opt against self-censorship "in 99 out of 100 cases" makes the onlooker wonder whether the Anderson Superman world consists of anything other than faster-than-sound scoops and ground rules laid on the run.

Cloherty admits the "short-term quickie" usually wins out over more demanding long-term investigations. "When each day there's a high volume leads coming in, you take the most sensational, the easiest to do quickly. Two days later you do the same, while something very important may be lying dormant."

Anderson is "three-fourths reporter and one-fourth showman, but it's that high visibility which brings in stories," Cloherty says. On a more personal level, "when a couple of veterans who aren't getting their benefits or somebody else with a complaint against the government walks in the office each week, and gets fixed up by a few phone calls from Jack Anderson, it's satisfying."

Cloherty doesn't buy Anderson's brand of Americanism and free enterprise, he says; nor does he fully agree with Marxist friends who tell him that he's helping shore up a rotten system.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm shoveling coal into an endless furnace, but I do this job because it does something for the present, the here and now."

Footnote: "The Washington Merry-Go-Round" passed from Drew Pearson, who never called the subjects of his stories before they were printed, to Jack Anderson, who does, maybe someday it will pass from Jack Anderson, who doesn't seem to worry about in-depth investigating of long-range topics, to Jack Cloherty, who does. Stripped of its comic-book histrionics, the column might really do Zion some good.

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