On June 19, 1875, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reprinted the following item that had been published a few days earlier by the St. Paul Dispatch and Minneapolis Daily Tribune:
"The Pine City telegraph operator is a bad one. He is now under arrest for attempting to ravish a Swede woman and seriously injuring a watchman that came to the woman's rescue."
In fact George Hewitt, the sole telegraph operator at Pine City, had not been arrested or charged with any crime. The newspapers had confused Hewitt with the operator assigned to the Hinckley office.
Hewitt sued the P.P. for libel in Pine County District Court; the case went to trial in October 1875. The P.P.'s main defense was that the allegations, though erroneous, were already a matter of public awareness because the Dispatch and Tribune had already published them. The jury returned a plaintiff's verdict, Judge Crosby granted a motion for a new trial, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Its decision, 23 Minn. 178 (1876), is posted in the Appendix.