Almost all causes cèlébres begin political life as well-publicized local trials. Americans often assume that most trials receive mandatory news media coverage. That notion is far from true—only a handful of trials, no matter what their type or jurisdiction, receive news coverage and then only in abbreviated accounts. Very few trials receive national news coverage in the United States or elsewhere in the world, for that matter. Of the small number that are covered by the press and broadcast media, an even smaller percentage become worldwide famous cases: causes cèlébres.
This book studies the press coverage and its relationships with propaganda and public reaction to one of America’s most celebrated political cases of the twentieth century. The Sacco-Vanzetti episode began public life as the murder trial of two immigrant Italians accused of killing a paymaster and his security guard in a shoe-company robbery. At trial, however, the issue of their radical backgrounds—both men were anarchists—surfaced and slowly developed, eventually inflating into a worldwide movement.
This case was not born to public life as a notorious cause, but, rather it was laboriously managed and organized to attain that status. Defense committees were formed, money raised, telephone-banks set up; recruiters canvassed neighborhoods, street-corner speakers harangued the curious, volunteers collected signatures on petitions. All of this was done with a view toward getting a new trial. That meant funding appeals; hiring highpriced attorneys; then arranging and staging demonstrations, picketing, speeches, strikes, job actions, press conferences, parties, meetings, leafleting,