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Westbrook Pegler, the son of Arthur James Pegler, a newspaper editor, was born in Minneapolis on 2nd August, 1894. He worked on The American Magazine as a copyboy while attending the Loyola Academy. He eventually found work with the International News Service.
During the First World War Pegler became a war correspondent. According to Oliver Ramsay Pilat, the author of Pegler: Angry Man of the Press (1963), Pilat had "collisions with the high brass, when generals and admirals got between the young reporter and his copy".
After the war Pegler became a sports journalist. He was initially sympathetic to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal but became convinced that he was part of some communist conspiracy. In the 1930s he became a controversial newspaper columnist with the Chicago Daily News and The Washington Post and openly expressed his right-wing views. As Irwin Edman remarked. Pegler's main targets were the "Roosevelt family and all their works and days, all labor leaders, all intellectuals, poets, and radicals".
The New York Telegram employed Heywood Broun as their main columunist. Broun was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. His views were not shared by his employer, Roy W. Howard, and for the sake of "balance" decided to "offset Broun's liberal humanitarianism with the corrosive offerings of his opposite in ideology and temperament". His candidate for this post was Westbrook Pegler.
In one article published on 28th November 1936 Pegler praised the lynching of Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes that had taken place in San Jose in 1933. A mob had broken into the local jail and lynched two men who had been charged with having kidnapped and murdered Brooke Hart, the son of Alexander Hart, the owner of the Leopold Hart and Son Department Store. Pegler wrote that: "The fine theory of all expressions of horror and indignation is that punishment is not supposed to be vengeance but a protective business, whereas the rabble, which constitutes by far the greatest element of the population, want to make the murderer suffer as the victim or his family did. And, though they would be willing to let the Law do it for them if the Law could be relied upon, they know too well what lawyers will do when they get a chance to invoke a lot of legal technicalities which were written and passed by lawyers to provide lawyers with opportunities to make money."
Heywood Broun took the opposite point of view and condemned James Rolph, the governor of California, who had argued that lynching was "a fine lesson for the whole nation" and promised to pardon any man convicted of the lynching. Broun wrote: "If it were possible to carry on a case history of every person in the mob who beat and kicked and hanged and burned two human beings I will make the prophecy that out of this heritage will come crimes and cruelties which are unnumbered... To your knees, Governor, and pray that you and your commonwealth may be washed clean of this bath of bestiality into which a whole community has plunged."
Pegler published several collections of his articles: T Ain't Right (1936), Thoughts on the State of being Hung Over (1937), The Dissenting Opinions of Mister Westbrook Pegler (1938) and Peace on Earth (1938). One of his main targets was the Jewish community. He advanced the theory that American Jews of Eastern European descent were “instinctively sympathetic to Communism, however outwardly respectable they appeared.”
Heywood Broun was taken ill in December 1939. Broun's friends were appalled by the decision of Westbrook Pegler to write critically about Broun while he was unable to defend himself. Without any basis of truth, Pegler accused Broun of supporting Soviet press censorship and compared him to Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Earl Browder, the leader of the American Communist Party: "I have seen recent superficial expressions of disappointment in Moscow, but never an outright incantation, and even if I saw one I would have to treat it the same as I treat changes of front by Stalin, Hitler and Earl Browder."
Broun developed pneumonia and was taken to the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. As Richard O'Connor has pointed out: "Had antibiotics been developed a few years earlier, Broun would easily have won his struggle against the congestion in his chest. Instead his condition steadily worsened.... His temperature soared and for the next two days he was unconscious most of the time, with Connie and his son at his bedside and his friends gathered in the corridor outside or in the waiting room." Heywood Broun died in hospital on 18th December, 1939. Pegler went to Broun's funeral and according to his biographer, Oliver Pilat, he had been "appalled by the rudeness of the reception he got from friends of Broun at the cemetery". The journalist James Kirby recalled: "Pegler saw nothing inconsistent in attending the funeral of the late Heywood Broun within a few days of his most disgraceful diatribe against the great American while Broun lay on his deathbed." Quentin Reynolds added: "I think Broun, who is dead, will live a lot longer than the little men who try to defeat ideas by hating their fellow men."
Pegler began an investigation into racketeering in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Pegler discovered that William Morris Bioff and John Rosselli, members of the Chicago Outfit, who controlled George Brown, the president of the union. In 1941 Bioff was convicted as being part of a conspiracy to extort $1,000,000 from Hollywood film producers. Later that year Pegler won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation.
During the Second World War he became a strong critic of Eleanor Roosevelt. He wrote on The Washington Post on 12th February, 1942: "For all the gentle sweetness of my nature and my prose, I have been accused of rudeness to Mrs. Roosevelt when I only said she was impudent, presumptuous and conspiratorial, and that her withdrawal from public life at this time would be a fine public service... This lady is a meddler in many matters which are very improper business for the wife of the President of the United States, a status which is constantly invoked for her lest her activities be objectively discussed as those of an ordinary citizen."
Pegler suggested that her attacks on lynching and her support for civil rights was motivated by a sympathy for the American Communist Party. "Mrs. Roosevelt meddled in the Newspaper Guild, which was a Communist organization. Absolutely ineligible even on the pretext of her public diary, which is not her principal occupation, Mrs. Roosevelt nevertheless accepted membership to which she was not entitled and immediately became the political foe of all those American newspaper men and women who knew the character of the Guild, detested and resisted the dirty work of tireless Muscovites and bravely suffered its heartless persecutions."
His friend and fellow journalist, George Frazier, has argued: "It is sad to realise that Americans who remained unexposed to the daily press until the nineteen-forties knew him only as a columnist consumed with calumay toward certain idols and ideologies of our time. To them he is a writer who condoned lynching, lacerated the labor movement, and indulged in unpardonably personal abuse of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt."
Drew Pearson was a constant target of Pegler and accused the writer of being responsible for the death of James Forrestal. Pegler wrote: "For months, Drew Pearson... hounded Jim Forrestal with dirty aspersions and insinuations, until, at last, exhausted and his nerves unstrung, one of the finest servants that the Republic ever had died of suicide." On 23nd May, 1949, Pearson wrote in his diary that "Pegler had published a column virtually accusing me of murdering Forrestal." The following day he wrote: "Late this afternoon I clapped a libel suit of $250,000 on Pegler". The case was eventually settled out of court.
Pegler was an avid supporter of McCarthyism and gave information to Joseph McCarthy advice on left-wing writers and artists. Pegler was totally opposed to the civil rights movement and argued against the “pernicious heresy against the ancient privilege of human beings to hate.” He also argued in favour of "the praiseworthy pastime of batting the brains out of pickets” during trade union disputes.
In 1949 Dale Kramer published his book, Heywood Broun. It was reviewed by Quentin Reynolds in the New York Tribune. At the end of the review he commented on Pegler's article on Heywood Broun just before his death: ""Broun could talk of nothing but Pegler's attack on him.... It seemed incredible that he was allowing Pegler's absurd charge of dishonesty to hurt him so. But not even Connie could make him dismiss it from his mind. The doctor told him to relax; he'd be all right if he got some sleep. But he couldn't relax. He couldn't sleep."
Pegler was furious and in his syndicated column the next day he launched a savage attack on Reynolds. Pegler began his article by describing the New York Tribune as a "pro-Communist newspaper - always has been and still is." Reynolds was also a "pro-Communist". According to Richard O'Connor, Pegler said "Reynolds was a war profiteer, a social climber, and a man who bent to die his shoelace when the check was presented in a nightclub or restaurant; that he was a member of the parasitic, licentious group that surrounded Broun. He further charged that Reynolds was a nudist, that he was present at a frolic at the Sabine Farm during which a conspicuous Negro Communist seduced a susceptible young white girl. The charge that most deeply wounded Reynolds, however, was Pegler's claim that Reynolds, then unmarried, had proposed to Connie Broun on the trip to the cemetery from St. Patrick's Cathedral."
The article had run in 186 newspapers with a combined circulation of 12,000,000. Quentin Reynolds said to his wife, Virginia Peine, the actress: "Would you mind if I sued?" She replied: "I'd have divorced you if you didn't." Reynolds engaged the celebrated trial lawyer Louis Nizer and filed a $50,000 libel suit. However, Reynolds did not receive any support from the media industry. C had purchased 310 articles from Reynolds between 1933 and 1949. After the so-called libel column appeared the magazine bought no new material from him. Requests to appear on radio also came to an end. His agent, Mark Hanna, found that he was now "too controversial".
Pegler went back on the attack and described Reynolds as a "Communist traitor". Mrs. Reynolds went to see Pegler at his office on East 45th Street in New York City. She asked him: "Why don't you let up? Do you want to destroy us?" He replied that if the libel suit were dropped he promised he would never write another word about her husband. When he heard what Pegler had said, Reynolds told his wife that he had "no intention of being bludgeoned into submission".
The trial did not take place until June 1954. Pegler had to endure a long cross-examination by Louis Nizer. When the lawyer drew near to hand him a document, he shrilled unexpectedly: "Get away from me, get away!" Thereafter a court attendant was designated to hand exhibits back and forth between the men. At the end of his testimony Nizer pointed out that Pegler had contradicted himself under oath in 130 instances. Pegler replied that this was due to Nizer's "exhausting brain-washing tactics".
Pegler claimed that Heywood Broun had immoral parties at Sabine Farm. Once again he insisted that an unnamed "Negro singer seduced... a susceptible white girl". He added that the farm was "a low dirty place" and Broun was "filthy, uncombed and unpressed, with his fly open, looking like a Skid Row bum." Quentin Reynolds "imitated but did not exactly emulate" Broun's sartorial carelessness.
Famous war correspondents including John Gunther, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Kerr, Ken Downs and Lionel Shapiro took the stand to say that Reynolds had acted bravely under fire. It was pointed out that he was one of the last foreign correspondents to leave Paris before the German Army moved in. Another witness claimed that Reynolds nearly died from sun exposure after crawling through enemy lines during the Desert War. Others gave evidence of his courage while reporting the Blitz. As Oliver Pilat, the author of Pegler: Angry Man of the Press (1963) explained: "His (Reynolds) reputation was genuine enough. In the face of it, Pegler's charges of slackerism, war profiteering and cowardice fell flat."
During his testimony Pegler described Reynolds as being "so far to the left as to be almost out of the Democratic Party... I don't say he is not loyal and a good American. I say he is a dope!" Louis Nizer raised doubts about Reynolds so-called "pro-Communist" views by producing a letter from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover certifying Reynolds as the sort of "confirmed liberal" who constituted the country's best bulwark against communism.
In the witness box Pegler claimed that Quentin Reynolds had once gone "nuding along the public road with his girl friend of the moment". He admitted that he had never seen Reynolds without clothes but learned of Reynolds' nude bathing at Sabine Farm from Connie Broun. Pegler claimed that while she was rowing on the lake, Reynolds was in shallow water, while wearing no trunks. There he was "with his lavalliere dangling while she looked at the sky and the trees." When she gave evidence she denied she ever told Pegler this story. In fact, she never went rowing as she dreaded the water because she was unable to swim. Connie also denied that Reynolds proposed to her during the funeral. She pointed out that she was accompanied by Broun's son, Heywood Hale Broun and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen during the trip to the cemetery.
In his final summary, Louis Nizer pointed out that he was able to call twenty-eight character witnesses for Reynolds, whereas there had been not a single character witness for Pegler. Why? "There isn't another writer that has a worse reputation for inaccuracy, indecency, for recklessness, for malice, for hatred, for viciousness, for besmirching people's characters and destroying them."
The jury, eight men and four women, deliberated for thirteen hours. It returned a verdict of $175,001. It was later revealed that the original vote was for $475,000. However, to get an unanimous verdict, required by law, it was agreed to reduce it to $175,001. Despite a series of appeals, the verdict was not reduced. With the addition of interest and other charges, Reynolds won almost $200,000, the largest amount ever collected in an American libel case.
In 16th June, 1961, Pegler criticised Freedom Riders who had travelled to Jackson, Mississippi: "Today I went to city jail to try to learn from some of the prisoners taken in the miserable fraud called Freedom Riders just what freedom they desired that was denied them. Most of them come from Northern communities where they may associate freely across the color line, which has no existence. A white man or woman can go to a public toilet in a bus station without the slightest notice, to say nothing of opposition. So they decided, under organized incitation from offices in New York, to travel a thousand miles to deprive themselves of that freedom and invite personal assault by taunting the people of Jackson."
Pegler attacked President John F. Kennedy for the renewed attempts to achieve civil rights legislation. He argued that this would result in a Deep South backlash and in 1965 he warned that Robert F. Kennedy would be come a victim of "some white patriot of the Southern tier" who "will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies."
Pegler led the attack on Martin Luther King Jr. and after he delivered his famous I Have a Dream Speech, he wrote in a column, “It is clearly the bounden duty of all intelligent Americans to proclaim and practice bigotry.”
Westbrook Pegler died of stomach cancer on 24th June, 1969.
(1) Westbrook Pegler, The Lynching Story (1936)
As one member of the rabble, I will admit that I said "Fine, that is swell," when the papers came up that day, telling of the lynching of the two men who killed the young fellow in California, and that I haven't changed my mind yet for all the storm of right-mindedness which has blown up since. I know how storms of right-mindedness are made.
The city editor calls a fellow over and tells him to call up a lot of names on the office right-mindedness list and get about a column of expressions of horror and indignation.
There are various standard lists in all shops. One is the list to be called up when some police captain in Boston bars some dirty book from public sale. This one includes a lot of one-book novelists who will say that the Boston police captain undoubtedly is just an ignorant cop who ought to be out shooting hoodlums.
There is another group to be called up for expressions on the restlessness of modern youth when some drunk guy falls out the window of a penthouse while drunk. There is a feminism list, a nudism list, an is-jazz-music? list, and so forth.
Well, the city editor tells the fellow to get about a column of horror and indignation over the lynching, and he goes into the phone booth and comes out about a half-hour later with a mess of copy-paper all scratched up with chicken-track notes. He has nailed the president of the university, the head of the Bar association, a couple of publicity-crazy judges, the governor, the head man of the local crime committee, and several prominent ladies who go in for right-mindedness and good works in a grim way.
Then the editorial page cartoonist, if there is one, draws a picture of a robust female in a loose wrapper with her head bowed and a broken sword in one hand and an apothecary's scale, with the chains all tangled up, in the other. Or, if there isn't a cartoonist in the house, a drawing drops in by mail from the big syndicate. Now the storm of right-mindedness is gathered together in the forms, and a little while later it begins breaking over the community.
But all the time the two men who kidnaped the young fellow and took him out on a bridge, where they knocked him on the head with a concrete block and threw him into the water, are permanently dead. They did it, and they got theirs and however hard the storm of right-mindedness may blow up, one certain thing is that no lawyer is ever going to get them loose on a writ of habeas corpus or a writ based on the fact that some stenographer, in typing the indictment, hit a comma instead of a semicolon. Neither is any Len Small, come to the governor's office ten or fifteen years later, going to turn them loose in payment for some service which some hoodlum politician performed for him in the last election or might perform in the next. Not even Ma Ferguson, of Texas, can pardon a corpse.
The fine theory of all expressions of horror and indignation is that punishment is not supposed to be vengeance but a protective business, whereas the rabble, which constitutes by far the greatest element of the population, want to make the murderer suffer as the victim or his family did. And, though they would be willing to let the Law do it for them if the Law could be relied upon, they know too well what lawyers will do when they get a chance to invoke a lot of legal technicalities which were written and passed by lawyers to provide lawyers with opportunities to make money.
I claim authority to speak for the rabble because I am a member of the rabble in good standing, and I claim to know how lawyers work because I have worked around the Courts in the newspaper business long enough to observe that there is never a criminal so vile but that his lawyer, under the pretext of obedience to his duty and by virtue of a lawyer's law enacted to help lawyers cheat other laws, will try to get him loose.
I have talked this over with several men who took part in the preparation of the recent storm of right-mindedness over the California lynching, and every one of them said that he and his wife, both, said, "Fine; that's swell," or words to that effect, when they first heard the news.
But they distinguish between their private, personal feelings and opinions in the matter, as spiritual members of the rabble, and their public actions and utterances as members of the right-minded element. Having no public position myself, I can be consistent.
I am told there have been other lynching since those in San Jose and that the approving statement of the Governor of California probably acted as incitement in these cases. These lynchings will be matters of horror to the right-minded group, the more so if there happened to be an innocent man among them. But in the same period of time since the California case there will have been probably fifty murders in the country, and the victims will include quite a few innocent men and women, too.
I would pay more attention to storms of right-mindedness if they ever blew against the attorneys-at-law who argue and plead that one-to-ten years is a fair price for a good man's life, and play dirt tricks on the law to cheat the rabble of even that little if they can.
(2) Westbrook Pegler, Evolution of the Liberal (1942)
In the United States, prohibition appeared as a little red blotch, later to develop into a horrible corruption, which left permanent damage in contempt for law and suspicion of public officers long after repeal cured the disease itself, and great was the resentment against prohibition on the ground that a few politico-religious organizations and rich industrialists were trying to force most of the people to abide by the rule and conform to the tastes and an extreme moral verboten of a few.
Of course, there was much more to liberalism, but the kernel of it was individual rights and rebellion against compulsion beyond the minimum restraints necessary for the regulation of traffic.
Little did we think then that liberalism would curl up its tail and sting itself full of poison in its angry threshing before two decades had passed, but now ain't it the truth?
For today the surviving members of the group who fought most angrily against goose-stepping in the early 1920s are almost all to be found in that element who hold that any worker who prefers to remain a loner, or individual, is a pathetic coward, a dirty traitor to his fellowmen, in receipt of secret pay from his boss, a mulish and selfish parasite, enjoying the benefits of other men's struggle and peril of a Fascist.
Whatever he is, he has no right as an individual to conduct himself as an individual, and by trying to do so he exiles himself from human society, sets himself against his fellowmen and deserves any harm that befalls him in a contest of his own choosing. If he is thrown out of his job, in which it has been contended by the liberals that he has a property right, that is his own fault. If his family suffers mental and physical harassment and goes hungry and cold, that again is his fault, and the failure to protect and provide is his to answer for. If, by the verdict of a union of which he is not a member, after a trial in his absence, his is forever barred from all employment where unions govern the work, that again is his own lookout. He could avoid all these penalties, theoretically, if he would but join the union or walk the goose-step.
The day came when liberal who had fiercely hated the goose-step, goose-stepped in a sort of prisoners' march before premises struck by minority vote to revile individual men, stone them and beat them, for their refusal to submit to regimentation and discipline. And men who had insisted that they placed truth above all things so far abandoned their liberalism that they plainly admitted that they preferred to suppress, ignore or deny truths about corruption and a thousand forms of oppression in labor unions rather than hurt their new cause of regimentation or goose-stepping.
(3) Westbrook Pegler, The Washington Post (12th February, 1942)
For all the gentle sweetness of my nature and my prose, I have been accused of rudeness to Mrs. Roosevelt when I only said she was impudent, presumptuous and conspiratorial, and that her withdrawal from public life at this time would be a fine public service.
That is just an opinion, and there may be other opinions on the subject, but I maintain that it is expressed in chaste and gentlemanly language and with no more vigor than most of us are used to in our discussion of controversial subjects.
This lady is a meddler in many matters which are very improper business for the wife of the President of the United States, a status which is constantly invoked for her lest her activities be objectively discussed as those of an ordinary citizen.
Long ago Mrs. Roosevelt meddled in the Newspaper Guild, which was a Communist organization. Absolutely ineligible even on the pretext of her public diary, which is not her principal occupation, Mrs. Roosevelt nevertheless accepted membership to which she was not entitled and immediately became the political foe of all those American newspapermen and women who knew the character of the Guild, detested and resisted the dirty work of tireless Muscovites and bravely suffered its heartless persecutions.
She was granted membership because she was the President's wife and for no other reason, which meant that the Communists wanted to make use of her position. Thus the victims of the plot could not but feel the highest office in their own country, the Presidency, was permitted to be used against them in the interests of men and women whose mission was not to improve the lot of reporters but to establish the Soviet system of government here, and they were absolutely right.
Legally Mrs. Roosevelt, even as the wife of the president, has no more authority than any other citizen of the Republic. She is on a common footing with Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. George Spelvin, but we always treat our Madame President with a special respect because the office of her husband, which she partakes of, is the highest temporal authority in our country. But when our first lady commercializes that respect for profit and in competition with the rest of the people by her association with persons who associate with enemies of the American system, antagonizes the people, it is she, not her critics, who fails in respect for the office.
Mrs. Roosevelt's quiet salting around of her personal friends in the Government employ is no new thing. The Dies Committee has known of this for a long time, and has muttered about it, but the Dies Committee lives under a political sword and has had to speak softly lest Mrs. Roosevelt exert her influence to starve it of money with which to continue its work. Mrs. Roosevelt has openly used her office against this committee of the United States Congress.
Mrs. Roosevelt has absolutely no right to appoint anyone to any public position, but now it comes out that she has named one actor, one eurythmicist, or dancer, and one secretary from her private payroll to paid jobs in the Office of Civilian Defense, and one professional to an unpaid position in the same important department. The youth, incidentally, formerly was a fair haired boy of the Communist Front, married a young campus cutie who has been infected with the Moscow principles and celebrated her marriage with a piece in a Muscovite paper, entitled "My Father was a Liar" was divorced, and now, at the age of 32, is held up to the American people by Mrs. Roosevelt as a person fit for leadership of American youth. He, also, is on Mrs. Roosevelt's private payroll, the money for which is derived from the commercialization of the Presidential office.
One day in London, during the last war, one of the tabloids came out with a shocking scandal, exposing the fact that "petticoat government" had been established in Whitehall, and especially in the war office, whereby certain favorites of an influential lady were planted in safe and cushy jobs in Blighty. Winston Churchill would remember it well, for the lady was a relative of his. The British reacted calmly, the lady's ears were slapped down and Britain got into the war.
Still scrupulously avoiding impoliteness, I insist that Mrs. Roosevelt's activities have been not helpful but, on the whole, very harmful, that she has been guilty of imposition and effrontery that, for all her pleadings against discrimination for creed and color, has herself actively encouraged cruel discrimination against Americans refusing to join unions wherefore she should retire.
(4) Irwin Edman, Saturday Review of Literature (26th September, 1942)
It is difficult to write about Westbrook Pegler without being as unfair, as intolerant, and as rambunctious as he is. One is tempted to try to imitate his epithets, which would not be easy, and to emulate his intellectual morals, which would be nothing short of scandalous. Perhaps I should yield to the temptation of paying him as nearly as I could in his own bright but dubious currency. I am restrained only by the fact that I have a qualified admiration for his style, vigorous often to the point of unconscious burlesque. And I cannot deny that Mr. Pegler has an ear for the dialogue of what he thinks is the man in the street - really the man in the golf club locker room or the bar of resort hotels. In his Mr. George Spelvin and Mrs. George Spelvin he has created believable myths. Through them he has uttered with fidelity the prejudices, the limitations, the he-mannish and she-womanish snobberies of the well-heeled commuters who to Mr. Pegler's mind retain all the virtues of the homely backwoodsmen and all the liberty-loving enterprise of the frontier.
Mr. Pegler's syndicated popularity - these collected pieces are, one presumes, an anthology of his best pieces or what he holds to be such - is not hard to understand. He has kept the flair of the gifted sports writer he once was, and in a two-fisted, pulling-no-punches, hairy-chested, pastiche-Hemingway fashion, lashes out at everything he thinks wicked in the world. Preeminent among such evils are the Roosevelt family and all their works and days, all labor leaders, all intellectuals, poets, and radicals. To read Mr. Pegler you would think there was something prima facie hypocritical about having a mind and something criminal about using it. Words of more than five letters seem to Mr. Pegler almost as suspicious as words of four letters, which, by the way, seems as far as one can make out, from his essay on the subject, to constitute Steinbeck's whole contribution to modern literature. "Intellectual" seem to be for Mr. Pegler a synonym for a life compounded of silliness and foreign rascality. I suspect Mr. Pegler would not have been much impressed by Socrates's "Apology" for his life. Mr. Pegler is busy these days passing out hemlock to anyone trying to lead anything like a Socratic life.
Of course in Mr. Pegler's well known and well twisted ideology - sorry, in his log cabin noodle, any radical is by definition filthy. The reader may think I am exaggerating, that even Mr. Pegler would be "fair enough" to recognize that a man might have ideas quite revolutionary and be physically quite clean and in manners quite decent. But Mr. Pegler pulls no punches, even when they are below the belt. In a profound meditation called "Radicalism and Hygiene" our Hegel in homespun opines:
"Probably it is not so much the radical ideas but offensive personalities and on warm days an odor as of something not quite fresh, which have made most Americans suspicious of radicalism. There is also a deterrent in the apparent though not quite real requirement that to sympathize with radical ideas one must give up hygiene, become personally filthy and, as between husband and wife each agree that the other may jump the fence whenever he or she is troubled by a dream."
Neat, what? Radicalism and psychoanalysis and divorce all impaled on one paragraph. Mr. Pegler doesn't have a good memory though (probably too intellectual a habit). He can't remember that on an earlier page he had practically made Mrs. Roosevelt out a communist and yet I am sure he knows she is not divorced and is quite hygienic.
Mr. Pegler is equal death on "high class thinkers," on people who spend weeks, as he puts it, on one neat little job of ratiocination, on people who use five or six-letter words when they are not using those exclusively of four. And he is withering in his scorn of poets. He writes that
"I owe it to myself to show something of my esthetic nature, but, as a preliminary, would like to explain that poetry is a great fake, at once the most pretentious and the least respectable method of literary expression... You start with no idea, and write in all directions from a point some distance off center, and your work can ask no higher praise than the verdict that it doesn't seem to mean anything."
One can just see the permanent adolescents around the bar, the Philistines of fifty, lapping that one up along with the fifth Scotch and soda. They knew back in college that poetry was rot, and here is a fifty thousand dollar a year writer who says so too.
Mr. Pegler would, perhaps, not be so deplorable an enemy of civilization in this country if it were only liberals, intellectuals, and poets he inveighs against. Mind has survived barbarians before this. But sneaking through his philippics, while we are in the midst of a global war, come sneers at everyone who takes seriously the thought that the world is now, for better or worse, one; who regards "foreign" problems as in a very real sense American problems, and who dares to think of the war in terms of an eventual world order that will make war again impossible. Because some radicals do not wear clean linen, because Mr. Pegler cannot understand poets and philosophers, because some labor leaders are criminals, Mr. Pegler sets out to indict the whole of intellectual, of liberal radical opinion, of poetry and philosophy. He has become the animated defense-mechanism of all the sleazy little prejudices of the Philistine and the reactionary. And all, mind you, in the name of simple downright honesty and of the great "American" tradition. It's a pity, for in his hurly burly way, Pegler can write. As he himself puts it, about something else than his own methods: "The ball-bat and tire iron, the meat hook and the brick are effective weapons for organization, but they do not appeal to reason."
(5) Westbrook Pegler, Jackson Daily News (16th June, 1961)
It is a mocking comment on the mawkish generosity of the American character that the bands of insipid futilities of the type called bleeding hearts can invade one of the finest American cities and arouse a howling national uproar of indignation, disgust, pity and shame. This the so-called freedom riders have done in Jackson, a really fine American city.
Its history and moral and patriotic traditions have been watered by the blood of heroes who have defended their homeland against a hot-eyed aggressor, incited by blood-thirsty Boston patrioteers, and its reputation has been smeared by enemies in New York who live by hate while yowling their pity for victims of hatred.
In Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., surprise caught the police off guard, and these errors were studied in Jackson for the peace of the community and the pride of a sensitive homeland. There may be other American cities as tender of their precious heritage, but New York in not one of them. There are only a few native families whose members love New York with the unspeakable affection that inspires Jackson, the capital of Mississippi.
I know of Irish in New York whose immigrant forebears were socially and racially almost unemployable within the last century who still doggedly love their harassed and degraded city, but every hour, and at almost every corner, they seem to remember tha New York is not a beloved home of conscientious people as Jackson is, but a mysterious labyrinth of sinister strangers who fear one another.
Today I went to city jail to try to learn from some of the prisoners taken in the miserable fraud called Freedom Riders just what freedom they desired that was denied them.
Most of them come from Northern communities where they may associate freely across the color line, which has no existence. A white man or woman can go to a public toilet in a bus station without the slightest notice, to say nothing of opposition. So they decided, under organized incitation from offices in New York, to travel a thousand miles to deprive themselves of that freedom and invite personal assault by taunting the people of Jackson.
Mr. M. B. Pierce, the chief of detectives, took me up to the city jail and the first prison who was let into a little bare room was a pale, frail boy of 21, Charles David Myers, of Noblesville, Ind. He had sprigs of wispy whiskers and the start of beatnik sideburns although they all are allowed to shave. He said he was a Quaker whose soul suffered at the thought of someone (God, of necessity) had created a difference between him and his dark brethren. So he put himself into Central State College at Wilberforce, Ohio, with 2000 students, formerly all Negroes but now infiltrated with 200 whites.
It does not follow that 1800 Negroes enjoy such a bore or feel that assimilation to Myers improves their condition.
His father is a laborer and his mother is a household servant. Their family life is pleasant and poverty is not their lot. Why had he come to Mississippi – possibly to strike a spark of hatred to light a holocaust in an innocent community of human beings? I asked him if he had ever heard of the Chicago race riot stated by such a spark when a white boy hit a Negro boy with a thrown stone at Hyde Park beach. Did he know that 500 innocents were hurt and 30 died for that mere mishap? He had never heard of it.
(6) George Frazier, The New York Times (4th August, 1963)
It is sad to realise that Americans who remained unexposed to the daily press until the nineteen-forties knew him only as a columnist consumed with calumay toward certain idols and ideologies of our time. To them he is a writer who condoned lynching, lacerated the labor movement, and indulged in unpardonably personal abuse of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
(7) Alex Constantine, Westbrook Pegler (16th September, 2008)
In her convention speech a fortnight ago, Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin quoted an unidentified “writer” who extolled the virtues of small-town America: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.” (9/3/08) The unidentified writer was Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969), the ultraconservative newspaper columnist whose widely syndicated columns (at its peak, 200 newspapers and 12 million readers) targeted the New Deal establishment, labor leaders, intellectuals, homosexuals, Jews, and poets.
Palin certainly didn't write her speech, and even her distinctly dismal assembly of words in her ABC interview with Charles Gibson were probably not hers. Apropos the wisdom about small towns, her staff also did not trust themselves to do a sentence approximating the thought. So they went to... well, not a treasury of great quotations. It is, after all, a rather banal thought, banally expressed. They went to Westbrook Pegler.
You have to be pretty old to know that Pegler would be a treasure house of right-wing populist jargon. The fact is - and I've been checking this all day - no one under 65 with whom I spoke had the slightest idea who he was. So who, then, would know to breeze through the writing of Westbrook Pegler, of all people, in search of what is, after all, just a cliche? Surely only someone knowledgeable (and sympathetic to?) native American fascism.
There were many native American fascists around during the thirties: Father Coughlin, Senator Bilbo, Charles Linndbergh, just to mention a few. And, of course, Pegler himself. A popular journalist, he was syndicated by the Hearst chain, which in those days shared the kind of patriotism articulated by fascists. I knew Pegler as a child from my mother's curses, although she did not read the Journal American which was the Hearst outlet in New York. He was also published by The Washington Post. (For liberals and for Jews "Pegler" was a symbol of everything truly hateful, a not inappropriate approximation.) Pegler was so bad that, when already in his dotage, even the John Birch Society refused to be embarrassed by his writing and pushed him out the door.
© John Simkin, March 2013