Little Bits of History

Muckraker

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 9, 2013
Walter Liggett

Walter Liggett

December 9, 1935: Walter Liggett is gunned down in front of his wife and 10-year-old daughter. Walter founded a newspaper, the weekly Midwest American, and was an investigative reporter working on some of the biggest stories of his day. Based out of Minnesota, the paper was known for reporting on crimes in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. Liggett had written an anti-Hoover biography, The Rise of Herbert Hoover. He caught the attention of Hoover’s defenders and his reputation suffered.

On the local scene, the muckraker journalist took on the subjects of Kid Cann and Floyd B. Olson as well as their relationship. Kid Cann was the street name of Isadore Blumenfeld. Born in Romania, his family came to the US when Isadore was two. Living in poverty, Isadore quit school to sell newspapers for money needed to help support the family. He began running errands for pimps and madams. He went from small time hood to major player when Prohibition opened a market for bootleg whiskey. The family name changed to Bloom and he and his brothers were mob bosses in the Jewish community of North Minneapolis.

Floyd Olson eventually earned a law degree and worked his way up through a corrupt political system. He made a name for himself by prosecuting corrupt businessmen and even took the Ku Klux Klan to trial. After the stock market crashed, local farmers helped to elect the man as the 22nd Governor of Minnesota. He tried to get utilities under state’s ownership – an idea he called collectivism and his opponents called socialism. He invoked martial law and threatened a dictatorship. Liggett’s accusations of mob connections have never been proven.

Liggett began printing his series of exposé stories. He had already been beaten up and falsely charged with rape. Liggett was machine gunned in an alley behind his home at the age of 49. Poor investigative work allowed Kid Cann to escape charges unscathed. Cann continued to get away with murder although he did spend a short time in prison. He died of heart disease at the age of 81. Floyd Olson had dreams of running for President but a trip to the doctor’s proved his ulcers were more than a reaction to stress. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 44 in 1936.

“My wife and I have lived for several years in New York City under Tammany Hall and are thoroughly familiar with the underworld tactics of professional spoilsmen. That is one reason why we object to the Tammanyization of Minnesota by this All-Party group of racketeers. We knew precisely what to expect when we began our expose of Floyd Olson and his crew of political hatchet-men.” – Walter Liggett

“My belief is that Olson would have preferred not to know the details. I also assume that he—unlike some Minneapolis hoodlums—was astute enough to realize that my father’s murder could prove to be more troublesome than my father alive…certainly, some of [Olson’s] less savory companions might have undertaken the task as a favor. I believe that the atmosphere was sufficiently poisonous and that criminals had sufficient clout to know they would not be convicted.” – Marda Liggett Woodbury

“The assassin who struck down Walter Liggett in Minneapolis removed from the American scene one of the last of the old-school crusading journalists, miscalled ‘muckrakers’, who for personal integrity stood head and shoulders above the common ruck.” – Delbert Smith

“Today we expect, if not a free press, one that has been honestly bought and paid for.” – China Hand

This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Muckraker was a term used for investigative journalists who were writing mostly in magazines and newspapers in order to affect reform in the status quo. Before World War I, the term was used in a more general sense for any writer of exposé pieces more in the spirit of a watchdog or for information. Later usage calls to mind a more adversarial and is more in line with reform than with information. The term comes from John Bunyan’s work, Pilgrim’s Progress, where “the Man with the Muck-rake” rejected salvation to focus on filth. Muck in this sense refers to manure. It became popular in 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt referred to the character while making a speech. It is not to be confused with “yellow journalism” which has little or no basis in fact.

Also on this day: NYC’s First Daily – In 1793, Noah Webster began to publish NYC’s first daily newspaper.
Doctor? – In 1946, the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials began.
Coal Power – In 1911, the Cross Mountain Mine disaster occurred.

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