Thursday, August 21, 2008
Scott Sues Times on Behalf of Publisher E.T. Earl
By ROGER M. GRACE
At the same time that attorney Joseph Scott was maintaining his own libel actions against the Los Angeles Times, he was also pressing a libel suit against the same newspaper on behalf of his client Edwin T. Earl, owner/publisher of competing newspapers.
Earl and his neighbor Harrison Gray Otis, owner/publisher of the Times, were arch rivals, prone to bicker in print.
The suit Earl filed against Otis and his newspaper, and others, stemmed from a Nov. 14, 1914 article in the Times with the headline, “LONG BEACH UNCOVERS ‘SOCIAL VAGRANT’ CLAN.” It tells of a police crackdown on “a coterie of Long Beach men whose unnatural tendencies caused them to make advances to other men.” The article names 30 defendants who quietly paid fines, and one who had pled not guilty and was on trial.
Earl—who had purchased the Los Angeles Express, a p.m. newspaper, in 1901, and started up the morning Tribune in 1911—took exception to that article being published. An editorial of Nov. 19, 1914 in the Tribune says, in part:
“Brutal journalism sometimes becomes homicidal journalism. Several instances are supplied by the recent record of local events. Driven to desperation because they were made the victims of sensational publicity, men have sought refuge in death from the attacks that were made upon them. They preferred to meet the instant judgment of God rather than face the merciless clamor of men.
“It is the business of newspapers to print the news, but that duty should be performed in decency and with discrimination....
“No interest of society is subserved by the premature exploitation of such accusations. The public will be as well protected against the offender if publicity is withheld until conviction shall have been secured....”
A Tribune editorial three days later adds:
“The Tribune and the Express do not believe that there is any ‘scoop’ in printing scandalous stories which frequently are untrue, or founded on blackmail, the publication of which will serve no good purpose and the only result of which will be to harm and injure the individual. The Tribune and Express do not believe that the public ever want to read this sort of stuff, and are resolved, even if there is a demand for this class of matter existing in a few depraved minds, that those persons will have to look elsewhere for the filth they seek. It long has been the custom of the Tribune and the Express to throw such matter in the waste basket.”
And, the spat continues:
•Nov. 29: A Times editorial proclaims: “[N]o matter how rich or influential or insistent a sinner may be, if he has committed an egregious offense against society The Times will not spare him. All concerned will please take notice. And let the heathen rage and the heathen’s wealthy relatives gnash their teeth and cry ‘brutal journalism.’ Huh!”
•Dec. 1: The Tribune calls for a boycott against the Times by readers and advertisers, declaring:
“Brutal journalism must be destroyed....
“If the people do not want destructive and harmful newspapers they will cease to support and patronize such newspapers. Without support evil newspapers cannot exist and brutal journalism will cease to be.”
•Dec. 2: The Tribune contains an editorial cartoon depicting the Times (or Otis) as a hog.
•Dec. 3: The Times responds, in a rash editorial headed “Defense of Degenerates”:
“The theory of the editor of the Morning Sodomite and the Evening Degenerate seems to be that those who violate the laws of God and man should be protected from punishment and sheltered from publicity, while those newspapers whose proprietors publish the news, and by so doing aid decent people to avoid ignorantly contaminating their households with well-dressed cultivated Pharisaical moral lepers, are to be denounced as ‘brutal journalists.’
“The Toopious [too pious] system is to coddle criminals, to conceal their crimes, and to denounce those who expose crime as ‘brutal journalists.’ The system of the Times is to publish the news, and if the news includes an account of the misdoings of a lot of pretentious Pharisees, who are as lecherous as goats and as conscienceless as jackasses in April, the acts of the evildoers will be exposed, notwithstanding the purchased defense of the editor of the Morning Sodomite and Evening Degenerate.”
•Dec. 4: The Tribune’s response comes in editorial with the headline, “Times Commits An Atrocious Libel.” It announces:
“A suit for libel will be filed against the Los Angeles Times at once by the publisher of the Express and the Tribune. The Times, in attempting to defend the practices of brutal journalism, directs a tirade of foul language against the Express and the Tribune and commits a libel in its reference to the ‘purchased defense’ of persons accused of crimes.”
That’s a suit that Scott would take to trial
and win, defending the judgment in the California Supreme Court.
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