Name-calling and trash talk, when it involves newspapers, is not like it used to be. If you think The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News tweak each other today, you should have been here when they took the gloves off. There was a time when the two newspapers fought like wildcats. No niceties. No prisoners taken.
Consider, for instance, the way The Tribune and the Deseret News treated each other during the first three decades of their coexistence. The Deseret News had been around for twenty years before the first issue of The Tribune came off the press and the LDS Church-owned daily had things pretty much its own way to then. There had been other "opposition" newspapers, but they did not last. The Valley Tan at Camp Floyd and the Union Vedette out of Fort Douglas were the most contentious. But since they depended, for the most part, on soldiers for readership, it always was touch and go. And both finally "went." But while the newspapers were in business, they were exceedingly aggravating to the Deseret News. It was not until The Tribune had been purchased in July 1873 by the three Kansans known as the "border ruffians" that the newspaper moved up from blistering Brigham Young to full-scale Mormon-bashing at its crudest.
Of the three Kansans: George F. Prescott and A.M. Hamilton took care of business and marketing, leaving Fred Lockley as the editorial triggerman. With headlines like: "The Prophet On His Haunches" and "The Herald Aghast" (a shot at The Salt Lake Herald, a self-proclaimed independent and "neutral" newspaper that generally sided with the Deseret News), Lockley turned up the heat in the fight for readers. He began referring to Brigham Young as "the Mormon profit." And in the mid-1870s when federal marshals were chasing John D. Lee all over southern Utah for his role in the Mountain Meadow massacre, Lockley coined the noun "Mountain Meadows Church," when referring to the Mormons.
Dark Passages: And like predecessor Oscar G. Sawyer, editor Lockley never ignored an opportunity to resurrect dark passages of Mormon history embarrassing to the church and its newspaper. Sawyer, a New York Herald writer, had been hired as the first managing editor of the newly established Salt Lake Daily Tribune and Utah Mining Gazette in April 1871, and he set about trashing Brigham Young and the Mormons in print from the outset. When William A. Hickman confessed that same year to the murder of Richard Yates during the Utah War of 1857-58, he implicated Young and Daniel H. Wells, mayor of Salt Lake City. The Deseret News and The Herald responded angrily that Hickman had: "Long been an outcast and an outlaw, who may tell the truth by accident, who will not hesitate at any amount of lying which he fancies can serve a personal end. It would be monstrous to deem Young and the other guilty on this creature's evidence."
To which a Sawyer editorial fired back: "Not so fast--William Hickman has a better reputation in Zion than he has in the land of Gentiles; so also has his brother in the shedding of blood [Porter] Rockwell. The people here would know pretty nearly when 'Port' or 'Bill' spoke the truth or told a lie, for they would know something of the inner circumstances of the case. These men who have been styled the Danite chiefs are about equally notorious. Their characters have never been hid from the Salt Lake public and they have walked our streets year after year as clearly defined in the public mind as President Young or Mayor Wells.
It is now too late in the day for the church organs [the Deseret News and The Herald] to attempt to cast off these two willing servants of a bad cause, and throw them aside like a squeezed orange. What reputation they have made as instruments must rightly belong to their masters, and with that reputation they will pass into history with actors more prominent in the transactions in Utah in the past quarter of a century. They are no less virtuous for having confessed."
Lee's capture in 1874 in Panguitch seemed almost an answer to Lockley's prayers. Writing about "butcher Lee" and the slaughter of more than 100 men, women and children in the meadows on the Old Spanish Trail west of Cedar City had become virtually a daily assignment for Lockley's staff. In Salt Lake City, the "City Jottings" columnist for The Tribune, added his slant to the coverage in remarking: "John D. Lee says Brigham Young shed tears when he reported the Mountain Meadows Massacre to him. He don't give the number, and also fails to tell us whether they were of the crocodile stamp or not. As The Herald editors are afraid to tell the public through their own columns what they know about the Mountain Meadows butchery, we take pleasure in offering them in the columns of The Tribune. The Deseret News has an able dissertation on 'wormy fruit,' a treatise on the coddling moth and occasional mild attempts at sarcasm on the California papers."
By 1883, the Border Ruffians had their fill of Utah and sold a controlling interest in the newspaper to Patrick H. Lannan. A smaller share was bought by C.C. Goodwin, former editor of Virginia City's celebrated Territorial Enterprise. A new era of Mormon-bashing was on the horizon and it would carry forth until the turn of the century.
New Targets: Brigham Young had been dead for six years when Goodwin took the helm at The Tribune, so the editor fixed his sights on the LDS First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He picked up Lockley's echo. Lockley had started a tradition of "renaming" the general authorities. Instead of "apostle George Q. Cannon," it was "Smooth Bore." Former Mayor Daniel H. Wells, whose sight was impaired by a cast, was called "the One-Eyed Pirate of the Wasatch." Brigham Young Jr. became "Fat Briggy."
He also began referring to the Deseret News as "grandmother" and "granny." And he called The Herald "the church's hand-organ." Rare was the day that the Deseret News escaped attention in the columns of The Tribune. Through it all, the editors at the Deseret News ground their teeth and took it. For thirteen years, they ignored the daily blend of sarcasm and vitriol that dripped from the pages of their hated rival. But never did they attack The Tribune in kind.
Not until Charles W. Penrose took over as Deseret News editor, that is. He was not the sort to sit back and fume. A showdown was inevitable, but no one could predict just what would spark it. Certainly no one thought it would be an abortion. In the first week of November 1884, a young man, well-known in the city, was arrested and charged with procuring an abortion for a young woman. Both were LDS. The Tribune reported the case, but did not name the couple or the doctor arrested in connection with the charge. Not so the Deseret News, which published all the names and lurid details.
The Tribune's reaction was extraordinary. In an editorial headlined, "The Beast of the News," Goodwin lashed out: "The bastard in charge of the News again last evening filled his dreary columns with an attempt to convict a man before a trial; to advertise a young girl's shame and everlasting disgrace, and to seek to make out that The Tribune was trying to conceal and apologize for a crime. No one knows the falsity of all this more than the psalm-singing male prostitute who put it in form for the types. It is the work of some God-deformed wretch whose hungry and debased mind would, if possible, pull the world down to his own level."
And Penrose replied with the first anti-Tribune editorial to appear in the Deseret News. (It would not be the last.) His words were a touch more ponderous, but the meaning was clear. After recounting the gist of The Tribune editorial ["bastard, psalm-singing male prostitute, God deformed wretch"], Penrose launched his counter-barrage: "These are a few specimen phrases, addressed to a member of our staff, taken from an article in this morning's issue of the paper edited by 'American gentlemen,' who by this display of rage are making themselves food for our merriment.
Their impotent anger is so furious as to throw them into grotesque contortions. They remind the spectator of the agonized antics of a group of barefooted lunatics dancing an involuntary jig upon an iron floor brought to white heat, the stimulating flagging consisting of the completed and unanswerable arraignment by the News, which has exhibited in their true inwardness the advocates and apologists of the libertine, the prostitute and abortionist." The Goodwin-Penrose debates-in-print were not always so rancorous, but they provided some of the most sprightly reading Utahns ever had encountered.
A Sequel of Sorts: There is a sequel of sorts to this. It had nothing to do with the abortion story, which seems to have faded into the recesses of history. But it did stem from the spirit engendered by Penrose's challenge to Goodwin's editorial. The incident occurred the same week as the abortion story. But in this case, it was an item written by The Tribune's city editor, a fellow named Joseph Lippman, who had come to the newspaper after an unsuccessful stint at editing the Salt Lake Evening Chronicle. Lippman had penned a piece about John Q. Cannon, an editor at the Deseret News. The substance of the story was that Cannon had taken a young woman as his plural wife and had arranged for a potential rival, coincidentally a reporter for The Herald, to be sent on a church mission.
Editor Cannon, upon reading this "expose," took exception and sought out the author. He intercepted Lippman on the corner of 100 South and State, and demanded: "I want you to get right down here on your knees and apologize for the lie you published about me last Sunday."
"I never published any lie about you."
"You did. Now, I want you to apologize."
"I will not." That is as far as Lippman got. Before the words were out of his mouth he found himself "flying through the air as if a cannonball had struck him." He was knocked about ten feet and landed on the back of his neck and shoulders. Before he could scramble to his feet, Cannon was on top of him with a "little rawhide" and was about to give him a taste of it, when the prostrate reporter "began to cry most piteously and beg for his life." Cannon gave him a couple of strokes across the head and hands and was about to apply some more, when police, alerted by Lippman's howls, arrived on the scene. Cannon pleaded guilty in court and was fined $15 for his "infraction of the law." He then hustled back to the Deseret News city room--to write the story for the next edition.
Confrontations between the two newspapers eased somewhat during Thomas Kearns' Tribune regime, flaring only occasionally. When John F. Fitzpatrick became Tribune publisher in 1920, the savage salvos ended once and for all. The "accommodation" that grew out of the 1952 Newspaper Agency Corp. joint-operating agreement has lessened, and in recent years news-gathering competition has increased markedly.
Editorially, The Tribune and the Deseret News often clash; perhaps never so vigorously as their opposing positions on liquor by the drink.