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   NBO>>Book Review>>Stopping the Presses

Nadeshda Zareen

The price of truth

 “You can’t have an underworld without an overworld, if you know what I mean. You can’t have rackets unless you have a mayor, the chief of police, and the county attorney in your corner.” – Stopping the Presses

 An extraordinary story of a journalist and the ethics of journalism, Stopping the Presses is a biography of Walter W. Liggett, founder and editor of Midwest American, written by his daughter Marda Liggett Woodbury.

Theme of the book

The title of the book aptly suggests the theme that this book explores in detail, ‘freedom of expression by the press’ and the dangers of the world of newspaper in the 1930s, America.

Stopping the Presses is set against the backdrop if the corruption in the political circles in the early 20th century, in America. The focus is mainly on Minnesota, the place where Walter Liggett spent most of his life.

The book follows a linear, almost chronological order, listing the various changes, achievements and failures faced by Walter through his life. It is about his struggle to continue as an idealist and progressive journalist despite the constant political pressures.

 With a fast pace beginning describing the parental background of Walter Liggett, the book quickly moves to his career as a ‘newspaperman’. A trained boxer and an agriculture scholar, Walter was multi-talented person.

 Desired Freedom of press

 Always attracted by fearless journalism, Walter worked for many reputed newspapers between 1923-26, like the New York Times, the New York Sun, the New York Post before he moved to work for Plain Talk, with the founder-editor G D Eaton. The era, describes Walter while talking about the condition of the newspaper at that time, was of “see no evil.” If the press did not comply with the corrupt politics, they had a price to pay, which usually was very dirty.

Major scandals through the twenties and thirties were kept under wraps by the daily newspapers. And combative journalism was generally retaliated with either forcing the paper out of business, imprisoning the journalists under false charges or in worst case, murder of the reporters. That is the destiny that the two notable journalists faced, Howard Guilford and Arthur Kasherman, both working for the Twin City Reporter.

It is interesting how the murder Guilford is linked with the later murder of Walter. Stopping the Presses exposes or tries to exposes the underhand politics that covered up the heinous crimes such as this. The description of the trial of Guilford case proves the discrepancies of the law.

Politics that affect journalist’s world

 The main thrust of the book begins when Walter moves from New York to Minnesota and starts Midwest American in 1933. The weekly had a mix of fearless columns that talked about subjects such as feminism, children and a section to discuss the ‘news behind the news’. The masthead slogan bravely declared, “However it be, the truth must out”.

The rivalry between Walter and the state governor, Floyd B. Olson begins here. Olson was a member of the Farmer Labor Party, who opposed Walter’s determination.

A brisk account of various threats and bribes offered to and denied by Walter during this period when he was facing acute poverty and the state was under Depression further highlights Walter’s resolve to continue as a crime buster.

The book sympathetically describes the tussle between Walter and the political parties as he faced economic problems and a threat that his paper may go out of print. But his hardheaded perseverance is moving as Walter is quoted “its in my blood to attack corruption.”

The real highlights of a miserable legal department come in after the murder of Walter Liggett in 1935. Despite various claims by Edith Liggett, wife to Walter Liggett, that she recognized the murderer as an influential underworld leader, Kid Cann, there was little heed given to her statements.

Objective writing

The author provides a dispassionate view of the trial, trying to keep the personal voice out of the narrative. Though the description of the murder and the immediate scene that followed is described with heart rendering details.

Stopping the Presses ends with and appendix that aims to answer the many questions left unanswered in the book. This section, included just to provide a complete understanding of the case, lacks any personal input.

Written in a simple language without any jargons, the book has a fast moving plot that engages the reader. It also spells out the evils, hardships and adventure attached to the world of journalism. The biography, though written by a daughter, has a positive aspect that it is kept free of any overt personal opinion.







The fast narrative engages the reader. It also spells out the evils, hardships and the adventure attached to the world of journalism.