December 2010: John W. Anderson '75
John W. Anderson ’75 is a veteran news correspondent and accomplished journalist, who spent 27 years at The Washington Post, 16 as a foreign correspondent. He worked at POLITICO as contributing editor and is currently a principal at the Washington-based Podesta Group.
Anderson cultivated a long-standing interest in creative writing at Hotchkiss but realized at Harvard that a career writing fiction was too uncertain and decided to pursue political science instead. Devouring The New York Times every day, he developed a passion for foreign news.
Anderson landed a job at The Washington Post in 1981 as night copy aide in charge of gathering news from the wires. When The Post’s Bob Woodward created an investigative unit, Anderson begged him for a job as his assistant. Thus, when Woodward received a call from Judy Belushi asking him to investigate the death of her husband, comedian John Belushi, Woodward chose Anderson, a huge fan of Saturday Night Live, as his researcher. The subsequent investigation produced enough material for Woodward’s biography Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi.
With Woodward’s help, Anderson got a job as a night metro reporter at The Post, and then moved to the day shift. He covered corruption in D.C. Mayor Marion Barry’s administration and investigated the Reagan administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Around that time, he met his future wife, Molly Moore, who was also a Post reporter. Since newspapers were interested in sending couples overseas (twice the news coverage for the price), Anderson and Moore spent the next three years in New Delhi, India. The beat included Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan, covering issues such as health, education, child labor, the civil war in Afghanistan, and the rise of the Taliban. After that, The Post sent them to Mexico City, where they investigated international drug cartels and wrote environmental and immigration stories. While there, the couple adopted their son, Benny, when he was 10 weeks old.
In 2000, Anderson and Moore left Mexico for Istanbul, an assignment that included coverage of Turkey, Iran, and Central Asia. Anderson and Moore did extensive on-the-ground reporting on stories involving Iran and Afghanistan. After September 11, 2001, journalists found it almost impossible to travel to certain parts of the world, but Anderson made his way to Tehran, gaining access to the city through his connections, and Moore was able to get into Pakistan, covering the post 9/11 events as the first reporter to arrive there after the United States was attacked.
The next post was Israel. With two-year-old Benny in tow, Anderson and Moore went to Jerusalem. This posting coincided with the Second Intifada, and between them, Anderson and Moore covered more than 50 suicide bombings – one would go to the scene, the other would write. Anderson spent much of his time writing about Palestinian issues from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He says, “We had received special training in conflict. You learn how to deal with the risk.” They stayed away from businesses often targeted by bombs, and Anderson built a safe room in their house -- equipped with gas masks, rubber suits, and supplies -- because of the threat of a chemical weapons attack from Iraq. He notes, “There is a story to be told. You open your senses and go into reporting mode. Your job is to bring the horror of this home, and that is your contribution.”
From 2005 to 2008, Anderson and Moore were based in Paris, from which Anderson was rotated into Baghdad for extended tours, managing the 40-person bureau and reporting on the war. Eventually, however, several things made them decide to leave. When Benny was asked to draw a flag of his home country, this little Mexican boy who spoke fluent French drew a picture of Israel’s flag. And The Post, in financial trouble, offered Anderson and Moore generous buy-out packages; they took them and returned to the States.
In 2008, Anderson joined POLITICO, a respected and cutting edge journalism and news media outlet. He became a contributing editor, editor of POLITICO’s magazine, and editor of the daily newspaper’s White House page. He edited articles on defense, health, energy, the environment, and the economy. Moore became a media consultant. When the Podesta Group was looking to expand their international business, Anderson was a perfect fit. Hence, he is now a principal at this government relations and public affairs firm. Anderson is excited about working with international clients – he knows how the international media works, and he is well-connected in Washington.
Over his long career, Anderson has been a frequent guest for a variety of international radio and television outlets, including CNN, the BBC, and NPR. He is the recipient of Online News Association’s 2004 Creative Use of the Medium award for “Defining the Barrier,” a washingtonpost.com team special video report on Israel’s separation fence. He was nominated for the international Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for coverage of drug trafficking and corruption in Mexico, and shared the 1994 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for the series “Third World, Second Class,” about women's development issues in the Third World.
According to Anderson, “I owe a huge debt to Hotchkiss. It is essential in today’s world to have two fundamental skills: writing and math. I learned how to write at Hotchkiss. Increasingly, people in the professional world are looking for people who can write. Thanks to George Stone and Larry Becker, I carried away an understanding of mathematics, not necessarily the ability to solve a complicated trigonometry problem, but the skills of problem solving.”
While Anderson has written thousands of stories about life and death, it is the people he remembers. “I think about the blind man directing a group of severely retarded people fixing a ditch to carry the water supply to a hospital in Kabul; a woman named Anuradha Koirala who has dedicated her life to saving Nepalese girls sold for prostitution; and my dear friend Homero Aridjis, who not only found us our son but dedicates his life to saving monarch butterflies and whales. I always tried to ground the stories with people.”