History of Newspapers: The Chicago Tribune Part 1

About the history of the United States newspaper The Chicago Tribune, information and some of their scoops.


The Past. Under the editorship of the flamboyant Col. Robert R. McCormick during the 1st half of this century, the Chicago Tribune was a colorful, biased, sometimes, corrupt, brawling, crusading paper, a mirror of the city it served as well as of McCormick himself.

McCormick was paternalistic to the nth degree. Employees were given free teeth cleanings twice a year and a chest of silver when they married (provided that neighter party had been divorced--an odd rule, considering that McCormick himself was married to a divorcee).

Courtly, tall, with a bristly mustache, McCormick bought his clothes in England, yet was an intense patriot. He once disapproved so much of something that happened in Rhode Island that he ordered a star torn out of the Tribune's big American flag. When lawyers told him that flag mutilation was an offense, he had it sewn back in. (Today, the Tribune still carries a sketch of an Americna flag on its front page, though it has dropped its former slogan 'the American paper for Americans.")

The colonel was guarded by a German shepherd, and the outside door to his office was a secret panel so that visitors often could not find their way out without his help.

The early days of the Tribune were something like a Hollywood movie about newspapers, complete with a circulation war with Hearst's American during which circulation truck crews fought each other in the streets.

The Tribune's reputation for bias was not undeserved. During the Depression, it often used "so-called" beforethe names of legitimate government agencies like the National Labor Relations Board. When, in W. W. II, other papers were reporting on German atrocities, the Tribune saw none. In fact, in 1946, it printed a cartoon about the Nuremberg trials and verdict showing a pedestal inscribed with the words: "German Martyrs. Nazi Criminal Convicted by a Biased Court Composed of Germany's Enemies in an Illegally Conducted Trail, upon Unlawful Evidence Illicitly Procured."

Hawkish on the Vietnam War, for a time it sent Chicago servicemen in Southeast Asia free color photographs of their families for Christmas.

In recent years, the paper has shifted politically somewhat to the middle, although it remains Republican. In 1972, it supported Richard Nixon for reelection as President, but also gave front-page coverage to McGovern's campaign. The paper's more balanced political stand came about after Clayton Kirkpatrick, a veteran newspaperman, became editor in 1969. Always influential in local politics, the paper in that year endorsed liberal Democrat candidates for congressman and city alderman.

In the early 1970s, the Tribune modernized its format, beefed up (and balanced) its editorial page, and initiated a new Sunday section, "Perspective," which has run articles by such divergent contributors as J. Edgar Hoover and Shirley Chisholm.

The paper has had an almost prudish view of sex. In 1969, it destroyed 1.1 millin copies of its Book World because a review of The Naked Ape stated that "the human male and not the gorilla possesses the largest penis of all primates." In the recent past, the Tribune banned sex novels like Candy and The Carpetbaggers from its best-seller list.

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