return to civility in media

In 1870, William Thompson started a newspaper, the Plaindealer, in Roseburg, Oregon (population about 900 persons).  The Plaindealer competed against Thomas and Henry Gale’s existing Roseburg newspaper, the Ensign.

The competing newspapers competed in part by attacking in each other in print:

Thompson made much of the fact that [the Gales] had law offices. “To own a newspaper is as convenient to a defeated and wrathy lawyer as a kennel is to a whipped dog — he can rush into it and howl,” he wrote on Aug. 12, 1870.

The Ensign attacked a “lengthy but flimsy article” in the other paper doling out “a pack of nonsense and maudlin sophistry.” The Plaindealer said the proprietor of the Ensign had indulged in “a bare faced falsehood, and the alligator knew it — scaly, Alligator, scaly.”

The Ensign made reference to “the ‘ripe scholar and gallant gentleman,’ who stands — when sober enough to stand at all — behind the Plaindealer chair….” … The Gales suggested that the Plaindealer “get somebody with brains enough to incorporate at least one idea in each article, to write up the thing,” and told their rival: “You are a sardine among codfish.”

The competing newspaper proprietors eventually attacked each other in person.  In a fight on the street near the Roseburg post office, Henry Gale shot Thompson about four times and nearly killed him.  Thompson shot Thomas Gale in the chest and severely beat Henry Gale with his emptied gun.

Three months later the Ensign‘s printing house burned in a suspicious fire.  The Ensign‘s newspaper business never recovered from its proprietor’s wounds and the fire.

About four months after the Ensign‘s printing house burned, Thompson sold the Plaindealer and left town.  Soon thereafter, the Paindealer‘s successor, now the only newspaper in town, switched its partisan affiliation.

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The source for the above story is David Loftus‘s wonderful article,Papers’ feuding editors settled dispute with gunfire.”  The above quote is from that source.

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