The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878

By Mark Wahlgren Summers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
I Want to Give Those Fellows Hell!

For all their limitations, journalists of the 1860s had a talent worth admiring, but was it also a talent worth fearing? What kind of power did the press wield over public attention and affairs, and what kind of power could be wielded over the press?

Certainly the editors themselves deemed their power immense. The newly discovered honesty of Wall Street speculators, wrote "Pink," the Charleston Courier's New York correspondent in late 1869, came from journalists' exposures of the recent conspiracy to corner the gold supply. "I sometimes think that if New York were made of glass its morality would rise 50 per cent in a single year," the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher confessed. Barring such a miracle, he added, the journalists' pursuit of stories produced very nearly the same effect. 1

It was in politics that journalists claimed their greatest influence, and reasonably, since political coverage provided much of the news and most of the amusement. Less commonly than a generation before, but still as a general rule, most editors saw themselves as distributors of political information rather than

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