Mark Feldstein: In Jack Anderson's Papers, a Hidden History of Washington





After gently digging through a few boxes, and finding only letters and old memoranda, Kevin Anderson settles on Box No. 83 and opens the lid. In a file called "Afghanistan Guerrillas," on the back of a sheet of paper that says "Season's Greetings 1984," he finds what he has been looking for: a sample of his father's enigmatic, idiosyncratic shorthand.

The writing is that of Jack Anderson, author, with Drew Pearson, of the famous Washington Merry-Go-Round column than ran for decades after World War II. If this note spells out political secrets or hidden sources — and there are plenty of those in this box-filled room at George Washington University's Gelman Library — they may be lost with the late muckraker.

"It's a shorthand that only he knew," says Kevin Anderson, crouched over the box and holding up the note. The writing looks something like streamlined Arabic.

Laurie Anderson-Bruch, Kevin's sister, leans over to examine the note. "He never taught any of us how to read it," she says.

The Andersons, some university officials, and Mark Feldstein, Jack Anderson's biographer, are gathered at the university on a February morning to spend a few hours digging through the old files.

Mr. Feldstein, an associate professor of media and public affairs and our tour guide this morning, begins by showing off the centerpiece of the collection: a huge index-card file — a hand-typed, cross-referenced catalog made by Merry-Go-Round staff of all the topics and personalities ever to have appeared in the column since 1932. Mr. Feldstein, Kevin Anderson, and Ms. Anderson-Bruch typed out some of the cards when they worked in Anderson's office in the 1970s.

Mr. Feldstein flips to the H's and pulls out a card for J. Edgar Hoover, one of Anderson's most persistent enemies.

He reads some of the highlights from the card. "Let's see, 'fond of poetry.' Mmmm," he says, humming suggestively. "'Has collection of G-Men toys in his office.' They would hint at sex in a way that was unusual in those days."...

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