William Loeb, born on Dec. 6, 1905, had an outsize influence on national politics as publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s statewide newspaper. From 1946 until his death in 1981, he published pugnacious conservative editorials on the newspaper’s front page.
Presidential aspirants feared and courted Loeb because of his impact on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary. Candidates for state office fell into line with his demand they take a no-tax pledge – that is, if they wanted to win.
Loeb called Gov. Nelson Rockefeller a ‘wife swapper,’ helping to derail his presidential campaign during the 1968 New Hampshire primary. He opined that President Eisenhower ‘has done more to destroy the respect, honor and power of the United States than any President in its history.’ Loeb objected to the treaty that allowed the Soviet Union to continue influence over Austria.
‘Jerry Is A Jerk’ blared one headline about President Gerald Ford – he had offered amnesty to draft dodgers. Loeb had not served in World War II, but said he didn’t fail the physical on purpose. Critics said he drank huge quantities of alcohol before his physicals so his ulcer would flare up.
Loeb famously crippled Sen. Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign in 1972 by publishing a forged letter that accused Muskie of saying ‘Canuck,’ a derogatory term for French Canadians. Muskie responded with a speech in front of the newspaper office that forever after was called ‘the crying speech.’ David Broder of the Washington Post reported Muskie broke down three times. Others, including Muskie, said snow melted on his face.
Though Loeb could generally run down people, he was less successful building support for politicians. One exception was his support of New Hampshire Meldrim Thomson, a three-term governor who suggested nuclear weapons for the state’s National Guard.
Detractors called him Mr. Low Ebb.
Here are 11 things about William Loeb you may not have known:
1. His father, William Loeb, Jr., was executive secretary to President Theodore Roosevelt.
2. He always carried a Charter Arms .38 in a shoulder holster and was reported to have shot the office cat. He denied it.
4. His mother cut him out of her will and sued him for the $1 million she gave him to finance the purchase of the Union Leader. Loeb sued her estate, draining it of most of its money and ending up with about 10 percent of it.
5. Loeb was secretly married to Vermont resident Eleanore McAllister from 1942 to 1952. They married when he was a 20-year-old Williams College student. He later tried to hide his first marriage from 28-year-old Elizabeth Nagy, his second wife.
6. He ran the newspaper from his 100-acre estate in Pride’s Crossing in Beverly, Mass. His mansion was once featured in a General Motors ad for a luxury car.
7. He published his baptismal certificate on the front page of the Union Leader on Oct. 18, 1950 to prove he wasn’t Jewish.
8. He spent time in jail for interfering with process servers trying to serve his soon-to-be-third wife, Scripps heiress Nackey Gallowhur, with divorce papers.
9. He claimed in a 1974 editorial to have worked for eight years as a reporter for the Hearst Corporation’s New York World. Hearst denied it, pointing out the newspaper folded eight years before Loeb claimed to have worked for it.
10. During a Boston Herald strike he tried to import the Union Leader into the city, but stopped when crime figures threatened him because the newspaper printed incorrect sports information.
11. He called Sen. John F. Kennedy ‘the No. 1 liar in the United States’ after Kennedy denounced the Union Leader on the day before the 1960 New Hampshire Primary: “I believe there is probably a more irresponsible newspaper than that one right over there … but I’ve been through 40 states and I have not found it yet. I believe that there is a publisher who has less regard for the truth than William Loeb, but I can’t think of his name.”