Live Loeb or Die

Who the hell is William Loeb? by Kevin Cash Amoskeag Press, Inc. $5.95

IF YOU'RE wondering why you've never heard of the above Amoskeag Press, it's because there is no such outfit to speak of. It was created by Kevin Cash because no publishing company, in New Hampshire or elsewhere, would touch a biography of William Loeb, and most rejected Cash's book sight unseen. Since critical studies of almost everybody imaginable from government officials to religious leaders, are published all the time in this country, the refusal to handle this particular biography is in itself remarkable, something of an indication of what makes William Loeb worthy of serious attention.

A combination of ultra-rightist, 19th century political values and a unique, personality-oriented, gutter-sniping editorial style, modeled on the journalistic mode of the now defunct Hearst papers, have made Loeb the best known publisher in America. His power base is the Manchester Union Leader, which he bought in 1946, the only state-wide newspaper in New Hampshire. He is also the principal owner of the New Hampshire Sunday News and the Vermont Sunday News. For a good example of where he is at stylistically--if not politically--one might turn to the New Hampshire Sunday paper's response to Kissinger's appointment as Secretary of State in 1973, The politics in this editorial are unusually muddled for a Loeb paper, but the general approach is typical. The headline read, "Kissinger the Kike?":

Henry Kissinger, once a darling of the leftists, is now the target of a bitter barrage from the liberal news media because of his acceptance of an appointment as Mr. Nixon's Secretary of State. All week the liberals were excoriating his as a deep-dyed villain. One of the commonest complaints against him is that he is not only a Jew, but speaks with a German-Jewish accent! This charge was leveled over an interlocking cabal of TV networks and newspapers which are themselves owned and operated by Jews.

Typical was a piece by William V. Shannon, an editor of the N.Y. Times, which is owned by the Jew, Sulzberger...

Tuesday night Martin Agronsky, another Jew, picked up the Shannon column on his nightly news panel over the Public Broadcasting System-N.H. channel 11. Agronsky quoted some of the most obnoxious allegations by Shannon. However the host of the panel was nonplussed. Both his panelists, though non-Jews, revealed themselves as long time and continuing friends and admirers of the Jew, Kissinger.

Kevin Cash provides a rambling account of Loeb's life, showing him as a Long Island socialite, a 1930s left-winger--he was a co-chairman of the Communist-dominated Committee to Boycott Aggressor Nations--an unsubtle adulterer, and a World War II draft evader. Placing particular emphasis on various peculiarities in Loeb's personal life--he was disowned and sued by his mother, he later disowned his own daughter, and he seems to have had Jewish ties despite his apparent anti-Semitism--Cash presents a portrait of a paranoid and unscrupulous gun-toting publisher. Loeb's well-known alliance with Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, stemming from financing he received from the union's "Pension Fund", is reviewed in detail, as are his campaigns of villification against the University of New Hampshire, the Kennedy family, Muskie, McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, ad infinitum. Indeed this biography might serve as a handy compendium for anyone interested in a careful review of the Union Leader's three decades of slander.

INSOFAR AS Cash has done a good job discrediting Loeb, he is worthy of praise for his effort, particularly since this is the New Hampshire primary season, usually the Union Leader's peak power period. The book has quickly become the largest seller in the history of New Hampshire. Both Loeb and Governor Meldrim Thomson have sued Cash for libel, and Loeb's personal history is suddenly a topic of national curiosity.

Cash exhibits a colorful style, as in his discussion of how the Loeb papers created a candidate to oppose John F. Kennedy in the 1960 primary:

"Strolling along the streets of New Hampshire, usually wearing only a business suit and not even a topcoat, despite the severity of the Granite State winter, was an athletic looking gentleman named Paul Fisher who told people he was a ball-point pen manufacturer from Chicago and was seeking the Democratic nomination for President. Fisher's platform, he said, was simple: abolish the income tax. 'That's nice', was the general reaction and most people immediately got the impression that Fisher was playing with half a deck."

We learn however that the Union Leader did not think Fisher was playing with half a deck; as a result he wound up with 12 per cent of the vote.

UNFORTUNATELY, Cash's approach often parallels the Loeb technique. The book contains no footnotes, no index, and very little attributed material. In addition to having been self-published, it appears to have been self-edited, and entire sections are so obscure as to represent a total loss.

But Cash's failures are more fundamental than simply lack of documentation, a propensity for making historical errors and tortured writing. It is a mistake to quantify Loeb's power in terms of the support his candidates for public office receive. Certainly there is a hard core Loeb constituency in New Hampshire. Indeed an actual Loeb party, a Republican faction, has played a key role in state politics for a long time. But the political success of reactionaries like Meldrim Thomson and Wesley Powell is only one standard with which to measure the Loeb influence. The Union Leader informs the political dynamic of New Hampshire on a more subtle, day-to-day basis. Public discussion of the need for a sales tax has become a practical impossibility; increased aid to education is another issue which Loeb has effectively removed from the New Hampshire scene.

By limiting his book to a personality study of Loeb, he ignores the larger issues Loeb's power raises. In examining the roots of that power, it is not enough to explain that the Union Leader is the state's largest newspaper--if Loeb's polemics were completely out of tune with his New Hampshire readership, a rival newspaper might well have emerged. If there are economic factors which give the Union Leader a permanent corner on the market, what are they?

THE INFLUENCE of the Union Leader, through its incessant practice of creating false issues and conjuring up artificial scapegoats, on the consciousness of the state's citizens, is of course the underlying problem. All people perceive their lives through the terms they are given and for the people who are born, and will live and die in New Hampshire, the daily presence of the Loeb papers is a major factor in how they understand the issues of the day, and how they come to terms with the forces that control their lives. Even those who profess violent disagreement with Union Leader politics cannot help but be co-opted by Loeb's frame of reference, if only as part of an effort to oppose him. In Kevin Cash's failure to transcend this level of contention lies his book's major flaw.

As a result, Who the Hell is William Loeb? is valuable only on a utilitarian plane. While it may temporarily shake Loeb's hegemony, Cash's readers will not be enlightened as to the role played by Loeb--and other Loebs around the country--in stimulating political confusion, in disguising real roots of discontent, and in thereby enforcing the dominance of the prevailing system.