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JOURNALISM AND THE
HIGHER LAW

VOLUME I, Number I, of the first American newspaper was published in Boston on September 25, 1690. It was called Publick Occurrences. The second issue did not appear because the Governor ...
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LIBERTY and THE NEWS

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Overview

An excerpt from the beginning of the first chapter:

JOURNALISM AND THE
HIGHER LAW

VOLUME I, Number I, of the first American newspaper was published in Boston on September 25, 1690. It was called Publick Occurrences. The second issue did not appear because the Governor and Council suppressed it. They found that Benjamin Harris, the editor, had printed "reflections of a very high nature."* Even to-day some of his reflections seem very high indeed. In his prospectus he had written:

"That something may be done toward the Curing, or at least the Charming of that Spirit of Lying, which prevails amongst us, wherefore nothing shall be entered, but what we have reason to believe is true, repairing to the best fountains for our Information. And when there appears any material mistake in anything that is collected, it shall be corrected in the next. Moreover, the Publisher of these Occurrences is willing to engage, that whereas, there are many False Reports, maliciously made, and spread among us, if any well-minded person will be at the pains to trace any such false Report, so far as to find out and Convict the First Raiser of it, he will in this Paper (unless just Advice be given to the contrary) expose the Name of such Person, as A malicious Raiser of a false Report. It is suppos'd that none will dislike this Proposal, but such as intend to be guilty of so villainous a Crime."

* "History of American Journalism," James Melvin Lee, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1917, p. 10.

Everywhere to-day men are conscious that somehow they must deal with questions more intricate than any that church or school had prepared them to understand. Increasingly they know that they cannot understand them if the facts are not quickly and steadily available. Increasingly they are baffled because the facts are not available; and they are wondering whether government by consent can survive in a time when the manufacture of consent is an unregulated private enterprise. For in an exact sense the present crisis of western democracy is a crisis in journalism.

I do not agree with those who think that the sole cause is corruption. There ,is plenty of corruption, to be sure, moneyed control, caste pressure, financial and social bribery, ribbons, dinner parties, clubs, petty politics. The speculators in Russian rubles who lied on the Paris Bourse about the capture of Petrograd are not the only example of their species. And yet corruption does not explain the condition of modern journalism.

Mr. Franklin P. Adams wrote recently: "Now there is much pettiness—and almost incredible stupidity and ignorance—in the so-called free press; but it is the pettiness, etc., common to the so-called human race—a pettiness found in musicians, steamfitters, landlords, poets, and waiters. And when Miss Lowell [who had made the usual aristocratic complaint] speaks of the incurable desire in all American newspapers to make fun of everything in season and out, we quarrel again. There is an incurable desire in American newspapers to take things much more seriously than they deserve. Does Miss Lowell read the ponderous news from Washington? Does she read the society news? Does she, we wonder, read the newspapers?" Mr. Adams does read them, and when he writes that the newspapers take things much more seriously than they deserve, he has, as the mayor's wife remarked to the queen, said a mouthful. Since the war, especially, editors have come to believe that their highest duty is not to report but to instruct, not to print news but to save civilization, not to publish what Benjamin Harris calls "the Circumstances of Publique Affairs, both abroad and at home," but to keep the nation on the straight and narrow path. Like the Kings of England, they have elected themselves Defenders of the Faith. "For five years," says Mr. Cobb of the New York World, "there has been no free play of public opinion in the world. Confronted by the inexorable necessities of war, governments conscripted public opinion. . . . They goose-stepped it. They taught it to stand at attention and salute. ... It sometimes seems that after the armistice was signed, millions of Americans must have taken a vow that they would never again do any thinking for themselves. They were willing to die for their country, but not willing to think for it." That minority, which is proudly prepared to think for it, and not only prepared, but cocksure that it alone knows how to think for it, has adopted the theory that the public should know what is good for it.

The work of reporters has thus become confused with the work of preachers, revivalists, prophets and agitators. The current theory of American newspaperdom is that an abstraction like the truth and a grace like fairness must be sacrificed whenever anyone thinks the necessities of civilization require the sacrifice....
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940014907125
  • Publisher: OGB
  • Publication date: 8/15/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,216,845
  • File size: 131 KB

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 3 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 17, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Brilliant study of bad reporting of the Russian Revolution

    'A test of the news' "deals with the reporting of. the Russian Revolution from March, 1917, to March, 1920. The analysis covers thirty-six months and over one thousand issues of a daily newspaper [the New York Times]. The authors have examined all news items about Russia in that period in the newspaper selected; between three and four thousand items were noted." The authors wrote, "The only question asked is whether the reader of the news was given a picture of various phases of the revolution which survived the test of events, or whether he was misled into believing that the outcome of events would be radically different from the actual outcome." They noted, "In the two years from November, 1917, to November, 1919, no less than ninety-one times was it stated that the Soviets were nearing their rope's end, or actually had reached it." In November 1919, a representative of the Czech army said of the government propped up by the British government, "our army has been forced against its convictions to support a state of absolute despotism and unlawfulness which had had its beginnings here under defense of the Czech arms. The military authorities of the Government of Omsk are permitting criminal actions that will stagger the entire world. The burning of villages, the murder of masses of peaceful inhabitants and the shooting of hundreds of persons of democratic convictions and also those only suspected of political disloyalty occurs daily." Polish forces attacked Russia in January 1919. The Times said, "The Bolsheviki have forced the Poles to take up arms by their advance into Polish territory. . The Bolsheviki are advancing toward Vilna." But Vilna was not in Poland. There had been no Russian 'advance into Polish territory'. But there had been a Polish advance into Russian territory. The authors wrote, "in the guise of news they picture Russia, and not Poland, as the aggressor as early as January, 1919." They noted that by 2 December 1919, Polish armies were more than 180 miles into Russia: "the repeated threats of a Bolshevist offensive simply served as a smokescreen for Polish aggression." On 21 January 1920, the Times stated as fact, "The strategy of the Bolshevist military campaign during the coming Spring contemplates a massed attack against Poland, as the first step in a projected Red invasion of Europe and a military diversion through Turkestan and Afghanistan toward India." On 29 January, the Soviet government, with Polish forces still 180 miles inside its borders, again 'recognized the independence and sovereignty of the Polish republic' and again invited Polish statesmen to enter into peace talks. They wrote of, "14 dispatches in the month of January [1920], warning of Red Peril to India and Poland, Europe and Azerbaijan, Persia; Georgia and Mesopotamia." But there followed no invasions of India, Europe, Persia or Mesopotamia. The dispatches, from London, Paris and Washington, were from 'British military authorities', 'diplomatic circles', 'government sources' and 'well-informed diplomats'. Some things don't change. The authors summed up, "In the large, the news about Russia is a case of seeing not what was, but what men wished to see. . From the point of view of professional journalism the reporting of the Russian Revolution is nothing short of a disaster. On the essential questions the net effect was almost always misleading, and misleading news is worse than none at all."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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