Labor Must Fight the Press Lords
Olympian critics have always defended the big press by alleging that there
are also prejudice, bias, distortions, favoritism, coloration and all the
usual evils present in the antipodal, the left or liberal press, the
non-commercial press backed by labor, progressive or Socialist and Communist
parties, or certain trades or even a church. For example, there is more
bias, coloration, distortion in the Brooklyn Tablet, the diocesan organ of
the Catholic Church, then in any other publication in New York State outside
the Nazi German sheets.
I do not believe that the charge made against the non-commercial press will
hold. I will admit that usually the news coverage in this press is
inadequate - but this is due to a lack of funds - and that as a rule there is
more mingling of editorial and news in the news columns, but I insist that
it is the liberal left which realizes the fact that truth itself is the
greatest weapon in the world. By that truth I do not mean necessarily that
two and two make four - although that truth is denied almost every day in the
great press and notably by the reactionary columnists - but the facts and the
causes of the facts as Bovard published them when he ran the Post-Dispatch
without interference from the Pulitzers.
My ideal newspaper would publish nothing but the facts as far as it is
humanly possible to get them. But it would have a staff of men who would be
out every day looking for the facts and who would never be content with the
surface news. With such a newspaper it would not be necessary to have an
editorial page, because the facts would write their own editorial.
But until such time as such an ideal newspaper is founded, it is necessary
that we have a press which will publish the considerable body of news which
the commercial press suppresses or buries, or distorts; and a press which
will have an editorial policy counteracting the poisons which flow from the
editorial pages of the great majority of party and corporation newspapers.
Outside of the commercial press I have mentioned the Christian Science
Monitor and the Jewish Forward, two powerful daily newspapers, which are not
motivated by profits and which have a great influence. But, as I have also
pointed out, they are parochial in their views.
The Communist Party supports the New York Daily Worker and its Chicago and
San Francisco colleagues. These newspapers are marked Communist. There is no
pretense about them, no dishonesty about ownerships as with the dailies which
proclaim themselves the public defender but really represent the utilities,
banks and other interests.
The La Follette movement has a few liberal supporters which state their
ownership and interests honestly.
But the great mass-majority of the American people, organized and
unorganized labor, has no daily press of its own, and has not yet awakened
to the fact - as French and British and other workingmen have done - that
the commercial press only pretends that the interests of labor are its
firsts interest also.
There is not one labor newspaper in America to equal the London Herald.
(That paper, alas, has been turned over to a commercial printer by the
British Labor Party and has lost a great deal of its power.) There are 570
labor publications in the United States, with 8,778,000 circulation, and
there are several weeklies which are decidedly friendly to labor.
The Peoples Press, founded a few years ago, has attained a circulation of
a quarter of a million copies. It is a weekly. It is supported by unions and
devoted to their cause, but it is actually a general newspaper. It publishes
special editions for various sections of the country and for special events,
such as big strikes. One of its greatest achievements was the scoop on the
death of 476 workers in a West Virginia tunnel enterprise: the cause of death
was silicosis. At that time the New York Times wrote an editorial exonerating
the corporation and joking at the whole idea of silicosis, but a
Congressional investigation substantiated the Peoples Press. This weekly also
does its readers many services, one of which is a consumers' department
exposing fraudulent food and drugs. A few hundred thousand dollars subscribed
for this weekly would make it an important force in the country.
Another weekly, Labor, founded two decades ago, now has a circulation of
500,000. Its editor, Edward Keating, tried to induce Samual Gompers, late
president of the American Federation of Labor, to back a chain of labor
newspapers throughout the country, but Gompers, although impressed, found he
had no time for the idea.
Recently there were rumors that John L. Lewis would found at least one,
and possibly three big newspapers which would help the C.I.O. movement, but
nothing has come of them.
For its own interests, if not for the interests of a better press, labor
should have its own newspapers. It can publish either a string of journals
devoted to general information, or it can publish purely journals which
editorially would counteract the news propaganda of its enemies. To get
millions of readers the labor press will have to supply the comic strips,
the stories dealing with sex, money and crime, which have made many tabloids
successful, the baseball scores, all the stuff the general public wants and
now gets in the non-labor or anti-labor press.
If the labor newspaper existed it would act as a purge for the general
press. No editor and publisher would continue to distort and discolor the
news if he was certain that his rival, a labor newspaper, would detect him
in his work and expose him every day. The existence of labor newspapers would
raise the standards of all newspapers. A labor newspaper would be for
journalism what the TVA yardstick is for electricity.
Labor must challenge the press lords. It takes a million to start a
newspaper nowadays, and organized labor can raise that million.
Newspapermen should ask for a share in newspaper making.
The reader should challenge the bona fides of his home town newspaper under
the code of ethics and the cannons of journalism which the editors and
Congress should go ahead with the proposed investigation of our own lords
of the press.
More so today than in the time of the World War and in generations and
centuries ago, the press of the world has become the most important weapon of
dictators and commercial powers. In no dictator country do the people have
anything to say to their rulers, political or journalistic. Only in
democratic countries is there the beginning of a suspicion that the old
axioms about the press being the bulwark of liberty is something that affects
the daily life of the people - that it is a living warning rather than an
ancient wisecrack. A people that wants to be free must arm itself with a
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