When J.L. Brady, editor of the Lawrence Daily Journal, agreed to turn over his paper to KU journalism students on April 25, 1908, he could not have imagined the impact the edition would have on both the city’s image and on his paper’s reputation. In fact, as the Kansas City Times remarked, “Lawrence was not greatly interested at the prospect of a students’ edition of the paper. It was generally supposed that the paper would smack too much of the amateur to be anything other than amusing.” But before the issue had even appeared, the University Daily Kansan teased that it “promises to make us all sit up and take notice.” It did just that, and more.
This unique issue of the Journal was the work of KU’s Scoop Club, in conjunction with students in the University’s Department of Journalism. The Scoop Club was an organization of upper class journalism majors, all of whom had “received real money for stuff [they] had written.” That is, they had sold articles or stories to “real newspapers” and, thus, considered themselves “professional newspaper men.”
For the students’ edition, members of the Scoop Club would fill all major editorial and executive positions. (Roy Roberts, future editor and publisher of the Kansas City Star, was city editor that day.) Approximately 30 other undergraduates did the reporting and news writing. As it turned out, much of this legwork involved students moonlighting as amateur detectives, roaming the “East Bottoms” district of Lawrence (the area east of Massachusetts Street and north of 9th Street) in search of illegal liquor “joints.”
The Journal’s student editors and reporters, posing as interested “buyers,” rooted out and exposed twelve such joints in east Lawrence that were selling liquor in direct violation of state prohibition laws, which had been in effect since the1880s. “The business,” they said, “is not carried on in the dark as is commonly supposed, but both by day and night, and any quantities of beer, whiskey or gin may be purchased by the ‘thirsty element.’” What was most disturbing was that “a large part of the illegal traffic is carried on with University students … especially on Friday and Saturday nights” when often “large crowds of students may be found in the ‘Bottoms.’”
Not only did the KU reporters list the names and locations of these liquor joints, most of which were “conducted by Negroes,”(sic), they also found out the owners of the establishments, one of whom turned out to be a prominent local judge, Louis H. Menger. The students also exposed “a number of bootleggers,” and revealed that several Lawrence drug stores were selling wine and whiskey by the gallon to customers for such “medicinal” purposes as relieving colds and stomach aches. One drug store, according to the student reporters, supplied 110 gallons of whiskey to customers in a single month!
As part of their story, the students interviewed several local officials. The responses they received were long on excuses and short on substance. For example, Lawrence Mayor George J. Barker seemed flummoxed when asked why the prohibitory law was not better enforced. “I had the impression that the law was enforced in this town,” said the mayor, “but perhaps you, young man, know more about it than I do.” Douglas County Attorney Thomas Harley admitted he was “not aware that the law is being violated,” adding, “if anyone wants to come up and furnish information, I will be glad to give him an opportunity.” At least US Marshal S.H. Carmean agreed, “the situation is bad,” and insisted, “we need a larger police force.”
Assessing this overall state of affairs, Jerome Beatty, president of the KU Scoop Club, editorialized that “the illegal sale of liquor in Lawrence just now demands renewed vigilance and activity on the part of city and county authorities.” Enforcing prohibition and rooting out the “drink evil” was indeed difficult, he allowed, but “Lawrence, as the seat of a state institution of learning, ought to be kept up to a standard of law enforcement that can be maintained only by constant and unswerving attention to business on the part of every officer of the law.” If the police force was understaffed, “it is up to the administration to increase the force,” not “to profess ignorance of the situation.”
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the students’ journalistic successes in exposing such rampant lawbreaking and official indifference, two local papers, the Journal itself and the Lawrence Gazette, quickly moved to denounce the students’ findings and deny that an illegal liquor trade even existed. Two days after the expose, the Journal charged that KU students “used bad judgment,” and called their reporting a “silly move” that “may be laid down to inexperience.” The paper also indulged in some self-criticism, contending that allowing students to put out an edition “was a mistake from any standpoint.” As for Lawrence itself, the Journal maintained the city was “comparatively clean and…the cleanest in Kansas.”
The retaliation did not stop on the printed page. After having been named as one of the joint owners, Judge Menger, according to a report in the April 28 Kansas City Star, sought to exact some measure of revenge upon the young journalists. “It is the common report among the students,” the Star stated, “that Judge Menger has announced that any student brought before him now for being disorderly will be sent to the rock pile for ten days.” The Kansas City Times confirmed the report the next day. Later, on May 9, responding to the judge’s apparent rock-pile threat against KU students, the Leavenworth Post cautioned: “We have a bit of advice for the Judge – don’t you do it.”
The editors of University Daily Kansan also rushed to the defense of their fellow Jayhawks, roundly condemning both the Journal and Gazette. These papers, asserted the Kansan, “whose sense of moral and civic righteousness is blinded by silly jealousies, servile personal obligations, and harlequin politics” should be ashamed for heaping “all kinds of vituperation upon the students who had the fearlessness to expose the rotten condition of affairs.” In addition, noted the Kansan, “All the rantings of Lawrence papers about the ‘misjudgment of amateurs’ and ‘sensational journalism’ can not obscure the real issue…. The articles that have appeared in [the Journal and the Gazette] are so brazen and crude in their arguments that they are humorous.”
Then the Kansan wondered aloud, “Is this a case of criminal protecting criminal?” Could it be, suggested the Jayhawk journalists, that two Lawrence newspapers were in the business, not of exposing vice and corruption, but of covering up and making excuses for them? And if that was the case, it demonstrated that “the University students are more vitally interested in the enforcement of the prohibitory law in Lawrence than anyone else.” Concluded the paper, “A duty is imposed upon the people of Lawrence and Douglas County which they can not shirk – a duty which demands that they force the officers of the law, whom they have elected, to do their whole duty.”
The Kansan’s editors were not alone in their praise of the students and condemnation of the Journal. In the May 5 issue of the Kansan, distinguished journalist William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette, who had attended KU and served on the Kansas Board of Regents, submitted a brief editorial in which he lauded the student journalists, contending they were “exactly and entirely right” in exposing the Lawrence liquor joints.
“Publicity,” he said, “is the antiseptic which cures every social sore” and the students, far from being purveyors of sensational journalism, “simply gave Lawrence a touch of the real thing in newspapers.” Other praise came from Ewing Herbert of the Brown County World, who noted “the University students’ edition of J.L. Brady’s Lawrence Journal was a remarkable improvement over his regular edition.” Added the Kansas City Star, “It might not hurt some of the Lawrence papers if the class in journalism at the State University were allowed to get out their papers indefinitely.”
The Lawrence World, another one of the city’s papers, sought quickly to capitalize on the suddenly negative public standing of its competitors. The April 30 edition told readers that “the World wants to go on record as standing fairly and squarely behind the boys in their statements about joint conditions here.” The students’ exposé was “the wisest and best thing” they could have done, and “to criticize them for criticizing conditions is to become apologist for and defender of those conditions.”
On May 2, Lawrence police raided four locations named in the April 25 Journal story, an operation that the Kansas City Star later called “the biggest ‘raid,’ except one, Lawrence ever experienced.” But before the “joint case” went to trial, there was a good deal of controversy and concern at KU about apparent attempts by the defendants’ lawyer to intimidate potential student witnesses. According to the May 12 Kansan, the lawyer, Ed Riling, “made inquiries concerning several individual witnesses in the cases, all the time leaving the impression that he had some kind of information of a scandalous nature up his sleeve…. The inference left was that the students had better not go on the stand against Riling’s clients.”
In spite of these intimidation tactics, on May 13, seven of the “jointists” pled guilty to violating the prohibitory law. These pleas, according to the Lawrence Democrat, meant a ”$100 fine and 30 days jail sentence for each besides the costs in the case. The students collected a nice sum as witness fees,” the Democrat added, “and will no doubt enjoy their hard earned(?) money.”
As for the Kansan, it proclaimed on May 14, “the conviction of the jointists … was a signal victory for law enforcement in Lawrence. The students’ edition of the Lawrence Journal was directly responsible for the question of the enforcement of law being squarely presented to the people of the city.” The Kansan also hastened to deliver a final slap at the “cringing cowardice” displayed by Journal editors after the students’ “joint story” broke. The citizens of Lawrence, it advised, and “those connected with the University, should be slow to forget where the different officials and papers of Lawrence stand on the question of law enforcement.”
Perhaps suffering a crisis of conscience, or more likely seeking some much-needed damage control, the editors of the Lawrence Daily Journal did an abrupt about-face the day of the jointists’ conviction. “In common with the people of Lawrence,” the paper belatedly announced, ”the Journal congratulates the students in the great success that has attended their efforts…They deserve much praise … for hunting out what the officers of Lawrence have been unable to do and bringing the offenders to justice.” Admitting that the Journal’s “efforts have heretofore been spasmodic and indifferent,” the paper then piously vowed to do its part to “make Lawrence cleaner than it is,” ending with the admonition, ”Let us all get busy.”
The Kansan, however, provided the proper context for the Journal’s change of heart, which, it noted, was ”the expression of the paper [only] after 500 Lawrence citizens had met and organized a law and order league.” In any event, the Kansan added, with no small amount of sarcasm, that it “congratulates the Journal for its conversion to the cause of law and order.”
John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas