Westbrook Pegler

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Westbrook Pegler
Pen name Westbrook Pegler
Occupation Author
Nationality  United States
Spouse(s) Julia Harpman Pegler, Maude Wettje Pegler

Francis James Westbrook Pegler (August 2, 1894 – June 24, 1969) was an American journalist and writer. He was a popular 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 the Hearst Corporation, after he started criticizing Hearst executives. His late writing appeared sporadically in publications that included the John Birch Society's American Opinion.[1]

Life and career

Pegler was born August 2, 1894, in Minneapolis, Minnesota where his father, Arthur James Pegler, was a newspaper editor.

The Roman Catholic Pegler married Julia Harpman, a onetime New York Daily News crime reporter from a Jewish family in Tennessee.[1] Later he married his secretary Maude Wettje.

Journalism career

Westbrook was the youngest American war correspondent during World War I, working for United Press.[2] He became a sports columnist after the war but soon wrote general interest articles. He moved in 1925 to the Chicago Tribune and in 1933 to the Scripps Howard syndicate, where he worked closely with his friend Roy Howard. He built up a large readership for his column 'Mister Pegler' and elicited this observation by Time magazine in its October 10, 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.[3]

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 that time his columns were distributed 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

Pegler supported President Franklin Delano Roosevelt initially but, after seeing the rise of fascism in Europe, he warned against the dangers of dictatorship in America and became one of the Roosevelt administration's sharpest critics over what he saw as its abuse of power. Thereafter he rarely missed an opportunity to criticize Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, or Vice President Henry A. Wallace. The New York Times stated in his obituary that Pegler lamented the failure of would-be assassin Giuseppe Zangara, who missed FDR and killed the mayor of Chicago instead. He "hit the wrong man" when gunning for Franklin Roosevelt.[4]

Pegler's views became more conservative in general. He was outraged by the New Deal's support for labor unions which he considered morally and politically corrupt.

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 allies in the labor movement, such as the National Maritime Union. He compared union advocates of the closed shop to Hitler's "goose-steppers". The National Maritime Union sued Hearst and Associated Press for an article by Pegler, settled out of court for $10, 000.[5] In Pegler's view, the corrupt labor boss was the greatest threat to the country. By the 1950s he was even more outspoken. 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."[6]

File:Westbrook Pegler.JPG
The headstone of Westbrook Pegler in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Feud with Eleanor Roosevelt

After 1942 Pegler assailed Eleanor Roosevelt (and FDR) regularly, who ignored his writings when in public. Recent scholars (including Betty Houchin Winfield, Kenneth O'Reilly, and Richard W. Steele) have reported that Franklin Roosevelt used the FBI for political purposes, and ordered wartime sedition investigations of isolationist and anti-New Deal newspaper publishers (such as William Randolph Hearst and the Chicago Tribune's Robert McCormick). Eleanor Roosevelt asked her husband to take action. On Dec. 10, 1942, FDR, citing evidence Eleanor had gathered, asked the FBI's Hoover to investigate Pegler, which it immediately did.[7]

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 Willie Bioff which led to the conviction of George Scalise.[8] 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."[9]

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.[10]

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."[11] He denounced the so-called 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.[12]

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 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." [13] Robert Kennedy would be assassinated three years later, not by a White southerner but by a Palestinian outraged at Kennedy’s support for Israel.


Pegler died of stomach cancer in Tucson, Arizona and is interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.[14]


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.[15] "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity", she said, attributing it to "a writer."[16] The speech was written by Matthew Scully, a senior speech writer for George W. Bush.[17]


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.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Farr (1975)
  2. Farr, Finis. Fair Enough: The Life of Westbrook Pegler. 1975, New Rochelle NY: Arlington House.
  3. "The Press: Mister Pegler", Time, 10 October 1938.
  4. Frank, Thomas (September 10, 2008). "The GOP Loves the Heartland To Death". The Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/article/SB122100226859616967.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today. 
  5. http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses/available/etd-04122008-211559/unrestricted/WaberAThesis.pdf | pages 31
  6. Pegler column in Milwaukee Sentinel Feb. 24, 1954
  7. 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
  8. http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Reporting
  9. Witwer, p.551.
  10. Pegler's column for July 27th, 1948 'In Which Our Hero Beards 'Guru' Wallace In His Own Den.'
  11. Emery, Edwin. The Press and America, Prentice-Hall, 1962, pp.569.
  12. Pilat, Pegler (1973)
  13. Frank and Mulcahey, Boob Jubilee: The Cultural Politics of the New Economy, W.W. Norton & Co., 2003 pp.358. ISBN 978039057775
  14. "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." 
  15. 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. 
  16. Frank, Thomas (September 10, 2008). "The GOP Loves the Heartland To Death". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122100226859616967.html?mod=googlenews_wsj. 
  17. "The Man Behind Palin's Speech". Time. September 4, 2008. http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1838808,00.html. 

Further reading

External links

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