A Case of Libel is based on the historical legal case of Reynolds vs Pegler. A celebrated war correspondent engages a well-known attorney and files a libel suit against a widely syndicated newspaper columnist who not only attacks his reputation and personal life, but also his patriotism.
The case has its origins in a heated dispute between liberal journalist Heywood Broun and conservative Westbrook Pegler. Broun died in 1939, but ten years later, author Dale Kramer wrote a book about Broun's life entitled The Heywood Broun His Friends Recall. Quentin Reynolds wrote a review of this book for the New York Herald Tribune book review. In the book review, Reynolds wrote that Pegler had called Broun a liar. He further wrote that Broun was so distraught over this allegedly false charge that he was unable to sleep or relax, and that as a result, Broun, who was suffering only a cold, died.
The review infuriated Pegler, who regarded the review as a charge of "moral homicide". Pegler lashed out in a response entitled On Heywood Broun and Quentin Reynolds in the Hearst Corporation paper New York Journal American. Pegler reiterated his belief that Broun was indeed a "notorious liar" who was a "dirty fighter" that "made his living at controversy". Pegler also dismissed any suggestion that he had been responsible for Broun's death.
However, Pegler did not stop at denouncing the late Broun. Pegler went on to personally attack Reynolds, asserting that "Reynolds and his girl friend of the moment were nuding along the public road"; that "as Reynolds was riding to Heywood's grave with her, he proposed marriage to the widow". Pegler accused Reynolds of being "one of the great individual profiteers of the war" and claimed Reynolds had been involved in fraud involving war contracts. Pegler also accused Reynolds of cowardice, and said he had been exposed by people who had "peeled him of his mangy hide and nailed it to the barn door with the yellow streak glaring for the world to see."
In response to the article, Reynolds sued both Pegler and his publisher, the Hearst Corporation, for libel. ~ Wikipedia