Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, marked the end of fighting in World War I and set the stage for one of the Tribune's greatest victories. And the release Friday of President Richard Nixon's grand jury transcripts recalls the Tribune's Herculean efforts to race earlier Watergate tapes into print.
The Treaty of Versailles
By June 1919, the world's nations had been working on a treaty to end The Great War — World War I — for six months. All eyes were on Paris, and many Americans, including the 96 in the U.S. Senate, were upset by how little information they felt they were getting from President Woodrow Wilson, who was the chief U.S. negotiator in Paris.
Wilson had shared many details, but the Senate wanted to see an actual copy of the treaty. But Wilson, who was also battling to create the League of Nations, wanted to present the treaty on his own terms at his own time, and refused to fork over a copy early.
So it was with a bang heard around the nation that the Tribune landed on doorsteps on Monday, June 9, 1919, proclaiming: TRIBUNE HAS TREATY. The secondary headline read: PEACE TERMS BROUGHT TO U.S. BY FRAZIER HUNT. How did the Tribune's war correspondent do it? Well, he didn't. Hunt did risk much by smuggling the treaty out of France and delivering it to senior editors in Chicago, but the real credit should have gone to Henry Wales, the reporter covering the treaty negotiations. Wales did what good beat reporters do. He developed sources. He reported his beat. He was fair. That paid off when a man walked into the Tribune's Paris office, handed a thick package to the duty editor and walked out. That man was a Chinese delegate who appreciated Wales' work, and that package was an original, numbered copy of the treaty.
Nixon Watergate tapes
Another historic printing effort produced one of the biggest scoops in Tribune history. On April 30, 1974, Nixon finally bowed to pressure — and a congressional subpoena — and released transcripts of damning White House conversations. The next day, the Tribune was the only paper in the country to publish the entire transcripts of those tapes.
To accomplish this feat, Tribune editors had persuaded the White House to let them have the transcripts at 6 a.m., hours before the documents were even supposed to go to Congress. The Tribune sent its production editors on the company plane to Washington to get the transcripts so they wouldn't waste any time getting started. The editors had hoped they could just, in essence, photograph the transcript pages and transfer them to newspaper-size pages, but they soon realized the format wouldn't work. They had to reset all 1,308 pages. The assembled Tribune team — some 2,000 strong — not only succeeded, but did it time for the early editions, which were distributed across the Midwest. Hours before the Government Printing Office would begin selling copies for $12.95, Tribune subscribers were reading the transcripts for free in a 44-page special section. It was rightfully called a "publishing miracle."
The Korean War
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were high in 1950, but the North Korean invasion on Sunday, June 25, still surprised most everybody, including American newspapers. But Walter Simmons, the Tribune's North Pacific bureau chief, just happened to be in Seoul when the bombs started dropping. He leaped into action.
His first report carried a one-column headline that read, "Tribune writer tells how war looks at front." But the Tribune soon realized that Simmons was the only American journalist at the front, and the paper had fallen into a major scoop. The next day's paper carried an eight-column secondary headline touting the newspaper's golden advantage, "Tribune Man Finds South Korean Defenses Collapsing." In case the headline wasn't enough, the Tribune flaunted Simmons' unique position in a Page One advertisement. It boasted, "While a special plane carrying American newsmen to Seoul, South Korea, was forced to return to Tokyo, the Tribune correspondent already was on the job." Because the fighting was so fierce, Simmons had the war to himself, except for a few wire service reporters, for a number of weeks. His reporting appeared in newspapers around the country.
The New Testament
Yes, the Tribune scooped the nation on the Bible. The newly Revised King James version of the New Testament was included as a 16-page special section on May 22, 1881. An accompanying story explained that the massive effort to bring the new translation to Chicago readers required nearly 100 compositors and proofreaders working 12 hours straight. In case the accomplishment wasn't perfectly clear, the Tribune continued, "There are journals which would find a publication of this kind a considerable undertaking. But the Tribune's typographical and mechanical resources are such that it can issue any volume of ordinary size in a day's notice."
Three paragraphs later, we wrote: "The Tribune is not inclined to boast of its present achievement. It believes in doing thoroughly what it undertakes to do at all."