General Douglas MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for Libel Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While serving in the Philippines, U.S. Army general Douglas MacArthur had an affair with a teenage girl named Isabel Cooper, and he secretly brought her to the United States when he was reassigned to Washington, D.C. After months of enduring scathing critique by columnist Drew Pearson on other matters, MacArthur sued Pearson for libel. He dropped his lawsuit, however, after learning that Pearson knew about his relationship with Cooper and that he was prepared to reveal the affair if MacArthur pursued his libel suit.

Summary of Event

During his assignment as commander of all U.S. troops in the Philippines, the recently divorced Army general Douglas MacArthur befriended a teenage song-and-dance entertainer of Philippine and Scottish ancestry named Isabel Cooper (nicknamed Dimples by the general). MacArthur and Cooper, who was between sixteen and eighteen years old, became lovers. MacArthur, Douglas Pearson, Drew Libel cases;and Drew Pearson[Pearson] Libel cases;and Douglas MacArthur[MacArthur] Cooper, Isabel Philippines [kw]MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for Libel, General Douglas (May 16, 1934) [kw]Libel, General Douglas MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for (May 16, 1934) MacArthur, Douglas Pearson, Drew Libel cases;and Drew Pearson[Pearson] Libel cases;and Douglas MacArthur[MacArthur] Cooper, Isabel [g]United States;May 16, 1934: General Douglas MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for Libel[00570] [c]Publishing and journalism;May 16, 1934: General Douglas MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for Libel[00570] [c]Law and the courts;May 16, 1934: General Douglas MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for Libel[00570] [c]Sex;May 16, 1934: General Douglas MacArthur Sues Newspaper Columnist for Libel[00570] Philippines Brooks, Louise Cromwell

Douglas MacArthur.

(NARA)

MacArthur returned to the United States in 1930 after being assigned as chief of staff. He arranged for Cooper to meet him in Washington, D.C. He gave her a ticket to follow him on a different ship and set her up in her own apartment for his visits (first in a Georgetown apartment and then in a downtown hotel). When military duties made those visits less frequent, Cooper despite receiving gifts of clothes and jewelry from MacArthur became bored.

Meanwhile, MacArthur was targeted by syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, who claimed that the general’s promotion to major general came about through the intervention of his former father-in-law. In response, MacArthur filed a libel suit against Pearson. The suit never got to court, however, because MacArthur found out that Pearson knew about his relationship with Cooper. MacArthur chose to drop the suit rather than risk his affair being made public.

Born into a military family, MacArthur was the son of Medal of Honor winner Arthur MacArthur, who had served in the Civil War and become a lieutenant general. The younger MacArthur distinguished himself quickly when he entered the Army. He became the decorated commander of the Forty-second Division during World World War I[World War 01];and Douglas MacArthur[MacArthur] War I. In 1918, he was promoted to brigadier general and became the youngest division commander in France. After the war, still a brigadier general, he became the youngest superintendent in the history of the U.S. Military West Point Academy at West Point, New York. Next, he became the youngest officer appointed as Army chief of staff. Furthermore, at the age of forty-three, he was the youngest two-star general in Army history.

In 1922, MacArthur had married socialite Louise Cromwell Brooks, who was twice divorced. Brooks, used to more glamorous surroundings, became disenchanted with military life in the Philippines, where her husband was stationed. They divorced in 1929, after seven years of marriage. MacArthur then found romance in the arms of Cooper, a young Eurasian musical performer.

Pearson was a journalist with the Washington bureau of the Baltimore Sun when he launched, with Robert S. Allen, the syndicated column Washington Merry-Go-Round Washington Merry-Go-Round in 1932. The column was distributed by United Feature Syndicate, and it appeared in newspapers throughout the United States. In 1931, Pearson and Allen, the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, had anonymously published a muckraking book, also called Washington Merry-Go-Round. Pearson was fired from the newspaper because of the book.

In 1932, Pearson criticized MacArthur for his use of force in breaking up a demonstration by some fifteen thousand out-of-work veterans of World World War I[World War 01];veterans War I in Washington, D.C. The veterans, popularly called the Bonus Army, were demanding congressional approval to cash bonus certificates issued to them for their military service. MacArthur used overwhelming force, including tanks and the threat of bayonets, to break up the demonstration. Several people died, and countless were injured. Bad blood developed between the columnist and the general, and Pearson’s criticism of MacArthur continued for the next two years.

Brooks contacted Pearson with disparaging claims about her former husband. She told Pearson that MacArthur was promoted because of those he knew and because of his family background. In his December 20, 1932, column, Pearson wrote, “General Douglas MacArthur, chief of staff, hero of the Bonus War, was jumped by Newton Baker from major to brigadier general. MacArthur’s father was Lieut. Gen. Arthur MacArthur.” Finally, on May 16, 1934, a fed-up MacArthur, after facing months of criticism by Pearson, filed a $1.75 million libel suit against both Pearson and The Washington Times, which printed the column. If the case had gone to trial with MacArthur as plaintiff, and if Pearson had lost, it might have ruined the credibility of his fledgling column. Pearson apparently thought Brooks would testify as to the veracity of her claims about MacArthur. However, she refused to testify, leaving Pearson without a defense.

The relationship between Cooper and MacArthur had been deteriorating as well. MacArthur gave Cooper another boat ticket, this one to take her back to the Philippines. She never used the ticket, though, and eventually settled in California. Before leaving for the West Coast, she met with Pearson. It is not clear how Pearson found out about Cooper whether one of his sources told him about her or whether she contacted him independently. At their meeting, Cooper gave Pearson a batch of love letters from MacArthur, written to her during their affair. With the letters in hand, Pearson warned MacArthur that he would call Cooper to testify against the general, revealing their affair, if the libel suit came to trial.

Taking his family and career into account, MacArthur withdrew his libel action against Pearson. Pearson had to pay one dollar to have the suit formally dropped, and MacArthur ended up paying fifteen thousand dollars to Cooper for his letters and for her to leave Washington, D.C. She did just that.

Impact

MacArthur’s military career likely would have been ruined had the affair come to light. His personal life would have been deeply affected as well. His mother, Mary Pinckney Hardy, oversaw the early development of his military career. He graduated from West Point in 1903, and his mother used both her military and civilian contacts to help him get choice assignments and promotions. She always encouraged her son to strive for perfection in his career, and there can be no doubt that she would have found his affair with Cooper as falling far short of that. She died in 1935, not long after accompanying him to Manila when he was reassigned to the Philippines. She apparently never learned of her son’s affair with Cooper.

Pearson continued writing his column until his death in 1969, by which time it was being carried in more than 650 newspapers. The column was continued by his assistant, Anderson, Jack Jack Anderson. Pearson faced about fifty other lawsuits over his columns but lost in only one case. He continued to be critical of MacArthur in a number of columns over the years.

MacArthur rose again to prominence during World World War II[World War 02];and Douglas MacArthur[MacArthur] War II, and his vow to return to the Philippines after it was overrun by the Japanese became a rallying cry for U.S. soldiers. When the war in Korean War Korea broke out in 1950, he was initially named commander but was relieved by U.S. president Harry S. Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;and Douglas MacArthur[MacArthur] Truman when he challenged the president’s order not to carry the war into China. His subsequent criticisms of Truman failed to generate support. He left the Army and became board chairman of Remington Rand in New York City, a position he held until his death in 1964.

After settling in California, Cooper appeared in several films, sometimes under the name Elizabeth Cooper. She already was somewhat notorious for a 1926 film in which she was part of the first kiss shown in a Philippine film. She made her last film in 1947 and committed suicide in 1960.

Cooper’s letters from MacArthur were never made public. However, one of the subplots in the popular novel Seven Days in May Seven Days in May (Knebel and Bailey) (1962), by Fletcher Knebel Knebel, Fletcher and Bailey, Charles W. Charles W. Bailey, told the story of a maverick general brought to heel by someone getting possession of letters he had written to a woman with whom he was having an affair. The resemblance to the MacArthur-Cooper-Pearson affair is clear. Philippines MacArthur, Douglas Pearson, Drew Libel cases;and Drew Pearson[Pearson] Libel cases;and Douglas MacArthur[MacArthur] Cooper, Isabel

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Douglas A. A “Washington Merry-Go-Round” of Libel Actions. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980. A survey of lawsuits such as that by Douglas MacArthur against Drew Pearson during the years Washington Merry-Go-Round ran in syndication.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Jack, and Daryl Gibson. Peace, War, and Politics: An Eyewitness Account. New York: Forge Books, 2000. Mostly about Jack Anderson, who succeeded columnist Drew Pearson, but touches on Pearson’s long-held distrust of MacArthur as well as their stalled legal battle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences. Annapolis, Md.: Bluejacket Books, 2001. MacArthur’s memoir, which was completed just weeks before his death. Originally published in 1964.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Petillo, Carole M. Douglas MacArthur: The Philippine Years. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Mainly concerned with establishing the psychological impact on MacArthur of the many years he spent in the Philippines at various intervals in his career.

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