Chapter 5 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 publishers proclaim.

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 free press.

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