Anderson was buried in the cemetery of a Baptist church in Knoxville, where he had been born 45 years earlier. Josh Flory
The tragic end of Paul Y. Anderson Paul Y. Anderson isn’t a household name like Woodward and Bernstein. But Anderson’s Teapot Dome stories in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were to the first half of the 20th century what the Watergate stories were to the last half. At the time of Anderson’s suicide, a decade after the Teapot Dome disclosures, the New Republic blamed Joseph Pulitzer II’s Post-Dispatch and its famed managing editor, O.K. Bovard, for mistreating Anderson. That claim is contested by a previously unreported letter provided to GJR’s St. Louis editor, Terry Ganey. It provides a new take on the sad end of the famous reporter – and a reminder of a day when the Post-Dispatch was at the center of Washington reporting.
by Terry Ganey
If it hadn’t been for a doctor’s order that sent Charles Ross home to recuperate, we probably wouldn’t know as much as we do now about the demise of Paul Y. Anderson, one of the greatest reporters in the history of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Forced to take a few days off from his job as the editor of the newspaper’s editorial page, Ross had time to compose a five-page typewritten letter describing the tragic arc of Anderson’s storied career, and how the newspaper’s management, including publisher Joseph Pulitzer II and managing editor Oliver K. Bovard, attempted to salvage it.
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University of Missouri School of Journalism Paul Y. Anderson
“They did, all of us did, everything for him that was humanly possible to do,” Ross wrote. “Suffice it that Paul refused – or was unable – to bring himself under control. Certainly he was given every opportunity to do so.” In the end, before turning on himself, Anderson would turn on Bovard and Pulitzer, too, at least according to Ross. Written 75 years ago, Ross’ letter came at the end of a year of major changes at the Post-Dispatch, which by 1938 had achieved national journalistic prominence thanks to Pulitzer’s support, Bovard’s management and Anderson’s legwork. That year began with Anderson’s dismissal. In August, Bovard resigned. And in December, Anderson took his own life with an overdose of sleeping pills. Books about Pulitzer and Bovard have documented Anderson’s alcoholism as the reason for his firing. Now more details about the troubles that plagued him near the end of his career – and how the Post-Dispatch attempted to deal with them – have emerged from documents saved by Aloysia Pietsch Hamalainen, the former office manager of the PostDispatch bureau in Washington, D.C. The papers include memos, letters and reports. Some of the documents show up in other collections, such as the papers of Joseph Pulitzer II in the Library of Congress. But others, such as Ross’ letter, have come to light for the first time. Dated Dec. 20, 1938, the correspondence from Ross – who later became Harry S Truman’s press secretary – is most valuable. It was written by a man who had worked side by side with Anderson on some of the newspaper’s biggest stories. Ross sometimes covered for Anderson when he couldn’t do his work – and, as Anderson’s colleague and supervisor, Ross sometimes found himself “in the embarrassing position of having the confidence of both sides.” The letter, addressed to Bruce Bliven, the editor of the New Republic, was written in response to an editorial note about Anderson’s death that appeared that month in the
magazine under the headline, “A Great Reporter Dies.” The editorial said Anderson had left the Post-Dispatch because of “a needless and trivial misunderstanding” between him and Bovard, “and two hot-tempered men impulsively broke off a happy relation of many years’ standing.” The editorial went on to say such an incident would be avoided by rules being developed by the Newspaper Guild “against unilateral, arbitrary action by employers.” The point of Ross’ letter was that the New Republic’s account was “almost wholly erroneous.” There was no misunderstanding between Anderson and Bovard, a managing editor of great renown. “Paul’s dismissal,” Ross wrote, “was the result of frequent and protracted absences from duty over a period of five years or longer. To say that these lapses were due to drunkenness would oversimplify the matter, for Paul’s drinking was both cause and effect. Unless you knew Paul, I could not, short of a book beginning with his boyhood in Tennessee, hope to make his weakness clear. I give you my word that there was never a man more generously, more patiently, treated by an employer than was Paul by the Post-Dispatch management.” And for good reason. Anderson was considered one of the greatest journalists of his time. For most of his 24 years with the Post-Dispatch, Anderson had filed compelling stories that beat the competition and sold newspapers. And for some time, the publisher and the editor held out hope that he could do so once again. ANDERSON’S WORTH In 1931, when the American Mercury’s Samuel Tait Jr. reflected on the lofty status of the Post-Dispatch, he singled out Anderson. “The PostDispatch might perhaps get along without Anderson, but it would not be the paper it is by a long, long way,” Tait wrote. “In almost every one of the achievements which have lifted it out of the gumbo, he has done a large share of the lifting.” H.L. Mencken used the editorial
page of the Baltimore Sun to call Anderson “one of the finest journalists in the country.” Anderson risked his life to get news. His investigations put people in prison. His byline appeared over the major stories of the era: the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tenn., and the Leopold and Loeb murder trial in Chicago. “His positive genius for reporting and writing put him in a class almost by himself,” Bovard had written to Pulitzer in 1927 when they dwelt on the topic of Anderson’s salary. “He is the ideal type of analytical reporter who gets all the salient facts and presents them in such a way as to give the dullest reader their relative values, and in a way to stir him to appreciate what he is reading, as contrasted with the more recorder type, with whom the lives of news editors are cursed, and who see only the surface indications.” When Bovard sent Pulitzer the payroll records of Ross and Anderson, he wrote, “I think Anderson is really worth a good deal more than his present figure, and I have no doubt he could command more in the open market.” Anderson was involved in the first two Pulitzer prizes the PostDispatch won for news reporting. In 1927, the Post-Dispatch’s John T. Rogers won the prize for stories that resulted in the resignation of a federal judge in the face of impeachment on corruption charges. The newspaper gave Anderson and Ross $500 each for their work contributing to that investigation. In 1929, Anderson won the reporting prize for his investigation of what happened to $2.7 million in bonds that were part of a slush fund in the “Teapot Dome” scandal. Anderson first grappled with the story in 1922, and stayed with it on and off for six years. His work exposed what had gone on during the Warren Harding administration, when lucrative leases to rich government oil reserves were turned over to private companies. Continued on next page
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