When legendary American journalist Westbrook Pegler died, in Tucson, Arizona, on June 24, 1969, aged 74, newspapers across the country ran the story on page one and paid Pegler the ultimate tributes. One paper headlined its story “Acid-pen columnist dies”, another said Pegler was “Irascible, free-swinging”. Lauding him as “Pegler of the Thorny Prose”, The Cincinnati Enquirer said he “used his typewriter as other men have used a broadsword or a meat-axe”. He had been “the master of the vituperative epithet”, “a 50-year journeyman in the practice of invective”. For a typewriter-wielding newspaperman, it just didn’t get much better than that.
To be “hit by Pegler’s typewriter”, in defence of his perception of American values and the American way of life, was to be “Peglerised”, and that meant being condemned to eternal damnation. Fellow columnist Bob Considine wrote that Pegler’s typewriter “couldn’t write gray”, and that Pegler was both the most beloved and hated columnist in American “at one and the same time”.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent (the youngest in World War I) and sports writer, Pegler was both fearless and peerless. He had labelled Franklin D. Roosevelt a “feeble-minded fuehrer” and “Moosejaw”, Harry S. Truman a “hick” and a “thin-lipped hater”, J. Edgar Hoover a “nightclub fly-cop”, and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace “Bubblehead” and a “messianic fumbler”. Roosevelt asked Hoover to investigate Pegler, but the FBI found no evidence of sedition. Many other political and union leaders “came out of Pegler’s typewriter no less scathed”. One can only imagine what he would have made of Donald Trump. He might well have liked him.
Pegler’s column “Fair Enough”, which started in the New York World-Telegram in 1933, was syndicated by United Features of the Scripps-Howard organisation and later Hearst’s King Features to 186 newspapers until 1962. He was the first columnist to win a Pulitzer for reporting. His career had started as a 16-year-old in Chicago (where his father was himself a legendary journalist), covering the 1912 Republican National Convention.
At the height of his typewriting powers, in October 1938, Time said, “ … 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.”
Here is a piece Pegler wrote from the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria: