At the peak of his career, over 30 million people read or listened to the muckraking journalist, Drew Pearson. On the verge of a European war, Pearson wrote that Franklin D. Roosevelt "will go down in history as one of the most idealistic Presidents, but with a positive genius for picking second-rate personalities." ["Washington Merry-go-round" September 2, 1939].
Pearson was one of the most blunt journalists of his time. "I went into the newspaper business hoping to get into diplomacy" he told a reporter in 1969 after he had retired. His tenacity as a muckraking journalist was born out his upbringing in a Quaker family. Andrew Russell [Drew] Pearson was born on December 13, 1897 in Evanston, Illinois. His father was a professor at Northwestern University at the time of his birth. When he was six years old, they moved to Pennsylvania where his father took a teaching position at Swarthmore College. That was when his parents joined the Society of Friends.
He attended Exeter Academy and Swarthmore where he became editor of the school newspaper, The Phoenix. After graduation in 1919 and as part of the American Friends Service Committee and the British Red Cross, he worked in the Balkans helping to rebuild the area after World War I, then returned to the United States. In 1923, he traveled to world locations and wrote articles for newspapers about his travels.
His Quaker pacifism drove his relentless crusades for justice in government. His longtime assistant and later partner, Jack Anderson, equally a high-moraled journalist, noted. "Pearson not only fought corruption," Chief Justice Earl Warren observed, "but he fought secrecy in government which makes corruption easier."
In 1925, Pearson met and married Felicia Gizycka. In 1926, he became foreign editor of the United States Daily and three years later became diplomatic correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. He and Christian Science Monitor Washington Bureau Chief, Robert S. Allen, anonymously published two books with "Washington Merry-go-round" as part of the title. The books criticized the administration of Herbert Hoover and his Depression-era policies along with key members of Congress who agreed with Hoover. When it became clear who the book's authors were, both men were fired from their jobs. Immediately, they launched a "Washington Merry-go-round" column for United Features Syndicate continuing their crusade against corruption in government.
His radio career began in 1935 when with Allen, they broadcast a fifteen minute twice-a-week over the Mutual Broadcasting System. That expanded into a 30 minute news and music show called Listen, America in 1939. In 1941 the two went their separate ways. Pearson continued with his column and soon began broadcasting over NBC with his Drew Pearson Comments program from 1941 until 1953. At one point Pearson was probably one of the most listened to radio commentators. His influence prompted a famous flub by Jack Benny announcer Don Wilson, when he referred to Pearson as Drear Pooson. It only added to Pearson's fame and was an indication of his popularity.
Pearson was not without his enemies. In 1951, he was sued for libel in a high profile case involving Fred Howser, former District Attorney for Los Angeles and state attorney for California later. In 1948, Pearson reported on his radio broadcast that Howser had ties to gamblers, claiming he had accepted 12 $100 bills from "a well-known Long Beach gambler." In their fear of connections to Howser, the Republican Party in California chose not to back Howser in his re-election bid. Then in 1951, the Kefauver Committee investigated Howser's links to gambling. With his career waning, Howser sued Pearson for $350,000, a large sum of money at that time. Howser lost his libel suit and Pearson claimed his victory in a later "Washington Merry-go-round" column when he wrote "“The jury, as is now known, ruled that Defendant Pearson told the truth, that Defendant Pearson acted without malice, and even volunteered the information that, even untrue, the Defendant Pearson’s broadcast did not injure Howser’s reputation.” He wasn't always right, however, when he claimed that Winston Churchill had been bailed out of bankruptcy in 1912 by a British bank. That proved to be false and the author of a book in which he quoted Pearson, was sued successfully by Churchill when it turned out to be false.
When Joseph McCarthy was at the peak of his power, it was Pearson who was the first national columnist who spoke out against him. When John Kennedy was elected president, Pearson was suspicious of both John and Robert Kennedy. "There was no one more adept at managing the news than the two Kennedy brothers," he wrote. When Lyndon Johnson pronounced his Civil Rights reforms, Pearson was behind him championing him all the way.
Pearson won the respect of his colleagues through his convictions, and the truth and accuracy of his news reporting. The awards presented to him, as well as those created in his name, were significant. He died in 1969 of a heart attack.