The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
PRINTING PRESSES AND AIR WAVES

"We live under a government of men and morning newspapers."

- WENDELL PHILLIPS


1

THE THOUSAND-TONGUED newspaper press is a monster with tremendous power. It has long given us the bulk of our information about the outside world, and this is a frightening responsibility. Without sound information there can be no sound public opinion, and without sound public opinion there can be no intelligent foreign policy.

Any criticism of the newspaper must be tempered by a realization that publishing is a business and not a benefaction. The publisher is out to sell subscriptions and advertising space just as the grocer is out to sell eggs and sacks of potatoes. James Gordon Bennett could start the New York Herald in 1835 with an office consisting of a plank across two flour barrels. But in more recent years the publishing of newspapers has come to be a big business. Only a Marshall Field, with high principles and inherited millions, could coolly face huge annual losses before the Chicago Sun and the New York PM might hope to be out of the red.* One result has been that the newspapers are becoming fewer and bigger, with fewer independent, home-owned journals, and with more syndicated, standardized material. The owners are generally "economic royalists" who reflect the conservative, big-business bias of corporate ownership, with correspondingly less freedom of expression. Upton Sinclair Brass Check ( 1919) inveighed against those "who betray the virgin hopes of mankind into the loathsome brothel of Big Business."

The lifeblood of the newspaper is advertising. When the reader is willing to provide this support himself, and pay substantially more for a copy of his paper, he may expect a better product. But until that time we must recognize that the newspaper is a big business, tied in with big- business advertisers, and that as a consequence we cannot expect the same standards of high-mindedness that we have come to expect from a liberally endowed charitable institution.

Does the newspaper press create or reflect public opinion? In the nineteenth century, when there were journalistic giants like Greeley of the New York Tribune, the emphasis was on creating. Someone asked the grandfather of Professor Earl Barnes what he thought about a current problem. "Wait until the Weekly Tribune comes," he answered, "and then I can tell you what I think about it." The giants passed, and the emphasis

____________________
*
After a six-year policy of accepting no advertising, PM in November, 1946, announced a reversal of policy. The editor, Ralph Ingersoll, resigned in protest.

-304-

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