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Minnesota Rag Paperback – August 12, 1982

ISBN-13: 978-0394712413 ISBN-10: 0394712412 Edition: 1st Vintage Books ed

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Editorial Reviews


"An informative and entertaining account of the variously comic, sordid, scandalous and high-minded doings that culminated in Near v. Minnesota, a landmark case in the history of freedom of the press." -- The New Yorker

In 1927 the publisher Jay M. Near -- whose muck-raking newspaper indulged his anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-Catholic and anti-labor prejudices -- was put out of business by a Minnesota gag law. This law allowed a single judge to bar publication of any newspaper found "malicious, scandalous or defamatory," set a dangerous precedent for prior restraint and curtailed freedom of the press. Near's case was eventually taken up by Colonel McCormick, the powerful publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who paid for the appeal to the Supreme Court. In 1931 Near v. Minnesota was decided 5 to 4 in Near's favor -- a decision that bears directly on freedom of the press today.

"Ranging from the sleaze of the Minnesota underworld to the often bitchy byplay among members of the Supreme Court, [Friendly] has done a marvelous job."

-- The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A very rich slice of Americana....The author creates a dramatic atmosphere and a pace that never flags."

-- The New York Times

From the Publisher

"Deserves a place on the shelf with Anthony Lewis's Gideon's Trumpet and Richard Kluger's Simple Justice."--The Nation

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (August 12, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394712412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394712413
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,341,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Anna M. Ligtenberg VINE VOICE on April 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
ISBN 0394712412 - Great non-fiction is something I'm always looking for, especially about unknown or little-known stories. Freedom of the press in the U.S., much appreciated and much taken for granted, is a great subject! This book, however, not so much.

In 1924, Minnesota was the not-terribly-proud home of the Rip-saw, a tabloid-esque newspaper that just happened to offend people in power. This led to the passage of the Public Nuisance Law, a law that - clearly - violated the First Amendment by limiting what newspapers could print. For reasons beyond (modern day) comprehension, that law came in under the radar. Even local news didn't cover the passage. No one much cared, or realized, that freedom of the press in Minnesota had been stifled until 1927. That year, the Saturday Press, published by Jay Near and Howard Guilford, came under fire. By the time the story played out, Bertie McCormick of the Chicago Tribune had taken up the cause of the Saturday Press and the case for freedom of the press was on its way, in a protracted legal battle, to the United States Supreme Court.

This is a fantastic and important story, peopled by interesting characters and happening during one of the country's most violent but mythologized eras. Prohibition, gangsters, shootings in the streets. Politicians, a wealthy and well-known publishing family, the spiritual parents of tabloids. A defining moment in the freedoms of America. And the book is boring. Boring! How is that possible!? The blame there, obviously, goes to author Fred W. Friendly. Never before have I read a book so full of potential that was so boring I could've stopped reading at any point. The book is only 180 pages long, with 63 pages of acknowledgments, bibliography, source notes, court records and an index.
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Format: Paperback
Minnesota Rag, by Fred W. Friendly

Fred W. Friendly spent his life in journalism as a reporter, editor, teacher, and author. He worked with Edward R. Murrow on many distinguished news programs. This is the story about the Duluth `Rip-saw' and other muckraking journals that told about the connection of Duluth officials to the local underworld (p.4). Local newspapers were more interested with advertising than local corruption. Duluth was very important for its iron ore from the Mesabi Range (p.5). Chapter 1 describes the area and the times. Duluth was a company town owned by the steel and railroad companies. The wealthy lived in Victorian mansions. The articles in `Rip-saw' were popular (p.8). Prohibition meant liquor operators needed police protection and payoffs to politicians (p.9). Did `Rip-saw' sell advertising to eliminate unfavorable news items (p.12)? [Don't most newspapers today do this?] One of the important families, Pierce Butler, was appointed to the US Supreme Court (p.12).

In October 1924 Morrison's paper claimed that a candidate for office suffered from a venereal disease, allowed "blind pigs" and slot machines (p.17). Publisher John L. Morrison admitted the information was "malicious and false" (p.20). Politicians and the major newspaper association cooperated to pass a "gag law" (p.21). [To prevent competition?] A single judge could stop publication forever (p.22)! Its passage was not mentioned in the newspapers. In April 1926 articles led to an injunction (p.24). Morrison left the state for health reasons, and died from a brain clot. The `Rip-saw' ceased publication (p.27). Chapter 3 tells about the hundreds of weekly scandal sheets published in the 1920s. Minneapolis was a crossroads for Canadian whiskey.
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