"A man who doesn't read the newspaper every day is uninformed, a man that does is misinformed." (Mark Twain)
The news that The Tribune Company has sought bankruptcy protection from its creditors has sent a cold chill throughout the newspaper industry. But somewhere out there, beyond the human veil, the spirit of Harry Truman is slapping his knee and laughing hysterically, using language that can't be repeated here. It was a copy of the Chicago Tribune that Truman was holding off the back of the train in that famous photo, "Dewy Defeats Truman." The Tribune's error was as much wishful thinking as honest mistake.
The Chicago Tribune is one of the most conservative papers in one of the most liberal towns anywhere in America. From its beginnings the Tribune led the way in bombastic, right wing, reactionary journalism. In the 1850's the paper featured anti-Irish, anti-Catholic editorials. Then, under the editorial direction of Robert McCormick, the newspaper strongly supported the temperance movement. As the Great Depression darkened Chicago's horizons it was the Chicago Tribune that castigated Roosevelt and his New Deal. As war clouds gathered over Europe it was the Chicago Tribune that remained staunchly isolationist.
It was money and editorial support from McCormick's Tribune and his cousin Joseph M. Patterson that funded the "America First Committee." The group claimed a membership of over 800,000, the majority of whom were within 300 miles of Chi-town and the Tribune. The group's mission statement was to keep America out of any European entanglements and it attracted many celebrities to its cause. Walt Disney, Charles Lindbergh and Gerald Ford were all proud members. Frank Lloyd Wright attempted to join but was turned down because of suspected immorality. Wright was divorced, you know.
The trouble is that when you put a bunch of right wing nut balls together in one room they try to out nut ball each other. It was at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa where speaker Charles Lindbergh stuck a fork in the soufflé. "Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation."
Lindbergh later insisted that he was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-British, but he never retracted the statements, either. One more example and we'll move on because I come not to praise but to bury the newspaper industry. "I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people." Lindbergh insisted. "Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction."
Lindbergh was toast and America First began to disband on December 8, 1941, but the Tribune went happily on its way, unscathed. So the picture with Truman holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune should hold a special poignancy for us all. It was a comeuppance for the Tribune's editorial board and a repudiation by the reading public.
As I've said, I come to bury the Tribune and not to praise it; its anti-union, pro-business stance has finally borne fruit. American workers no longer have the time to stand around and read their newspaper. Eight years of an administration that it endorsed and supported have brought about the decline in advertising revenue that has now forced it into bankruptcy. The Chicago Tribune's failure is emblematic of change in the market place.
For over a hundred years the major newspaper editorial boards have been the movers and shapers of public opinion. They chose mayors and senators, and even presidential candidates came, hat in hand, beseeching their support. Rather than reporters of the news they became the gatekeepers of the news. The editors and publishers knew where all the bodies were buried. They decided which investigative reports to initiate and which to kill. As they sat upon their thrones and waved their scepters in their high-rise palaces, they became detached from the real world.
Today, with talk radio and cable television, the Internet and satellite radio, the newspapers have become dinosaurs lumbering through the marketplace, still living in their 1948 Dewy-defeats-Truman mind set. They prognosticate and practice pointed punditry and then they put "Doonesbury" in the comic section because it might offend delicate sensibilities. They talk but don't listen, because up there on their lofty thrones they don't have to listen to the great, unwashed multitudes. They fail to understand that if we don't like the radio we change it. Or the TV, we change it. But if we don't like the newspaper, we don't buy it. Here in Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal Constitution struggles to hold on, but its problems are the same as those of the Tribune. They talk, talk, talk but never listen to those "little" people; the little people who they expect to buy their product.
The most popular column in the Atlanta paper is "The Vent," where we little people are allowed to have our say, but somehow the paper doesn't understand the connection. They have award-winning journalists who try to tell us how to think and yet we would rather listen to each other. We would rather hear the opinions of our neighbors than professionals paid to parrot the editorial view.
I'm always looking for writing jobs and I'm very particular about what kind of jobs I take. I require the payment of money for services rendered but I came across this ad seeking a writer for a newspaper. Wanted: writer/editor for local newspaper. Must have a BA/MA in journalism or business administration. A record of academic achievement is required; must be willing to work nights and weekends and think outside of the box. $8.50 per hour to start.
Think outside of the box? They've spent the last four years getting into the box! They love the box, they think of the box as they would their own mother. That's the point entirely, they will only consider those who are trained to think the way they want them to think. Why, someone who actually does think outside of the box might stoop to writing a story about what is really wrong with the newspaper industry. Someone who would write a story to bury them and not to praise them. Someone who would rather tell the truth rather than please the editor. Someone who puts more stock in what the people think, than what the editor wants them to think.
Instead, the editors cipher out that Americans are too much on the go to read the newspaper. Yet Americans read publications on the Internet by the hour, publications that talk to them rather than preach at them. Publications that do think outside the box instead of publications that write outside the box for those inside the box.