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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,030

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This is the grave of Westbrook Pegler.

Born in 1894 in Minneapolis, this nasty reactionary unfortunately chose to go into journalism instead of something that wouldn’t have spread his filth around in the same way. He grew up in the newspaper business and his father was an editor for a local paper. Evidently, his father was a drunk and street fighter as well, two traits he would pass to his son. Pegler was one of the youngest war correspondents the U.S. had in World War I, if not the youngest. He became a sports writer. Too bad he didn’t stay there. For example, hardly anyone knows that the sportscaster Chris Myers is a fascist because he still works in sports, but at least according to Keith Olbermann, Myers is very much a fascist.

In 1933, Pegler got a job with the Chicago Tribune, which was a strongly anti-New Deal paper. This allowed Pegler to just go off on his reactionary awfulness. At first, he wasn’t so bad. But then he saw FDR as basically Mussolini or Stalin, a dictator who could destroy America. This seriously affected his ability to evaluate the nation and he became bitter, awful, and wealthy off his bitter awfulness. This guy hated everything. He hated FDR. He hated New Dealers. He hated labor unions. He hated anything that might improve the country. He was just a real piece of work. For him, the 1920s were the great years and he always wrote about them with nostalgia, ignoring the real suffering of both that decade and then the Depression, which he mostly blamed on laziness.

Unfortunately, Pegler built up a sizable audience and made himself a lot of money. Moreover, since there were bad labor unions as well as the many good labor unions, Pegler became a master of tainting the entire movement due to the corruption of the few. In 1941, he won a Pulitzer for a series of articles he wrote that discussed the mobbed up unions and the racketeering that went along with them. Moreover, he was the type of writer who is truly the worst–someone who claimed to be speaking for the working class while seeking to crush any kind of worker power. Soon after he won the Pulitzer, Pegler moved to the Hearst syndicate. He got so bad that when FDR’s would-be assassin missed the president and killed the mayor of Chicago instead, Pegler actually said that “he hit the wrong man.” Eleanor was just as evil as FDR in his mind. He really despised Henry Wallace. And while he may have had a point with his attacks on the corrupt unions, he just loathed even the least corrupt unions as combinations that crushed freedom. It got so over the top that the National Maritime Union not only sued Pegler for slander, but he settled out of court for $10,000.

Pegler’s hate definitely included the Japanese. There were few voices calling so loudly for putting the Japanese-American community into concentration camps during World War II than Pegler. He stated, “The Japanese in California should be under guard to the last man and woman right now and to hell with habeas corpus until the danger is over.” Of course he didn’t say this about the Germans or Italians. As early as 1942, the liberal commenter George West wrote that Pegler was “giving greater aid and comfort to our domestic fascists than any other one man in the United States.” He also had a history of actively supporting lynching in his columns when he thought it was for the right reason, which very much meant it was for the wrong reason. He also liked to claim that lots of guys he didn’t like were homosexuals, including Frank Sinatra, which led Sinatra to try and beat him up and brought Orson Welles along to help out. Sadly, Pegler ran away.

It was Pegler who exposed Henry Wallace’s “guru letters.” Now, Wallace was a weird guy. He was a seeker and like a lot of seekers, he could find himself attracted to charlatans. In this case, Wallace had actually sent his guru on a mission to Manchuria in the early years of World War II, which was partially about collecting plant samples but also pushing for world peace. So yeah, Wallace was, again, a weird guy. But Pegler took so much joy in getting access to the letters Wallace had written the guy. He wanted to destroy Wallace. In fact, they got in a shouting match during a press conference over the issue. There’s almost no way Wallace would have won the presidency in 1948, even if he had gotten the Democratic nomination. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give Pegler credit for this. Let’s just say that Pegler enjoyed it a lot.

By the 1950s, Pegler was basically a fascist. He earlier claimed he hated fascism. That was part of his hatred of FDR. But now, well, aren’t there advantages in being the dictator yourself and being able to throw all your enemies in prison? Pegler certainly came to that point. He urged the government to nationalize both the AFL and CIO to crush them. He actually addressed the fascism issue on this, saying “Yes, that would be fascism. But I, who detest fascism, see advantages in such fascism.” Oh, OK. He then turned his hatred toward the civil rights movement, which he thought was controlled by communists. By the early 60s, Pegler was writing for the John Birch Society. In 1965, he wrote that Robert F. Kennedy would face the following fate: “Some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.” Well, not quite but close enough and something that Pegler basically cheered for in any case. Kennedy hated him deeply, referring to him in a speech as “fascist writer Westbrook Pegler, an avowed racist.” Yep.

Pegler was forced into only writing for right-wing publications in 1962 when the Hearst syndicate fired him and he was too toxic for any mainstream publication to touch. This 1999 article compared Pegler to G. Gordon Liddy. That’s about right.

Pegler died of stomach cancer in 1969. I hope he suffered. He was 74 years old.

In 2004, William F. Buckley wrote a profile of Pegler for The New Yorker, wanting to revive him as a hero for the future. Well, both Buckley and Pegler sure would have loved Trump and Fox News and OANN and all that fascism.

Westbrook Pegler is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other right-wing scumbag “journalists,” you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Rush Limbaugh is in St. Louis and Andrew Breitbart is in Culver City, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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