"Legacy of a Kidnapping: Lindbergh & the Triumph of the Tabloids"

By Sweeney, Michael S. | Journalism History, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

"Legacy of a Kidnapping: Lindbergh & the Triumph of the Tabloids"


Sweeney, Michael S., Journalism History


"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. . . . That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered." Ecclesiastes 1:9, 15

Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham takes viewers through what he calls an "essay" about the origins of tabloid journalism's excesses by comparing the coverage of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 with such modem-day media circuses as the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr. and the trials of Oj. Simpson and Puff Daddy. One of his key points is that it has all been done.

Lapham thus demonstrates some of the universal qualities of human nature. Many people have the desire, expressed by William Randolph Hearst in the video Legacy ofa Kidnapping, to listen to interesting stories. Others, in Lapham's finely tuned prose, "frown and cluck and blame the tabloid press" for catering to the public's desire for the sensational.

In the Lindbergh kidnapping and eventual capture, trial, and execution of Bruno Hauptmann for the murder of "Little Lindy," all of the sufficient qualities were in place for a tabloid feeding frenzy. Charles Lindbergh enjoyed a hero's reputation for flying alone across the Atlantic nonstop in 1927. Upon his triumphant return to the United States, his tickertape parade in New York City was bigger than the one celebrating the end of World War I. Yet, he refused to accept lucrative endorsement or performance contracts. His boyish good looks and shyness, coupled with his aloofness from the media circus that surrounded him, kept him on a pedestal long into the 1930s.

When his infant son was kidnapped in New Jersey, print and radio journalists besieged the Lindbergh home. The spectacle was monstrous and shameful, but it was nothing to compare with the trial of Hauptmann three years later. …

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