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CHAPTER XVIII

DEMOCRACY IN JOURNALISM

WE HAVE been considering how, in our democracy, public opinion can get itself faithfully represented and its dictates expertly carried out. But behind that problem lies the problem of how a well-informed and wise public opinion can be created. Open-forum

etings for free discussion of contemporary affairs might be of great value. But these meetings would be held only at intervals, whereas the newspapers are read daily. Whether or not their readers realize that their views are being formed by the papers they read, it is to a very great degree the fact. Americans read their newspapers more than the people of any other nation. Hence it is of the utmost importance that the news furnished in the daily press be accurate and impartial, reporting every event of importance and reporting it uncolored by the bias of the newspaperOwners. If one set of facts is ignored and another set of facts emphasized or exaggerated, public opinion is in so far misled, and its resulting judgments warped.

The importance of a free and impartial press was recognized by our fathers. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, of June 2, 1776, declared that “freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty.” No more fearlessly honest journal than Benjamin Franklin's Gazette was ever published. In general, a newspaper was published to furnish the news; and editors were given a free hand.

In recent years, however, the situation has been seriously altered. Practically all of the great papers of the country are now owned by men of wealth. A few rich and ambitious men control a good many of them. It is not impossible that any year might see one or two men in absolute control of hundreds of our leading organs of public opinion. Lord Northcliffe in England is the controlling shareholder of a great trust which owns some sixty publications. Herr Stinnes in Germany was reported recently to have bought up sixty-four papers to push his propaganda. With the strong forces making for centralization and combination in American business, it is surprising that no greater mergers have been made as yet in this field. Possibly there is already more centralization of control than is made public. At any rate, we have Mr. Hearst, with his many newspapers and magazines, and certain other fairly large-scale manipulators of opinion.

Then we have the Associated Press, which has almost a monopoly of the news-gathering service. The Manager of this agency is said to have remarked recently that he was more powerful than the President of the United States. If his censorship of the news is as autocratic and as drastic as is commonly reported, that remark may well be true. He who can select the news upon which millions of readers are to be fed every day has an enormous, if unseen, influence upon the creation of the popular will. A few

A rich newspapers can afford to maintain their own special correspondents. But the great majority of them are almost wholly dependent, and all are very largely dependent, upon the despatches which the Associated Press correspondents send and the Associated Press office allows to get by.

Any one who knows the newspaper business from the inside knows that most newspapers are very autocratically run. The editors and reporters know what topics must be avoided, what news hushed up, what men and movements must be given no publicity. They know, on the other hand, the individuals and the corporations, the events and movements, which are to be written up. Not only are the editorials thoroughly partisan—that we expect, and discount-but the news itself is editorialized. The headlines emphasize what the policy of the paper intends to thrust upon the attention of the readers. The position, prominent or out-of-the-way, given to an article, the manner of the write-up, the excisions and emphases, all work to the same end. The result is that, to an extent not realized as yet by most readers, our newspapers have become organs of propaganda rather than impartial records of fact.

The motives behind this warping of the news are not difficult to understand. In the first place, a newspaper is a money-making enterprise, like any other business; the owner knows his public, and, other things equal, wishes to print the sort of thing that will sell the greatest number of copies. What this will be, depends upon the particular clientele of the paper; Mr. Hearst's papers pander to the poorer classes, while the Boston Transcript must please its Back Bay buyers. It is not surprising, therefore, that we find the former papers portraying financial magnates as brutal profiteers, and headlining every scandal affecting big business, whereas the latter harps upon the unreasonableness of labor and its grafting leaders.

But our newspapers do not live on the money paid for copies, they live on the money paid in by advertisers. Over two-thirds of the total receipts of the average newspaper today come from advertising; in some cases the proportion is said to run as high as ninety per cent. It is obvious, therefore, that to incur the displeasure of the big advertisers would mean financial ruin. The loss of the department-store advertising alone might well make just the difference between success and bankruptcy. Naturally, then, scandals that involve their owners must not be published, conditions in the stores reflecting upon the management must be ignored, legislation whose effect would be to involve the owners in expense must not be advocated, or must perhaps be vigorously opposed.

There are many other ways in which a newspaper can serve the financial interests of its owner. For example, if, as is the case with at least one of our great newspaper-owners, he is the possessor of rich oil-lands in Mexico, he will be likely to advocate in his paper a "strong” policy toward that unhappy country. Headlines and sensational reports will emphasize the unsettled condition of policies there, every case of injury to Americans or their property will be exploited; and in all sorts of indirect ways the impression will be spread that intervention is necessary and righteous.

If the owner of the paper has invested heavily in steel, he will naturally hush up any news that reflects upon the conduct of that great industry. He will oppose agitation tending toward the raising of wages or shortening of hours for the laborers, lest dividends de.

If there is a strike, the paper will be full of indignation at the labor-unions, and give space to every item of news and every rumor that will discredit the strikers in the eyes of the public.

crease.

These are not mere hypotheses. This is just the sort of thing that is going on continually. Usually the reader knows nothing about the owner of the paper he reads—what his particular interests are, and the interests of his friends. If he is naïve, he lets his mind absorb the attitude of the paper; if he is worldly-wise, he becomes cynical with regard to everything he reads. But even the most cynical reader, unless he is continually on his guard, will be influenced unconsciously by the subtle "suggestion" of the “stories" in the paper.

Of course, most papers are partisan when it comes to politics. Even the “independent” papers are not impartial; they simply reserve the right to change sides when platforms or candidates present a new issue. A Democratic paper fills its readers' minds with "news" and editorials that show the worthiness of its cause; a republican paper has no difficulty in finding news that points to the necessity of a Republican administration, and its editorials would move the hardest-hearted to the conviction that the true patriot will vote that ticket. Since the Democrats read their papers and the Republicans theirs (few people read more than one daily paper), every one is strengthened daily in his own convictions. Of dispassionate search for truth and presentation of all sides of a question there is hardly a sign.

Political issues change from decade to decade, candidates come and go. And it often makes little enough difference in the end which party won at the polls. But there is something of far deeper import than the alignment between the two traditional parties. It is the fact that almost all of the daily

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