His parents were Paul Martin Pearson, an English professor at Northwestern University, and Edna Wolfe. When Pearson was six years of age, his father joined the faculty of Swarthmore College as professor of public speaking, and the family moved to Pennsylvania, joining the Society of Friends, which is affiliated with the college. After being educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Pearson attended Swarthmore (1915-1919), where he edited its student newspaper, The Phoenix.
From 1919 to 1921, Pearson served with the American Friends Service Committee, directing post-war rebuilding operations in Peć, which was at that time part of Serbia. From 1921 to 1922, he lectured on the topic of Geography at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1923, Pearson travelled to Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, India and Serbia, and persuaded several newspapers to buy articles about his travels. He was also commissioned by the American "Around the World Syndicate" to produce a set of interviews entitled, "Europe's Twelve Greatest Men."
From 1925 to 1928, Pearson continued reporting on international events including strikes in China, the Geneva Naval Conference, the Pan American Conference in Havana, and the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in Paris.
In 1929, he became the Washington correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. But in 1931 and 1932, with Robert S. Allen, he anonymously published a book called Washington Merry-Go-Round and its sequel. When the Sun discovered Pearson had co-authored these books, he was promptly fired. Late in 1932, Pearson and Allen secured a contract with the Scripps-Howard syndicate, United Features, to syndicate a column called "Washington Merry-Go-Round". It first appeared in Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson's Washington Herald on November 17, 1932. But as World War II escalated in Europe, Pearson's strong support of Franklin D. Roosevelt, in opposition to Patterson and the Herald's isolationist position led to an acrimonious termination of Pearson and Allen's contract with the Herald. In 1941, The Washington Post picked up the contract for the Washington Merry-Go-Round.
In addition to radio, Drew Preason also appeared in a number of Hollywood movies such as the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still and RKO movie, Betrayal from the East, a World War II propaganda movie. In the former film, Pearson is the only journalist who urges calm and restraint (versus the fear and paranoia evoked by his colleagues) while Washington is panicked by the escape of the alien visitor Klaatu. In the latter movie, Pearson narrated, in his "now it can be told" style, an alleged exposé that accused Japanese Americans of being part of a Japanese conspiracy to engage in acts of terrorism and espionage. The movie was based on the 1943 best selling book Betrayal from the East: The Inside Story of Japanese Spies in America by Alan Hynd. Pearson also appeared as himself in City Across the River (1949).
Following World War II, Pearson was largely responsible for the "Friendship Train" (one of several charitable gestures that reflected his Quaker upbringing) which raised over 40 million dollars in aid for war-torn Europe. On December 18, 1947 the much needed food, medicine, and supplies arrived in France.
He had a role in the downfall of U.S. Congressman John Parnell Thomas and Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948. Thomas was later convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government for hiring friends who never worked and then depositing their paychecks into his personal accounts. Pearson was an opponent of McCarthyism, and was one of the few journalists to stand up to the demagoguery of the senator from Wisconsin. Pearson's charges against the fiercely anti-Communist James V. Forrestal were reported to have contributed to Forrestal's "mental breakdown" and resignation as US Secretary of Defense.
Drew Pearson had one daughter, Ellen, in a short marriage (1925-28) to Felicia Gizycka, daughter of the newspaper scion Cissy Patterson and Count Joseph Gizycky of Poland. Thereafter, Pearson maintained a strained relationship with his former mother-in-law, and they frequently exhanged barbed comments in print. His second wife was Luvie Moore Abell, whom he married in 1936; they had no children together.
It has been said that disclosures in Pearson's column sent four Congressmen to jail and led to the resignation of President Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adams. Pearson was the first to report the incident of General George S. Patton's slapping of a soldier. General Douglas MacArthur sued Pearson for defamation, but dropped the suit after Pearson threatened to publish love letters from MacArthur to his Euroasian paramour, Isabel Rosario Cooper.
At the time of Pearson's death in Washington, D.C. of a heart attack in 1969, the column was syndicated to more than 650 newspapers, more than twice as many as any other, with an estimated 60 million readers, and was famous for its investigative style of journalism. A Harris Poll commissioned by TIME Magazine at that time showed that Pearson was America's best-known newspaper columnist at the time of his death . The column was continued under the byline name "Jack Anderson" .
American University Library originally received the typescript copies of the columns distributed to newspapers around the country in 1992. Since then, the library embarked upon a project to digitize the collection, making it available to researchers and journalism students around the world. Digitization of the 1953-69 content is slated to be complete in 2006. .
Those accusing Pearson of having been either pro-Communist or "soft on Communism" called attention not only to the affiliations of his subordinates but also to his support for policy positions and personal actions that worked to the advantage of international Communism. He was an early and vociferous critic of the anti-Communist government of Chiang Kai-shek in China. He was responsible for publicizing the infamous slapping incidents by America's most outspokenly anti-Soviet General , George S. Patton, Jr. (however, Patton was most vociferously anti-Soviet after the surrender of Nazi Germany, several years after the slapping incidents), which led to Patton's being relieved of command of the Seventh Army, and he made charges against the fiercely anti-Communist Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal, prior to Forrestal's removal by President Harry S. Truman.
After Forrestal's death from a fall from a 16th-floor window of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Pearson wrote that Forrestal had attempted suicide on four previous occasions, lending credence to the conclusion that Forrestal's death had been a suicide. Pearson's claim of previous suicide attempts by Forrestal is corroborated by no known evidence and was contradicted by the testimony of Forrestal's attending physicians at Bethesda. .
In May 1948, Pearson leaked news in the Washington Post that the SEC and Justice Department were talking to Preston Thomas Tucker of the Tucker Corporation, an automobile company in Detroit. Pearson stated - erroneously, as it would later turn out - that the agencies would uncover financial crimes at the company. Tucker stock dropped from $5 to $2 based on Pearson's charges. The SEC and Justice later found Tucker and his company innocent of any wrongdoing, but the damage was done. The Tucker Corporation was never able to recover and went out of business. It is widely believed that Pearson's claims cost Tucker investors and 2,000 car dealers millions of dollars, and that, as a result, America lost what was perhaps the most innovative automobile of its time.
"His ill-considered falsehoods have come to the point where he is doing much harm to his own Government and to other nations. It is a pity that anyone anywhere believes anything he writes." --President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Pearson, in letter to General Patrick J. Hurley, August 30, 1943, cited in Patrick J. Hurley, a biography by Don Lohbeck, 1956.