Saturday, January 12, 2008

Quote of the Day: Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes

"The fact that liberty of the press may be abused by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not make any the less necessary the immunity of the press from previous restraint in dealing with official misconduct. Subsequent punishment for such abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy consistent with constitutional privilege."
Those words, from a Supreme Court decision by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in 1931, appear engraved into the wall of the Chicago Tribune Building.

The case started in Minneapolis with a disreputable rag called the Saturday Press. It was published by a scandal monger named Howard Guilford, who, days before the first issue was to come out, was run off the road and shot by thugs who may have been employed by either corrupt police and politicians or local crime bosses. That was 1927.

The paper was shut down by future Minnesota governor Floyd Olson, then a county attorney, under a public nuisance law. Guilford and his reporter, Jay M. Near, had badmouthed the chief of police and mayor, accusing them and everyone else of corruption. They were probably guilty. But the paper's rants were relentless and full of anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-labor, and anti-black rhetoric.

The judge in Minneapolis ruled: "The designation of such publications as 'nuisances' immediately puts them into that class of things that are harmful to the community at large."

Enter the right-wing publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Col. Robert McCormick. He was an isolationist and later a big opponent of America's entry into WWII. But in the meantime, he was a champion of the press. He heard about Guilford's Minneapolis court defeat and decided to bankroll an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, an appeal they won.

Guilford announced his intention to run for mayor of Minneapolis in 1934, but he was shot and killed in a drive-by.

Read more about it in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, here.

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