Thursday, August 28, 2008
Editorial Cartoon Prompts Filing of Cross Complaint by Times
By ROGER M. GRACE
The Los Angeles Times, hit by a lawsuit in 1915 seeking $125,000 for the alleged libeling of newspaper publisher/political boss Edwin T. Earl, retaliated with a cross complaint for $150,000 stemming from an editorial cartoon appearing in one of Earl’s two L.A. newspapers, the morning Tribune.
Attorney Joseph Scott, already suing the Times for alleged libel of himself, was now not only pursuing Earl’s action against the Times, but defending the Times’ action against Earl. Talk about narrow specialties….
The beef between the Times and Earl had its origin in a Times article of Nov. 14, 1914. As detailed here last week, The Times alluded to arrests, in separate incidents, of 31 men in Long Beach for the alleged solicitation of sex. All but one had earlier pled guilty, and the one who didn’t was presently on trial.
The Tribune excoriated the Times, arguing that decency required the withholding of such information from the public until such time as there had been a conviction.
As to the 30 who had pled guilty, there was, of course, a conviction. With respect to the one who was on trial…it was a public trial on a public charge…yet Earl—whose background was in the citrus fruit industry, not journalism—thought the matters should be kept secret.
Inasmuch as the defendants in Long Beach had sought homosexual sex, the Times sought to portray Earl as a protector of criminal perverts.
Earl displayed apathy toward the First Amendment; Times publisher/owner Harrison Gray Otis evinced intolerance of gays.
On Dec. 2, 1914, the Tribune published this editorial cartoon:
Earl’s action against the Times stemmed from its Dec. 3 editorial referring to “the purchased defense” of criminals by “the editor of the Morning Sodomite and Evening Degenerate.” The Times sought, lamely, to justify its allegation that Earl’s editorializing was “purchased” based not on any proof of actual pay-offs to him, but on a defense of “provocation”…amounting to the assertion that Earl had engaged in warfare against the Times and all was fair in war.
In cross complaining against Earl, the Times alleged in its pleading:
“That in and by said cartoon plaintiff intended to charge, and was understood by the readers of said paper as charging, that cross-complainant is a brute; that it is a hog; that, like that animal, it wallows in filth and indecency; that it is an assassinator of character; that salacious matter and unverified rumor is its entire stock in trade, and that it uses both to ruin the lives of men and women; that it is controlled neither by conscience nor feeling; that it carries on its business in a brutal and conscienceless manner; that it practices constantly, and is the embodiment of, brutal journalism; and that it is controlled and actuated solely by a desire to accumulate money, regardless of the means employed to accomplish that purpose; that each of said charges is false and untrue, and was known by plaintiff to be false and untrue when made by him, as herein alleged.”
The cross complaint was never tried. A demurrer was sustained without leave to amend. When all was said and done, the California Supreme Court upheld that determination, saying that, under the law (as it then existed):
“[A] cause of action for libel on one day could not be set up as a counterclaim to a cause of action for libel arising the next day, even though the second libel was the result of the first. They are separate and distinct transactions, and, though connected in the sense that one is the result of the other, they are, in contemplation of law, entirely separate.”
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