• U.S.

Press: Parker v. Tribune

5 minute read

Since last November, a $1,500,000 libel suit has been in progress before a Chicago circuit court. Last week, when the case went to the jury, no Chicago daily, no Chicago news service had carried a line about it. Reason: defendant was the Chicago Tribune (“World’s Greatest Newspaper”) and publishers usually do not play up the libel difficulties of their brethren.* What made the Tribune’s trouble all the more remarkable were the character and quality of its accuser, Harrison McGowen Parker, who in his high-flying career has been business manager of the Tribune, publisher of the Chicago American.

Mr. Parker, now 59, left the American for a $45,000 a year job in the Hearst general management, went on from there into an independent career as spectacular as it was unorthodox. He soon was heading the Co-operative Society of America, Inc. which took in $11,000,000, had a top membership of 90,000, bought a life insurance company, a number of dairies, several packing houses, 190 grocery stores.

After litigation by investors, the Coopera tive Society of America sank from sight in 1929.

“Parker v. Tribune” goes back to 1931. In that year Mr. Parker went to trial and nine months later was found guilty in Cook County Criminal Court of em bezzling at least $100,000 from North American Trust Co., in which he was a large stockholder. State’s Attorney John A. Swanson, who obtained his conviction, proudly announced to the press that “Parker has been a financial racketeer in Chicago since 1912. This is the first time the law has caught up with him. . . .

There are thousands of victims of Parker in Cook County alone. . . . His swindles in real estate were enormous. . . .” Of all Chicago’s newspapers, only the Tribune published this blast, and Mr. Parker claimed the Tribune had libeled him in doing so.

His suit for $1,500,000 was not taken seriously by the Tribune until the State Supreme Court, reviewing the embezzlement case, found Parker innocent in February 1934. Meanwhile, Harrison Parker was doing everything in his power to make the Tribune sick at the thought of him. Discovering that since 1873 the paper had paid no State capital stock tax (few Illinois corporations bother to). Harrison Parker filed suit as a citizen to compel the Tribune to pay up $87,000,000.

Jailed for failing to meet judgment in a minor civil suit, Harrison Parker continued to hound his huge adversary. From his cell in Cook County Jail he accused the Tribune of trying to poison him with an arsenical birthday cake, raised such a row that Weymouth Kirkland of the Tribune’s high-powered law firm of Kirkland, Fleming, Green, Martin & Ellis got him out.

Free again and having his day in court, Plaintiff Parker began to develop a line of legal reasoning in the libel case which was exquisitely embarrassing to the Tribune. According to Parker, the conviction of Leo Brothers for the murder of the Tribune’s crook-reporter Jake Lingle (who saved up a fortune of $150,000 on a news-hawk’s pay) was a frame-up. True it was that a member of the Tribune’s law firm was made a special assistant state’s attorney to help build the case against Brothers—and this appointment had been made by State’s Attorney Swanson, thus presumably obligating the Tribune to him.

Parker’s point, and he hammered it throughout 30 days of crossexamination, was that the Tribune repaid this major favor by printing Swanson’s remarks after the embezzlement case and so increasing the state’s attorney’s political stature.

Because Parker says “The Tribune has ruined me and my family,” and has announced that he would kill the Tribune’s publisher, Col. Robert Rutherford (“Ber-tie”) McCormick “if he libels me again,” the newspaper’s lawyers were loath to produce their principal in court. When Plaintiff Parker insisted on having Publisher McCormick as witness, Process Server J. C. Justice was dispatched to inform Col. McCormick that his presence was required. Mr. Justice got nowhere against the Colonel’s buffers, but when he was about to describe his experiences in court, defense counsel suddenly produced Col. McCormick voluntarily. After pessimistically informing the court that Mr. Parker’s uncle and another man had killed each other over a libel suit in New Orleans, the Tribune lawyers put their employer on the stand.

At long last “Parker v. Tribune” went to the jurymen after Mr. Parker had addressed them for the greater part of a day. Cried Promoter Parker: “The leopard never changes his spots! Once an honest man, always an honest man!” He called the jury’s attention to his spotless record on the Tribune. Mr. Parker regards the present-day Tribune as Chicago’s greatest liability, once assured a crowd at a stump speech for Presidential Candidate William Lemke that Col. McCormick was both Chicago’s “Dictator” and its “Public Enemy No. 1.” Col. McCormick had a doughty champion in Tribune Lawyer John Martineau who now jumped up in rebuttal to castigate the man who had bearded his boss. “A skunk never changes its spots either,” reasoned Attorney Martineau, “nor its smell!” He went on to call Parker a long list of names beside which Parker’s vituperation seemed pallid.

Awed, the jury retired. When they returned in 2½ hours, their verdict on the question of whether the Tribune had libeled Harrison Parker was Not Guilty.

*Libel-of-the-year, the unfortunate color photograph of Gentleman Jockey Crawford Burton advertising Camel cigarets (TIME, Jan. 18) was completely settled last month when, after winning a $2,500 verdict against Crowell Publishing Co., Mr. Burton accepted $22,500 to square accounts with R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., its advertising agency and all publications against which suits have been brought. Still pending, however, was Jockey Burton’s $50,000 action against Funnyman Eddie Davis of a Manhattan night club for using a reproduction of the picture in a ribald Christmas card.

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