Pegler, Angry Man of the Press

Pegler, Angry Man of the Press

Pegler, Angry Man of the Press

Pegler, Angry Man of the Press

Excerpt

Here was a writer who reached instinctively for an opponent's throat. His urge to humiliate and kill, felt through the filter of newsprint, made him the nation's outstanding controversialist in the twentieth century. "Journalism's angry man," they called him. Indignant would have been a better adjective, since his brief essays were usually inspired by a strong but elemental sense of justice. In Robert Burns's phrase, he was an "unco' righteous" fellow.

Poorly educated, non-intellectual, not even sophisticated-- despite the Broadway-wise cynicism he affected--he found it easier to grapple with an enemy than with an idea. He became as deadly a duelist with words as Alexander Dumas with a sword at Versailles, or Aaron Burr with a pistol at Weehawken.

For focusing his highly obtrusive pique in a readable way, he was rewarded with wide attention, a Pulitzer prize and lesser journalistic medals, a biography in Who's Who and an income exceeding that of the President of the United States.

Despite frequent insinuations that he must be unbalanced, he was sane by ordinary medical and legal standards. The emotional intensity of his columns provided an excellent form of catharsis. By his own standards, he was incorruptible, honorable and sincere, but sincerity is only an effort to gauge reality and conform to it, and his tools for that effort were inadequate.

He remained uncomfortable no matter where he lived. Usually separated from his followers by distance, he felt conscious of unfriendly eyes, ears and voices close to him. He had a weakness for wanting to make history, yet he could not help realizing that the tide ran adversely. In such a mood, he once remarked that the late Henry L. Mencken, a lesser insurgent, "never lived an hour in the bitter loneliness of the True Crusader of the Press." This was his preferred self-image: "the reporter who tells the truth and walks alone," the True Crusader of the Press.

Once upon a time, it was possible for many millions of Americans, not all of them dunderheads, reactionaries and bigots . . .

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