I was looking at one of those Time-Life books the other day ; you know, the ones with all the pictures that makes the reading easier.
It was called “Prelude to a Century, 1870 – 1900”.
I noticed a chapter on “The Press” and read about Journalism’s official Gandhi, the venerable Joseph Pulitzer.
Here’ a great quote by him: “Accuracy! Accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a woman.”
This part will inspire you too: He told his staff, “…will expose all fraud and sham, and fight all public evils and abuses – that will serve and battle for the people.”
Noble sentiments; what more could America ask of her free press.
According to the book, Pulitzer did a superb job of taking his newly acquired newspaper, “The World”, to enormous success and vast readership.
And then a rival, named William Randolph Hearst, started a newspaper and began syphoning off Pulitzer’s readers. Hearst wasn’t bothered by truth apparently, and sensationalized many of his news stories, particularly about how the Spanish were abusing Cuban citizens.
Pulitzer responded in kind with his newspaper:
“Read this: “The skulls of all were split to pieces down to the eyes. Some of these were gouged out… The arms and legs of one had been dismembered and laced into a rude attempt at a Cuban five pointed star.”
And so on.
Apparently, this sensationalized news, and not just from Pulitzer and Hearst, rapidly soured public opinion against the Spanish, and even spurred us into the Spanish American War.
And the rest is History.
I went to Wikipedia – no mention of any of this about Pulitzer; just the usual hearts and flowers about his unusually noble life – that should be another story though.
But really, this story is about the culture of the press… The same culture that continues today.
You see, the press has learned that it isn’t necessarily the truth that drives readership, and indeed, it is seldom the truth that advances their self interests.
And so what to do – report on what sells. or report on what’s true?
And the other dilemma – bias their reporting to sway public opinion to their way of thinking, or be nuisanced by pesky truth.
I don’t know – maybe we’re asking human beings to be something more. After all, don’t most of us act this way?
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