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Francis James Westbrook Pegler
Born August 2, 1894(1894-08-02)
Died June 24, 1969 (aged 74)
Pen name Westbrook Pegler
Occupation Author
Journalist
Nationality  United States
Spouse(s) Julia Harpman Pegler, Maude Wettje Pegler

Francis James Westbrook Pegler (August 2, 1894 – June 24, 1969)[1] was an American journalist and writer. He was a conservative columnist in the 1930s and 1940s famed for his opposition to the New Deal and labor unions. Pegler criticized every president from Herbert Hoover to FDR ("moosejaw") to Harry Truman ("a thin-lipped hater") to John F. Kennedy. He also criticized the Supreme Court, the tax system, and labor unions. In 1962, he lost his contract with King Features Syndicate, owned by Hearst after he started criticizing Hearst executives. His late writing appeared sporadically in obscure publications, including the John Birch Society's American Opinion.[2]

Contents

Biography

Pegler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 2, 1894. His father, Arthur James Pegler, was an editor for a local newspaper. While working for United Press, Pegler was the youngest American war correspondent during World War I.[3]

Pegler, a Roman Catholic, was married to Julia Harpman Pegler, a onetime New York Daily News crime reporter who came from a Jewish family in Tennessee.[4] Later in life, he married his secretary Maude Wettje.

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Journalism career

After the war, Pegler started off as a sports columnist, but later wrote general interest articles. In 1925 he moved to the Chicago Tribune. In 1933 he moved to the Scripps Howard syndicate, where he worked closely with his friend Roy Howard. He built up a large readership for his column (named 'Mister Pegler'), causing Time magazine to comment in its 10th Oct. 1938 issue:

"At the age of 44, Mr. Mister Pegler's place as the great dissenter for the common man is unchallenged. Six days a week, for an estimated $65,000 a year, in 116 papers reaching nearly 6,000,000 readers, Mister Pegler is invariably irritated, inexhaustibly scornful. Unhampered by coordinated convictions of his own, Pegler applies himself to presidents and peanut vendors with equal zeal and skill. Dissension is his philosophy."[5]

In 1941, he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing criminal racketeering in labor unions.In 1942 he was named one of the nation's "best adult columnists." At this time, his columns went out six days a week to 174 newspapers that reached about 10 million subscribers. He moved his syndicated column to the Hearst syndicate in 1944.

Contempt for Franklin Roosevelt

He initially supported President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but after seeing the rise of fascism in Europe he warned against the dangers of dictatorship in America. He was one of the Roosevelt administration's sharpest critics over what he saw as its abuse of power. He rarely missed an opportunity to criticize Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, or Vice President Henry A. Wallace. His views, generally in colorful language, became more conservative. Pegler was outraged by the New Deal's support for labor unions which he considered morally and politically corrupt.

The New York Times stated, in his obituary, that Pegler lamented that Giuseppe Zangara, a would-be assassin of FDR's who missed and killed the mayor of Chicago instead, "hit the wrong man" when gunning for Franklin Roosevelt.[6]

Opposition to the New Deal

At his peak in the 1930s and 1940s, Pegler was a leading figure in the movement against the New Deal and its allied in the labor movement, such as the National Maritime Union.

Pegler compared union advocates of the closed shop to Hitler's "goose-steppers." In his view, the greatest threat to the country was the corrupt labor boss. By the 1950s, Pegler was becoming even more outspokenly controversial. His proposal for "smashing" the AFL and CIO was for the state to take them over. "Yes, that would be fascism," he wrote. "But I, who detest fascism, see advantages in such fascism."[7]

The headstone of Westbrook Pegler in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Feud with Eleanor Roosevelt

After 1942 Peler assailed Eleanor Roosevelt (and FDR) regularly. In public she ignored him. In private in 1942 she asked the FBI to investigate Pegler suggestion a column he wrote involved “sedition.” Her actions belied her public reputation as a champion of First Amendment rights when it came to leftists. In fact, she wielded her influence as First Lady to push the Bureau on this case. Dissatisfied with the FBI's initial report on the Pegler's column, she prodded J. Edgar Hoover to expand the investigation until it took on a voluminous scope. Recent scholars (including Betty Houchin Winfield, Kenneth O'Reilly, and Richard W. Steele) have exposed Franklin Roosevelt's political use of the FBI and traced how he ordered wartime sedition investigations of anti-New Deal newspaper publishers, such as William Randolph Hearst and the Chicago Tribune's Robert McCormick. In the Pegler's case, there was a willingness to use similar tactics against a prominent conservative columnist. Moreover, it also becomes clear that, despite her reputation as a champion of free speech rights, Eleanor Roosevelt resorted to similar methods against a media opponent. The charges were entirely false, the FBI reported, but Eleanor continued to push the FBI to look for dirt on Pegler. The incident gave Pegler a life-long distaste for Eleanor Roosevelt. [8]

Pulitzer Prize and activism

In 1941 Pegler became the first columnist to win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting, for his work in exposing racketeering in Hollywood labor unions, focusing on the criminal career of William Morris Bioff which led to the conviction of George Scalise.[9] As historian David Witwer has concluded, "He depicted a world where a conspiracy of criminals, corrupt union officials, Communists, and their political allies in the New Deal threatened the economic freedom of working Americans." [Witwer 551]. The National Maritime Union sued Hearst and the Associated Press for an article by Pegler, settled out of court for $10, 000.[10]

In the winter of 1947 he started a campaign to draw public attention to the 'Guru Letters' of former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, claiming they showed Wallace's unfitness for the office of President he had announced he would seek in 1948. There was a personal confrontation between the two men on the subject at a public meeting in Philadelphia in July 1948. H.L. Mencken, who was also present, joined in. Wallace declined to comment on the letters.[11]

Controversy and problems in later career

In the 1950s and 1960s, as his conservative views became more extreme and his writing increasingly shrill, he earned the tag of "the stuck whistle of journalism."[12] He denounced the civil rights movement and in the early 1960s wrote for the John Birch Society, until he was invited to leave because of his extreme views.[13]

His attack on writer Quentin Reynolds led to a costly libel suit against him and his publishers, as a jury awarded Reynolds $175, 000 in damages. In 1962, he lost his contract with King Features Syndicate, owned by Hearst, after he criticized Hearst executives. His late writing appeared sporadically in various publications, including the John Birch Society's American Opinion, which used his picture as its cover upon his death.

In 1965, referring to Robert F. Kennedy, Pegler wrote: "Some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies." [14]

Death

Pegler died of stomach cancer in Tucson, Arizona and is interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.[15]

Parodied

Pegler's distinctive writing style was often the subject of parody. Wolcott Gibbs of The New Yorker once imagined a Peglerian tirade to a little girl asking whether there was a Santa Claus (parodying the famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" article).[16] In the Gibbs/Pegler version, "Santa Claus" was one of several aliases used by an old Bolshevik with a history of union racketeering. "Yes, Virginia, you bet there's a Santa Claus. He is Comrade Jelly Belly."[17]

Mad Magazine once ran an article in their February 1957 issue (#31) in which Pegler was parodied in a mock column. It used the title of Pegler's own column from 1944 on, "As Pegler Sees It". Starting with a report on a little kid stealing a bike, it went off on a long tirade against, among other things, Roosevelt, Truman, the Falange, organized labor, municipal corruption and Abeline's Boy Scout Troop 18 (AKA the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). The mock column ended with:

"... which brought together such Commy-loving cronies as you know what I think of Eleanor Roosevelt.

It stinks. The whole thing stinks. You stink."

This last one-line paragraph is often mis-cited as a real Pegler quote.[18]

Legacy

Interest in Pegler was revived when a line originally written by him appeared in Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.[19] "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity", she said, attributing it to "a writer."[20] The speech was written by Matthew Scully, a senior speech writer for George W. Bush.[21]

Writings

Pegler published three volumes of his collected writings:

  • The Dissenting Opinions of Mr. Westbrook Pegler
  • T'ain't Right
  • George Spelvin, American and Fireside Chats

Pegler's Literary agent was George T. Bye, who was also Eleanor Roosevelt's agent.

References

  1. ^ "Westbrook Pegler". Rootsweb. http://worldconnect.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=peglers&id=I06160. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  2. ^ Farr (1975)
  3. ^ Finis Farr, Fair Enough: The Life of Westbrook Pegler. 1975, New Rochelle NY: Arlington House.
  4. ^ Farr (1975)
  5. ^ "The Press: Mister Pegler," Time Oct 10, 1938
  6. ^ http://www.wsj.com/article/SB122100226859616967.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today
  7. ^ Pegler column in Milwaukee Sentinel Feb. 24, 1954
  8. ^ David Witwer, "Westbrook Pegler, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the FBI: A History of Infamous Enmities and Unlikely Collaborations." Journalism History, 2009 Vol. 34, Issue 4 in EBSCO
  9. ^ http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Reporting
  10. ^ http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses/available/etd-04122008-211559/unrestricted/WaberAThesis.pdf | pages 31
  11. ^ Pegler's column for July 27th, 1948 'In Which Our Hero Beards 'Guru' Wallace In His Own Den.'
  12. ^ The Press and America, Edwin Emery, Prentice-Hall, 1962 pages 569
  13. ^ Pilat, Pegler (1973)
  14. ^ Frank and Mulcahey, Boob Jubilee: The Cultural Politics of the New Economy, W.W. Norton & Co., 2003 pages 358 ISBN 978039057775
  15. ^ "Westbrook Pegler, Columnist, 74, Dies; Westbrook Pegler, Caustic Columnist, Dies at 74". New York Times. June 25, 1969. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70716FD385E1B7493C7AB178DD85F4D8685F9. Retrieved 2008-10-12. "Westbrook Pegler, the former newspaper columnist who was known for his caustic attacks on public figures and who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1941 for his exposes of labor union corruption, died here today at the age of 74." 
  16. ^ Parody of the Virginia O'Hanlon/Francis P. Church exchange in the New York Sun, 1897.
  17. ^ Collected in More in Sorrow, Wolcott Gibbs, 1958. New York: Henry Holt.
  18. ^ Mad Magazine #31
  19. ^ Rich, Frank (October 11, 2008). "The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama". NYTimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/opinion/12rich.html. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  20. ^ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122100226859616967.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
  21. ^ http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1838808,00.html

Further reading

External links


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