Peace, War, and Politics– Insider’s Stories from Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson, a Latter-day Saint boy from Utah, has been an eyewitness view behind the scenes in Washington D.C. for fifty years. In Peace, War, and Politics, a book of reminiscences, he takes readers close-up to a world of power and intrigue we usually see only from a distance. What follows are some brief sketches from his book.

A Dressing Down

President Carter’s mother, the irrepressible “Miz Lillian,” once became so hot under the collar about my treatment of her boys, Jimmy and Billy, that she fired off a letter to me. Her scolding words jumped off the page like an index finger shaken at a naughty child. The occasion was a column I had written that implied Miss Lillian was furious with Billy Carter for neglecting the family peanut farm while he went gallivanting around the world.

Her handwritten note to me dated December 4, 1978, began with an apparently festering resentment about a visit to Plains the prior year by my intrepid reporter Hal Bernton. He was “dirty-ragged,” according to the first mother, and was “asked to get out of town.”

Hal had been working in Florida in 1977, infiltrating migrant workers’ camps to expose shabby conditions. On his way back to Washington, he passed through Plains in dirty blue jeans, posing as a vagabond laborer. I had asked him to get a job at the Carter peanut warehouse and give me a worker’s-eye-view of the new president.

There were no openings on the Carter farm so Hal hung around for a few days, went to church with the Carters, and even sat in the pew next to Miss Lillian. Contrary to her recollection of events, he was not asked to leave town, and reported that, in fact, the people of Plains were quite hospitable. Miss Lillian, however, would not likely be the one to invite him back.

Her letter generously conceded my right to report on the president, but she was livid with me for implying that she had criticized Billy’s business acumen. “Either you or your informant lied,” she wrote.

Miss Lillian had her own ideas about who my source might be. She didn’t name her suspect, but she said, “his word is not taken by anyone around Plains.”

Shoot the Messenger

The Glock pistol Dale Van Atta bought from one of Edwin Wilson’s men continued to accumulate a lively history. Neither a sportsman nor a felon, Dale had little use for the gun. Once he brought it out to shoot up the picture tube of an old TV, Elvis-style, at a staff barbecue. But other than that, it gathered dust until I found a use for it in 1989.

While producing a TV documentary on terrorism that year, I picked up disturbing evidence of how easy it would be to smuggle a weapon into the U.S. Capitol. I wanted to prove, on camera, that it could be done, so I borrowed Dale’s plastic gun. Then I made an appointment to meet Senator Bob Dole in his office in the Capitol and talk to him on camera about security.

I took the gun apart, put the plastic pieces in my briefcase, and carried three bullets in my coat pocket. Then, with the camera crew taping me, I sailed through the Capitol metal detector and into the men’s room where I reassembled the Glock. In Dole’s office, as he was telling me how secure the building was, I produced the gun and handed him the bullets. He smiled sportingly, but his face was ashen.

It made a good piece of TV drama and starkly showed how easy it would be to assassinate a U.S. senator. But no one seemed grateful for the warning — not the Senate, the Capitol security police, the Washington, D.C. police, or even my fellow members of the press. Both police forces threatened to arrest me for bringing a gun into the Capitol and for possessing a weapon in pistol-packing Washington where guns are illegal. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, which controls access to the Senate and House press galleries, threatened to take away my Congressional press pass until they found out that I had never bothered to get one. I never thought an American citizen should have to carry a pass to enter the halls of Congress.

Senator Dole and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell threatened to have Capitol police frisk all reporters in the future if the Standing Committee of Correspondents couldn’t guarantee that such an incident wouldn’t happen again. Nobody mentioned tightening security on anyone other than reporters. When the dust cleared, the only change in Capitol security was a little note posted at each metal detector warning guards to watch out for Jack Anderson and his associates.

A Gift From Arafat

An unflappable collector of souvenirs on our travels, Dale Van Atta asked Yasir Arafat on a street corner in West Beirut if we could take home a cluster bomb. The bemused Arafat gave him a thirteen-inch-long, bell-shaped rockeye bomblet. When fully loaded, it had a shaped charge designed to penetrate twelve inches of tank armor, leaving the main charge intact to explode inside the vehicle. I don’t remember Arafat’s exact words, but Dale and I felt certain that the stockpile of bombs sitting on the street corner for show had been defused.

Before we left Israel, Israeli military officers gave the bomb a cursory check and pronounced it safe. Dale stored it for several months on a shelf in his garage. Then one day, a friend at the Pentagon urged Dale to call the 57th Ordnance Detachment at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and let the experts examine the bomb. Two men arrived at the Van Atta house, took one look at the bomb, and told Dale he and his family were lucky to be alive. They gingerly carried the fully armed bomb away and detonated it on a firing range.

In a second meeting with Arafat in 1989, Dale, only half-jokingly, asked him why he had not mentioned that the bomb was live. Arafat chuckled and said, “Next question.”

The American Dream

In an age of cynicism, I can personally testify that America still has a compassionate heart. In 1984, my readers helped buy a house for a good Samaritan in Arkansas.

I learned about Joann Jones through my Mormon church connections. She was a struggling, middle-aged mother in Paris, Arkansas, supporting three children in the face of daunting odds. She had owned a small restaurant, but lost it when she was overwhelmed by the medical bills of her son, who suffered from a rare disease. Her home had burned down and she had no homeowners insurance because she had had no money to pay the premiums.

With all her worldly possessions in ashes, Joann found a cheap, secondhand trailer and rejoiced that her family was still together. Then one day, as a cold front sent temperatures below zero in western Arkansas, Joann stopped at a country store to use a pay phone. Across the road in a frozen field, she noticed four Mexican men huddled under a tree, shivering in shirtsleeves and sharing a single blanket. Joann put down the phone and crossed the street as the Samaritan in Jesus’ story did to help the man left for dead by highway robbers.

The Mexicans didn’t speak English and Joann didn’t speak Spanish, but it was easy enough for Joann to understand that the men had no money, no food, and no warm clothing. Their simple wish was to go back home to Mexico. Though impoverished herself, Joann brought them home and took blankets off her beds for them. Then she remembered that she had heard the Mormon congregation in Fort Smith was holding a service that night.

Joann carefully counted out enough money to buy gas for the sixty-five-mile round-trip to Fort Smith, where she arrived with the forlorn four and presented them to two dozen Mormons assembled there.
The church members gathered warm clothing and collected enough cash for four bus tickets to Dallas. Then they called Spanish-speaking church members there and arranged for them to meet the bus and get the four men back across the border.

When I heard Joann’s story, I called her at the diner where she worked. She didn’t want to talk about her good deed. “Charity should be given in secret. Anyway, it was no big deal. Anyone would have done the same thing.” No, I thought, most people wouldn’t help a stranger in need.

But I was proved wrong by my own readers.

In a column I wrote telling Joann’s story, I took a leap of faith and suggested that the story would have an even happier ending if a few people could chip in and buy Joann a house. Then I sat back and held my breath. Incredibly the cash poured in, much of it from people who seemed to be in circumstances as dire as Joann’s. A woman in Pacific Grove, California, wrote, “I have a small savings account and am a senior citizen on social security. I feel if Mrs. Jones can do all she did, I can at least do this much.” In the envelope was a check for $1,000. An elderly couple living on Social Security in New Jersey sent one dollar each. A widow living on a pension sent six dollars. A man who said he had already given all he thought he could afford to charity wrote, “After reading your column, I have been moved to give a little more. Thank God for people like Joann Jones.”

Joann was still bewildered by the events when she moved into a modest rural bungalow on thirty acres of backwoods land in Arkansas, thanks to the generosity of people just like herself.

Adventures With Lilly

The bright light in the humdrum 1980 Democratic convention in New York was a get-together with Lilly Fallah Lawrence, the daughter of the Shah’s chief oil engineer Reza Fallah. She had settled with her husband, “Bunty,” in an elegant Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park. On the night of my arrival in New York, she treated me to dinner and delicious gossip about the goings-on in Iran.
Brought up in the court life of the Shah, Lilly had come to hate what he stood for and had become an excellent source on the excesses of the Shah and the cruelty of his secret police force SAVAK.

Lilly’s flair for the dramatic at first caused me to question whether she was exaggerating her news tips. She would occasionally make excuses in Tehran about having to fly to London or Athens or Johannesburg to shop, when her sole reason for the visit was to call me from an untapped phone. I smiled indulgently each time she called to tell me, with characteristic alarm in her voice, that the Iranian secret police squad, SAVAK, was after her with instructions to throw acid in her face. Then came the day I learned to take her at her word.

Lilly called from a phone booth in Manhattan. She said a man was trailing her and by the look of him she was sure he was a SAVAK agent. He was right outside the phone booth, she said. “What should I do?”

I chuckled to myself. “Open the door and ask him what he wants,” I suggested, fully expecting that the poor man simply wanted to use the phone.

Then I listened with amazement as the brave Lilly swung back the door and, with all the regal righteousness indignation she could muster, demanded to know where the man had come from. “Tehran,” he mumbled, before beating a hasty retreat down the street.

I later heard that the Shah was so incensed about Lilly’s revelations to me that on one of his official visits to the United States he canceled an appearance on an ABC network show because I was a commentator for Good Morning America.

2002Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.