The Doberman pinscher, German shepherd and boxer spring like attack dogs off the front porch and surround the car. Only a fool would open the door and deliver a leg into their enthusiastic presence. Then the light flashes on the porch. Out steps William Loeb to call off the dogs. They still hover as if just waiting their chance for the command signal.
Welcome to the San Simeon of the Atlantic -- home of Loeb, the irascible, right-wing publisher of The Manchester Union Leader. He is a short man with a bald head. Behind him looms his 30-room mansion, replete with a United States seal painting in the living room and two American eagles on the porch, sculpted by his wife. Behind the pool on the 70-acre estate is the ocean and the lights from Marblehead, Mass. The mansion, you see, is not even in New Hampshire but across the border in Massachusetts.
Every four years, from his Massachusetts lair, Loeb tires to shape the New Hampshire primary. And every four years -- just as New Hampshire gets disproportionate attention as one of the first major presidential campaign tests -- so does Loeb get disproportionate attention as the potential spoiler or kingmaker, depending on your perspective. His strength is negative. While he cannot give a candidate momentum, he can play on the negative which can help errode support, or as in the celebrated Muskie case, so anger a candidate that he will commit the folly of responding to Loeb. His relentlessly personal attack on politicians have made his paper the scourge of public officials of both parties in New Hampshire for years. On the last day of the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy stood in front of the Union Leader as the crowd echoed deafening support. "I believe there is probably a more irresponsible newspaper than that one right over there somewhere in the United States, but I've been through 40 states and and I haven't found it yet!" The crowd roared again as Kennedy said, "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."
Loeb has a penchant for bearing the news in the back and starring his front-page editorials that are long on invective and short on subtlety. The prose is purple, the journalism yellow in the finest tradition of William Randolph Hearst.
Who could forget the Union Leader's blast from the past? Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Dopey Dwight" and "that stinking hypocrite." Gerald R. Ford: "Jerry the Jerk." Lyndon B. Johnson: "Snake Oil Lyndon." John f. Kennedy: "Number One Liar in the USA." Edmund S. Muskie: "Moscow Muskie." And Henry Kissinger: "Kissinger the Kike."
And now some samplings of this year's gems:
One editorial contends the Democrats don't have much choice -- what with "stupid, the coward and the flake" running. Never in the editorial are the candidates called by the names known to the rest of the world -- President Carter, Sen. Kennedy and California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Daily, blaring haragues on "Bushgate," the 10-year-old story that George Bush received money from Nixon's slush fund. "When're you going to come clean, GEORGE?" blasts one editorial. If Bush got the nomination, the Democrats "would have the Bushgate issue wrapped around Bush's neck until they politically drowned him."
The water torture method of constant reminders is served up for Kennedy on Chappaquiddick.
An "expose" on Rep. Phillip Crane depicted him as a philanderer and drinker, with anonymous sources alleging that Crane's greatest desire was not to be president but to bed 1,000 women. Loeb's stories helped shatter Crane's then-rising chances last year to be the young heir to Ronald Reagan's faithful.
One the other hand, the Manchester Union Leader sounds like the campaign newsletter for Ronald Reagan. Hot news is a front-page story that New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey taped two TV commercials for the Reagan campaign. Some days in the union Leader, it looks as if Ronald Reagan were the only candidate running in the Granite State. When the Republican candidates appear in a pack, Reagan is always mentioned first and most favorably. The Crane and Bush aides both complained that when they have spoken to large crowds, they often go uncovered in the Union Leader. It's as though the events never happened. And when someone like Bush is quoted the headlines charge that he is soft on Russia.
And so it goes. Were it not New Hampshire, Loeb would be some local eccentric with a bitter passion for invective. Though many critics feel his influence is overblown, he has a following. The Union Leader is the only statewide morning paper, and as candidates travel across the snows from hamlet to hamlet, questing for that first big push toward nomination, questions from Loeb readers often greet them from the audience.
Loeb was a key figure in the collapse of Sen. Muskie's presidential bid in 1972. Muskie emotionally denounced Loeb as a "gutless coward" in front of the Union Leader building, breaking into tears as he defended his wife against a snide editorial. No one today wants to be Muskied. Crane's organization took a poll and found out that Loeb has a 45-percent negative rating among New Hampshire voters but also a 35-percent positive rating, mostly among conservatives. The trick for conservative candidates is to appeal to the Loeb-haters but not cross the ones who like him. For moderates and liberals it is less of a problem. Loeb has backed a lot of losers and in many circles, if Loeb hates you, you must be doing something right.
Still, as one former Crane operative said, "All conservative candidates spent considerable time on how to handle the Loeb problem." A Reagan aide frankly worries about a backlash because of Loeb's idolatrous treatment of Reagan. "The best situation with Loeb is if he's kicking the hell out of the other guy but not editorializing in your favor, just giving you coverage," said the aide. Then he adds the operative phrase, "as much straight coverage as Loeb is capable of."
Thomas W. Gerber, the editor and publisher of the respected afternoon Concord Monitor, who has just endorsed liberal Republican candidate John Anderson, shakes his head at all the Leob publicity. "We don't get it because we're decent. We do what the hell is right. We play the news straight. We keep our goddamn editorial opinions out of the news columns. We're not crackpots, we're professionals."
During the last days of the New Hampshire campaigns, George Bush stares at a Union Leader headline attacking him and vows to take the high road. His New England backer, former Gov. Hugh Gregg, will only say tersely, "It's better to have Loeb with you than against you."
Pete Teeley, Bush's national press coordinator said, after one Loeb blitz, "If we lose New Hampshire, it will be because of Loeb."
All of this Loeb sees as his moment of glory as the press from around the world once again write about him. Does he see anything unseemly in a publisher's marching up on the stage with his candidate Reagan, speaking in great praise of him, then reprinting his own speech in his newspaper while blasting his candidate's opponents?
"Oh bull, bull, bull," he snorts. "What am I supposed to do? Stand apart with rubber gloves on?"
Loeb in person is mild-mannered, polite and genteel. His extravagant gestures of civility disarm many critics. "Ah, I'll not be a minute," Leob says, hurrying out for a silver tray of coffee and cookies. "You must need a little coffee at this time of night." His wife, the former Nackey Scripps Gallowhur, the granddaughter of E. W. Scripps one of the founders of the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, wheels in to deliver her broadsides with as much fire as her husband. Paralyzed from a car accident two years ago, she knits away in her wheelchair, the Doberman pinscher snuffling at her side.
At 74, Loeb rambles into pleasantries about his father, who was an intimate of President Theodore Roosevelt. Loeb loves to talk about his father, the stenographer, who became Roosevelt's confidante, and his own childhood days in the inner circle at Sagamore Hill, where he was a favorite godchild of the president.
As a close associate of Roosevelt, Loeb's father's life was altered when President McKinley was shot. "He and T. R. were making plans to go into a law partnership together.McKinley actually died when T. R. was coming down the mountain at night in a buckboard. He didn't know what happened.The first time Roosevelt knew he was president was when he hit the station at Adirondack and my father walked across the platform and said, 'Good morning, Mr. President.' You could never have that kind of drama today," said Loeb.
Loeb speaks of his present pal (Ronald Reagan) and past ones (James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa and Joe McCarthy). Loeb sits in a wingback chair and speaks with a slight patrician accent. He is guarded. He matches the reporter's tape recorder with his own.
In 1957 when Sen. McCarthy died the rest of the world said his cause of death was hepatitis, but Loeb's headlines screamed "Murdered!" The editorial began, "Joe McCarthy was murdered by the Communists as surely as if he had been put before a wall and shot."
Today Loeb is more than ever rallying against communism. "Using the China card to balance against the Russians is a native concept. You cannot do business with the Communists in any way. It was the same thing as with Hitler. It's the nature of the fanatic."
Of Carter, he says, "An imcompetent little man like that's dangerous. Give me a smart crook any day."
As he talks of today's political campaigns with their massive press and Secret Service details, Loeb, a fierce opponent of gun control, hoots at the Secret Service. He calls them the "Keystone Kops." If I were a candidate I'd get my own bodyguards. At that Reagan rally, I had my gun with me all the time and nobody ever did a thing about it."
He laughed quite a bit at that.
He is then asked about the fact that his mother disowned him. There is a pause. "My mother became senile in her later years. You want to smear me?" The voice softely threatens. "I'm sure we can retaliate in another way. You join the parade of journalistic harlots. But I couldn't care less." As the last vestige of charm fades, Loeb says, "What else is on your little mind?"
Loeb often rails against the "irresponsibility" of the rest of the press. "If you want to go out and smear somebody you can say any damn thing you want." He withdrew a suit against Kevin Cash, who wrote a book, "Who the Hell is William Loeb?", which Cash sees a "vindication." Loeb snorts that he simply did not want to spend a lot of money in lawyers' fees going against "Cash, who is broke." Loeb storms on. "My case against The Boston Globe was thrown out. The Globe says the Union Leader is produced 'by paranoids for paranoids,' and the judge just threw it out! And they had a cartoon of me with a cuckoo coming out of the middle of my forehead and the 'thoughts of Chairman Loeb.'"
Loeb if off on a diatribe against the "vicious, irresponsible" press. But a lot of people have said the same thing about Loeb. Attorney James C. Cleveland, a state senator who was on Loeb's hit list in the '50s, denounced Loeb as a man "whose combat experience has been chiefly confined to lawsuits and character assassinations." Loeb has been twice censured by the New Hampshire legislature for his diatribes, most recently for the Crane article. Arlene Crane, campaigning for her husband up here, coos, "Oh, we have to be kind to Loeb in his dotage -- although he seems to have been in his dotage for a long, long time."
Loeb is a strong believer that the private lives of politicians are germane.
"In politics and in business, I always want to look at the wife and I want to know what sort of a guy the guy is." When Betty Ford said in 1975 that she wouldn't be surprised if her duaghter Susan had premarital sex, Loeb's headline blazed, "President's Wife Condones Premarital Sex." His editorial called her a "disgrace to the White House." Mrs. Loeb, coming to the defense of her husband, said Mrs. Ford was the first lady, with all that responsibility involved, and "That's what Bill editorialized about."
But Loeb himself has had his own marital days in court. He was twice divorced and once charged with alienation of affections. And yet he called Rockefeller a "wife swapper"?
Loeb chuckles. "But I'm not running for president. I make no claim for personal virtue. But I don't want somebody just like me in the White House. I want somebody brighter, somebody better."
Both Loebs rather gleefully launch into the tale of long ago amour. In 1949 Mrs. Loeb's first husband sued Loeb for alienation of affection. "In those days you could be sued and forced to put up the amount of money you were being sued for or put up bail for that amount or go to jail," says Loeb. "We were in Vermont dining with my sainted mother and the police came. They had papers here for a $200,000 alienation-of-affection suit. I had just time enough to say to Nackey, 'Out the French windows.' They wanted me to turn her over to serve the papers on her. I wouldn't." Nackey takes up the tale: "I was outside in the woods eating berries." Loeb spent the night in jail. "I knew the sheriff well, and it was really just the sheriff's bedroom. I got sprung the next day." To Loeb's credit, he printed the full account the next day in his paper. The suit was later dropped.
Loeb has at times forced to defend himself against charges he is antisemitic. When he was criticized for having written "Black Savages" he defended himself by saying there are "white savages too." In the old days he railed against the civil rights act. "Not on the aspect of public education but I disliked the aspects, you might say, of 'forced association.'"
He likes to tell a story of a "big black fellow" who got up after a New York Congressman Jack Kemp speech and said that he favored Kemp's view of doing away with the capital gains tax. Kemp then asked the black man if he had any capital gains. In a bad imitation of an old Amos and Andy dialect, Loeb says, "No suh, but ah intends to have 'em." That, says Loeb, "is the American dream."
Loeb's comments frequently seem to be reflexive. He refers to the Japanese as "Japs": "In those days, the Japs didn't understand our social system." Referring to today's economic and industrial problems, "Somebody has to break the news to the executive suites and labor unions that the party is over. We now have 'little yellow people in Asia' who are just as smart as we are" at producing.
All newspapers get their share of irrational letters. But most go into the wastebasket. Loeb gives them awesome display. They are often allegedly written by supporters of the people Loeb opposes -- and are thus supposed to reflect on the caliber of the people championing those candidates. But often the letter writers can never be found.
Shortly before the New Hampshire primary in 1972, Loeb published a letter in which Muskie was accused of referring to French Canadians as "Canucks." The letter was later alleged to have been a product of the Nixon "dirty tricks" factory. "Nobody's ever hung that on us," says Loeb, a trifle defensively. The writer was supposedly Paul Morrison from Deerfield Beach, Fla. Loeb is asked whether he ever located him. He lowered his voice slightly and says "yes," then seems embarrassed. "At that time he was, uh, so upset about the publicity. Little fella, poor little fella. He would not admit it -- but we felt he was definitely the fella who did it."
In 1975 Loeb published a scurrilous, obscene letter attacking himself, purportedly from a supporter of New Hampshire Sen. John A. Durkin. "Why you f------idiotic Massachusetts bastard," began the letter. It was unsigned, and although newpapers universally do not publish unsigned letters, Loeb says he could do that since it was attacking himself. Today Durkin says, "In my case, Loeb did me a favor when he printed the letter. Our telephone canvass indicated that this time he had overdone it."
Loeb has twice printed his baptismal certificate as proof that he is not Jewish. An editorial entitled "Kissinger the Kike?" he explained in this mannner: "The Sunday paper was written by the former owner, B. J. McQuaid. I never looked at any of his editorials. A brilliant man, but I had not realized that diabetes had now advanced to the arteries of his brain. That was the first indication. We had to kill quite a few editorials after that. He died out of his mind." There was, however, no retraction or regret written about the "Kissinger the Kike" phrase.
Young Loeb was taught impeccable manners, met the visiting ambassadors and royalty, was tutored in his early days and then went to Hotchkiss School. "I had the advantage of growing up on Long Island, being in the Social Register and that sort of thing," said Loeb, and seeing the other side of life through his German immigrant grandparents. The Hotchkiss yearbook referred to Loeb as "Valentino." Also "Snake." By his own account, Loeb had troubles in school. "I was sort of an 'aginner.' I didn't always fit in, and I wasn't very popular." He says he never felt competitive about trying to prove something because of his well-known and well-liked father. "I suppose I had my problems but I never worried about it." There is no introspection forthcoming about what shaped Loeb's me-against-the-world vitriol that shows up in his paper. "Well, I, uh, can't explain. I just had a lot of difficulty. The only humorous part was that a famous New York diagnostician told my parents that my constitution was such that I'd never be suitable for the competitive life." Loeb laughs a guess-I-showed-him laugh.
Loeb then went to Williams and Harvard Law. His interest was always in publishing, and he settled in Vermont, running papers there, before taking over The Manchester Leader Union in the 1940s.
Loeb brags that he is a beneficent man. "Why, I've given 73 percent of my newspaper to the employes." But some observers believe that his turning this ownership over to trust has more to do with an effort by Loeb to retain control of the paper than any beneficence. Last year Loeb settled two costly lawsuits that accused him of mismanaging his employes' pension plan. Loeb denies the mismanagement charges. He submitted to a court order requiring him to sell 25 percent of the paper's stock and to pay a retired worker who had sued him. A bidding war ensued for the 25 percent -- estimated value in the millions -- and Loeb, it was thought, put the rest of the paper in trust to discourage heavy bidding for the one-quarter share, observers believed, because it might not bring financial gain for several years. When the dust settled, an acquaintance of Loeb outbid papers such as The Boston Globe to buy the 25 percent.
But Loeb talks on about how his paper will go to his employes when he dies. His daughters were taught to "make their own way." On the massive wooden door to the Loeb mansion are multicolored ribbons of past horse-jumping victories -- next to a picture of a Strategic Air Command plane on the ground with a montage of the Spirit of 1776 drummer boy picture overhead.
Finally, Loeb denies that he ever wanted power. He often supported unpopular candidates simply because he believed in them. "I supported Taft and any damn fool could see Eisenhower was going to win, even though I tried my best with Kay Summersby." (He was referring to Ike's World War II alleged affair with his WAC driver, which came out in later years.)
Loeb's influence has waned in recent years. He no longer has a media monopoly, what with The Boston Globe and television moving more and more into New Hampshire. His last big winner was Gov. Meldrim Thomson, who was roundly defeated in his third bid for governor. "When Thomson was in office that was really a frightening state of affairs because Loeb had so much control over him," says a Manchester lawyer. A Reagan aide recalls how Loeb received a phone call and said to the caller, "Yup. Nope. No, don't do that now, yeah, do that." And then hung up on the governor.
While Loeb cannot give a candidate momentum, he can provide a negative irritant that still gets him a lot of publicity and still unsettles campaigners. Loeb says he simply champions whoever he wants and "to hell with the consequences."
He can't resist a parting shot on his next day's salvo, as ever on the front page, about George Bush. "You just wait until you see what I write tomorrow." Spoken like a true gut-cutter, he repeats, "Yeah, you just wait." t
But George Bush has a response that Loeb doesn't know about. Months ago Bush's coordinator, Hugh Gregg, bought the one-inch deep, full width of the paper space above the Manchester Union Leader masthead for tomorrow's paper at the cost of about $1,000. They paid $250 extra to have it in red ink, Loeb's favorite color. It will read like this: "I do have a sense of humor, says George Bush. Every morning Bill Loeb's editorials give me a kick."