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Battles of opinion: Editorials through history reveal diversity of opinion
in competing daily newspapers
An analysis of editorials from the adoption of the U.S. Constitution
through the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima reveals a marked diversity
of opinion in competing newspapers. This diversity ranges from ideological
disagreement to subtle differences in tone and focus, editorial placement,
amount of space given to editorials and vigor of argument. These findings
are meaningful in the modern era of diminishing daily newspaper competition
in terms of editorials? contribution to vigorous democratic debate.
Battles of opinion:
Editorials through history reveal diversity
of opinion in competing daily newspapers
E.W. Scripps Teaching Fellow
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Phone: 419-586-3433 (home); 740-597-3082 (office)
Mailing address: 403 W. Fayette St., Celina, OH 45822
On the evening of October 7, 1835, James Gordon Bennett, editor of
The New York Herald, was walking up the north side of New York City?s Wall
Street. It was 6 p.m. He had just departed some Wall Street brokers ?
sources for his newspaper?s money market column. As Bennett neared the
corner of William Street, a man appeared from behind the side of a
building, struck Bennett in the face, then stood back and cursed the editor
of New York?s new, rising daily penny newspaper. Bennett recognized his
assailant: Dr. Peter S. Townsend, associate editor of The New York Evening
?Doctor Toonsen,? said Bennett in his Scottish accent, stepping back from
the man. ?What d? ye mean b? this??
The men wrestled a bit before brokers and others stepped in to stop the fight.
?This fellow is only a foreigner,? Townsend told the crowd. ?He comes to
our shores to get his bread, and instead of behaving as he ought to do, he
attacks and ridicules the editors of the Star ? I am one ? Mr. Noah is the
other. He is a blackguard, and I hope gentlemen you will not permit him to
come into the street hereafter.?1
Indeed, Bennett had immigrated to the United States, had become a
journalist, had begun his own newspaper and did, on occasion, use it to
ridicule the editors of the Evening Star and of other New York City sheets.
Two days before, Bennett had taken an editorial swipe at the Evening Star
and the favorable review of an actor, written by Townsend ? whom Bennett
had dubbed in print ?Peter Simple,? the primary character in an English
novel that depicted Americans unfavorably. It was that reference that
tipped Townsend over the edge. It was one of several such jibes aimed at
Townsend, Evening Star editor Mordecai Noah, Benjamin Henry Day of The New
York Sun, and James Watson Webb of The New York Courier and Enquirer.2
Physical encounters were not the normal means of expressing
differences over editorial philosophies and ideologies in the 1830s era of
the penny press newspapers ? sheets created by enterprising printers and
editors that were offered for a penny or two in comparison to the nickel
papers of that and later decades and that were aimed at a mass readership.
Nor were they standard fare of the political party newspaper organs before
the penny press, nor of the so-called Golden Age of journalism sheets
of William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, E.W. Scripps and Henry
Raymond that grew out of the penny presses. What such encounters
illustrate, however, is a mood of journalism past ? when newspaper owners
and editors saw their organs as means of communicating and arguing their
political ideologies, when they conducted editorial battles not only in
scurrying to beat the competition in obtaining hard news but also in their
editorials. They represent a time when cities and communities had more than
one daily newspaper and that therefore offered a competition of opinion,
ideas and reportage.
The ?First Great Newspaper Debates?
The phenomenon of editorial battles arose in the wake of the
American Revolution. Eleven years after America won its independence from
Britain, the young nation and its newspapers engaged in heated debate over
the writing and adoption of its constitution. That argument was carried out
in numerous newspaper articles, including a series of eighty-five essays
published in three New York newspapers that came to be known as the
Federalist Papers (signed by ?Publius? but authored primarily by Alexander
Hamilton and James Madison, with some contribution by John Jay). After the
constitutional convention completed its work and the constitution was
signed in mid-September of 1787, the document was put before the states for
ratification. The Federalists and Antifederalists and their party organs
took up the debate over ratification, an editorial confrontation
highlighted by charges of conspiracy and political intrigue.
The editorial exchange in Boston offered an example of the sort of
language and allegations that typified the editorial argument. That city?s
Federalist Massachusetts Centinel took up one side, while the American
Herald argued the other. The Centinel chastised the Antifederalists as
?malignant, ignorant, and short-sighted triflers,? marked by ?the weakness
of their heads, and the badness of their hearts.?
But the American Herald warned readers not to be stunned by the
brilliance of names and told delegates of thirteen disadvantages in the
new plan of government, which included the prediction that the
?Trade of Boston (would be) transferred to Philadelphia? while
?Religion (would be) abolished.? The Herald advised delegates to
postpone final action on the Constitution and await the call for a
second convention, and this tactic became the emerging strategy of
the Antifederalists in the New York and Virginia strongholds.3
Massachusetts came through for the Federalists. New York followed
suit, and by August 1, 1788 ? less than eleven months since the
ratification process had begun ? ?that American must have been remote who
had not learned the outcome of the struggle.?4 The United States had a
constitution ? and the new nation had already established a tradition of
robust, free political debate on the pages of its many, and competing,
newspapers. As Rutland notes, these editors carried out this editorial
constitutional dispute at a time when ?Americans were accustomed to the
airing of complaints more often than to the reading of facts in their
weekly gazettes?5 ? and when it sometimes was hard to differentiate between
fact and opinion, and editorials were not assigned to specific ?commentary?
or ?opinion? pages or sections. That the debate was fostered by an
unfettered press was key. Writes Rutland: ?The overwhelming support of the
newspapers in this first test of a national referendum was a key element in
the successful ratification campaign and set the journalistic tone for
political contests in America for generations to come.?6
Newspaper industry observers and participants have identified this
process of editorial debate, of diverse voices taking up differing sides of
a political, social or cultural issue, as an important ingredient of the
American democratic experiment ? one that encourages ideas to be examined
and issues decided from a pluralistic perspective that encourages
differences and argument. Rutland, in his study of the constitutional
ratification, speaks to the vitality and significance of the editorial
discussion, in which the nation?s intellectual and political elite realized
that ?something fundamental had happened to the political process in the
new Republic. The nation?s political habits would never be the same.? It
was no wonder, writes Rutland, ?that Jefferson in 1787 said that, had he a
choice between ?a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a
government,? he would unhesitatingly prefer the latter condition.?
The example of free men arguing and trying to persuade, of losing
and of winning, that was provided in the first great newspaper debates in
1787-88 set the nation on an unalterable course of freedom. Now, two
hundred years later (1987), we still find that the wholesomeness of full
public debate is the best way to preserve our liberty.7
Rutland was writing of what has come to be known as a so-called
marketplace of ideas that, working through a competitive offering of
newspapers, not only informs citizens about their communities and their
political, cultural and social institutions but also nurtures a lively
debate that helps the reading citizenry formulate opinions and attitudes
and thus to make more informed decisions about their elective government.
Such communities of diverse opinions, argue Chaffee and Wilson, ?would seem
to be functioning more in the manner of the Jeffersonian ideal than those
communities where few problems are perceived as important, and where there
is little diversity of opinion or change in perspective over time.?8
The ?journalistic tone? and ?Jeffersonian ideal? cited by Rutland
and by Chaffee and Wilson continued well into the last half of the
twentieth century and the passage by Congress of the Newspaper Preservation
Act in 1970. That is a key date in American newspaper history, not because
it is a precise point in a linear scale marking the numerical decline of
the competing daily newspaper in American cities (which it is not; the
decline had begun well before 1970). Rather, it is an important date
because the Newspaper Preservation Act skirted existing regulatory statutes
by allowing two competing newspapers to legally avoid anti-trust
prosecution and to merge their business operations in so-called joint
operating agreements (JOAs). These agreements encouraged failing newspapers
in markets that can no longer support competing newspapers to share
printing presses, production, circulation and advertising operations while
maintaining separately owned and managed editorial departments. The
Newspaper Preservation Act marked an awareness, and acceptance ? by
government and by the newspaper industry ? of a declining newspaper
competition and the need to somehow maintain diverse editorial voices that
Congress, the president and the courts recognized as vital to the American
The ?wholesomeness of full public debate? that Rutland cites is
dissipating; the diversity of editorial voices is waning as newspaper
monopolies increase, along with the growth of chain and corporate newspaper
ownership ? chain defined here as ownership of two or more dailies in
different cities by one firm or individual.10 In 1960, nearly 70 percent
of U.S. dailies were independently owned; by the early 1990s, that number
had declined to 25 percent following a three-decade buying spree by
chains.11 The number of JOAs in this nation increased from the first
formalized agreement in 1933 to newspapers in 22 cities by the time of the
congressional adoption of the Newspaper Preservation Act in 1970. The
number of cities with daily newspaper competition totaled 288 in 1930,
representing 20.6 percent of all daily U.S. newspapers. In 1986, 47 U.S.
cities had two or more separately owned newspapers that were not controlled
by groups or that were not part of operations in which the two community
newspapers were owned by the same company.12 This number had declined to 20
To consider the effects of competition ? or its decline ? on daily
newspaper editorial diversity and vigor within communities, it is useful to
first survey newspaper editorial competition in the past with an eye toward
such considerations as ideological (i.e. Republican versus Democrat, or
left versus right) and other differences as manifest by same-city newspaper
editorials ? to discern, in short, what the American public might be
missing in those communities now served by only one daily newspaper or what
those communities that still have more than one newspaper might miss were
that competition to cease. This study carries out such an analysis by
looking at historical newspaper editorial differences during a period of
robust editorial competition ? the penny press era and the Golden Age of
journalism that arose from the penny presses ? in an analysis of secondary
sources and select editorials of newspaper editorial archives. The study
considers editorials on topics the researcher believes were likely to
produce ideological editorial differences ? that is, differences of
newspaper opinion, in writings separate from routine news and feature
stories, that represent the official philosophical or ideological (i.e.,
Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative) stance of the newspaper.
These topics include subjects of abolition and slavery, war, presidential
endorsements, and social and political policy of newspapers from the rise
of the penny press era through the end of World War II. This study also
considers types of diversity other than ideological ? such as vigor of
argument, tone, placement of editorial and amount of space devoted to an
editorial ? that might indicate meaningful differences in editorialists?
attitudes toward their subjects.
In New York, issues serious and sometimes frivolous
Any discussion of editorials of the penny press era ? beginning with
the founding by Benjamin Day of the New York Sun in 1830 ? must include and
focus largely upon the penny presses of New York City. This was where Day
and his competitors ? including Bennett, Noah, Webb, Horace Greeley and his
Tribune, and Raymond?s New York Daily Times ? waged a daily newspaper war
selling their sheets for one and two cents each in competition, with the
existing nickel dailies and among each other, that continued well beyond
the turn of the century.
Bennett and his New York City rivals disagreed during the years of
the penny press era over matters much more serious, and in means less
violent, than the editorial battles waged over such mundane topics as the
abilities of actors cited above ? though personal references to the
opposition, by name and by newspaper, were frequent. One of the more
explosive and divisive issues was that of slavery. While most of these
editors agreed in principle on the evils of slavery, they disagreed over
whether it ought to be ended quickly or whether slavery should be phased
out gradually to allow the southern economy an opportunity to adapt to the
change and to lend the freed slaves time to be assimilated into the
American society and economy. The Sun?s Day was an advocate of the latter
policy, arguing in February of 1934, ?First, prepare the slaves for
freedom, prepare an asylum where they can enjoy the blessing ? and then
But William Lloyd Garrison came out strongly for the immediate
freeing of the slaves in his abolitionist sheet, The Liberator, which began
publishing in Boston in 1829 but by the early 1830s was circulated
throughout the nation, including New York City. Garrison set the tone with
his first editorial, published January 1, 1831, in which he expressed
regret over his previous support of gradual emancipation and called instead
for ?the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population ? I seize this
opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly
to ask pardon of God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves,
for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity injustice, and absurdity.?15
Day took exception with Garrison, opining in December 1933 that the
radical abolitionist is someone ?whom we consider beneath the public
he has not at heart the real interests of the African race. He would
shrink from the thought that a daughter of his should marry a Negro ?
but still he is a violent advocate of their being put upon an equality
with citizens of this Republic. Why recognize those as citizens with
whom we are unwilling to associate as fellow men? We have already
given our opinion of slavery ? that it is an evil is the opinion of
honest man; but because it exists must we excite its victims to
As the United States moved toward the Civil War, newspaper
editorialists took up their pens to battle over whether to preserve the
union or to let the southern states go their way. After South Carolina
seceded in 1860, followed by six more states, the Times? Raymond pushed for
compromise and, after newly elected President Lincoln refused to publicly
reassure the South, blasted the president in an editorial titled, ?Wanted ?
a Policy.? The editorial writer criticized Lincoln?s inaction, arguing that
the government ?allows everything to drift, to float along without guidance
or impulse to do anything. ? In a great crisis like this, there is no
policy so fatal as having no policy at all.?17
But ?while Raymond?s Times sought to keep the Southern states,
Horace Greeley?s New York Tribune said: ?Let them go.?? Greeley, while
arguing against the rights of plantation owners to hold slaves, wrote that
twenty million should not hold five million Southerners by force. ?We hold
the right of Self-Government sacred, even when invoked in behalf of those
who deny it to others,? he wrote, invoking the Declaration of
Independence?s clause lending governments their ?just? powers through the
consent of those who are governed.18
Greeley didn?t disagree with his fellow editors only on secession.
He also engaged them in debate on other issues, ranging from the Mexican
War, which he opposed, to various ?isms,? including transcendentalism,
spiritualism, vegetarianism and Fourierism, with its belief in the
socialist principles of Association. The Courier & Tribune?s Webb chastised
Greeley in 1844 for what Webb considered the Tribune editor?s
eccentricities, which included a diet of ?bran-bread and sawdust.? Webb
accused Greeley of sins that included ?eccentricity of character,? wearing
a hat ?double the size of his head,? and ?glorying in an unwashed and
? we look upon cleanliness of person as inseparable from purity of
and benevolence of heart. In short, there is not the slightest resemblance
between the editor of The Tribune and ourself, politically, morally, or
it is only when his affectation and impudence are unbearable, that we
condescend to notice him or his press.19
Greeley conceded the next day that he chose to eat ?mainly (not entirely)
vegetable food,? but why should that bother Webb? Regarding his personal
appearance, Greeley denied affecting eccentricity, ?and certainly no
costume he (Greeley) ever appeared in, would create such a sensation in
Broadway, as that James Watson Webb would have worn.?20
A protracted 1846 editorial debate between Raymond, then of the New
York Courier & Enquirer, and Greeley?s Tribune argued the merits of
Fourierism.21 Each writer contributed twelve articles to that debate, which
took in a number of cultural issues, from marriage to religion. Writes
Thompson of the exchange:
Raymond brought out the fact that the Fourierist or Associationist
ideas on marriage were not as wholesome as Christians would like,
and that Christianity itself did not occupy a foremost position among
many adherents. Greeley countered with an adamant defense of the
fidelity of Associationists such as himself to Christianity and the
sanctity of marriage, but the debate was won by Raymond in the end.
Greeley?s remarks, genuine and sincere as they were, did little for the
Association cause while the debate helped raise Raymond?s stature as
These sorts of editorial arguments over what some might consider
issues less serious than slavery and war ? Associationism, religion, diet,
fashion ? demonstrate an awareness by the combatants of their roles as
opinion leaders in society and are evidence of an intellectual climate that
took seriously such matters. Greeley and his rivals brought an equal fervor
to the more compelling issues of the day, as shown by Greeley?s reaction to
the death of former President Andrew Jackson. In his parting words to the
fallen war hero, Greeley praised Jackson?s patriotism while scorning him as
a ?jobber in human flesh,? a ?slave trader,? and said Jackson had been
guilty of ?covert, rapacious treachery to Mexico.? The Evening Post termed
Greeley?s remarks ?ebullition of party spleen and impotent malignity.?23
Bigger editorial topics emerged in the later days of the nineteenth
century and the early twentieth century. They included the Spanish-American
War and, after that brief exercise in imperialism that made a hero of
Theodore Roosevelt and an international military power of the United
States, prohibition ? the attempt by the Progressives and their fellow
reformers to rein in the nation?s thirst for alcohol and its accompanying
sins (except for the upper classes, for whom a stiff drink remained
available throughout the prohibition era) and its growing immigrant population.
One of the more noted editorial campaigns of the Progressive era of U.S.
history, one that took place not only on the editorial pages but on the
front pages as well, was the sensationalistic reporting ? primarily by
Hearst?s and Pulitzer?s newspapers ? of events in Cuba and the sinking of
the battleship Maine, which precipitated the Spanish-American War of 1898.
As Hearst and Pulitzer battled each other for stories and in prodding the
U.S. government toward hostilities and then in producing war coverage,
Edwin Lawrence Godkin of the Evening Post criticized those two editors for
their journalistic behavior.
Mills wrote of how the Hearst-Pulitzer newspaper campaigns interfered with
the war effort. The war correspondents, ?flocking into every camp, every
naval station, and into every possible or impossible theater of action,
loaded down the wires with detailed accounts of every move made or
contemplated,? he wrote, adding that efforts by authorities on behalf of
secrecy were ?imperiously brushed aside.?
After all, if it was not the newspapers? war, whose war was it? When
the Navy ` fitted out a vessel as a hospital ship, she was immediately
stormed by whole
battalions of reporters, who calculated that, as she would have to
hurry from the
scene of battle to land the wounded, she would be the first to reach
wires. ? Already, by April 26th, Mr. Pulitzer was selling 1,300,000
copies of the
World a day; and as the editorial writers of the country settled to
business of conducting operations, a triumphant journalism was
Godkin scolded the newspaper combatants for behavior unbecoming of
gentlemanly journalism for their general disregard of accurate and fair
reporting during the war buildup and afterwards. ?No one ? absolutely no
one ? supposes a yellow journal cares five cents about the Cubans, the
Maine victims, or anyone else,? he wrote in the Evening Post on March 17,
1898. ?A yellow journal is probably the nearest approach to hell, existing
in any Christian state.?25
The issue of prohibition had been publicly debated for at least
three decades, but it was not until World War I that efforts on behalf of
curbing alcohol coalesced into a political coalition strong enough to take
on the liquor dealers. On one side of prohibition, which was enacted with
passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, stood Hearst. His New York
Journal celebrated the measure?s enactment with a January 17, 1919
editorial: ?One hundred percent efficiency has been added at one stroke to
the people of America. ? Half of the misery of half of the people has been
abolished. ? Strong drink has destroyed more each year than the World War
destroyed. ? The suppression of the drink traffic is an expression of the
higher morality upon which we are entering.?26
Pulitzer?s World, though, recognized the anti-immigrant and anti-working
class sentiments of the prohibition movement when it editorialized against
limiting Sunday beer sales in New York City: ?Strict Sabbatarians, who
enjoy their warm firesides, their good dinners, their fine wines and the
playing and singing of their family and friends on Sunday evenings have no
just right to say that the workingman who labors all the week shall not be
allowed to enjoy his beer and music in a public garden on the only day of
the week not given up to toil.?27
Diversity in the heartland
New York City continues to enjoy numerous diverse newspaper voices,
as do a few other large U.S. cities, such as Boston and Chicago. But the
nation?s journalism history also is replete with examples of smaller
two-or-more newspaper towns in which the daily sheets offered their readers
a variety of ideological and topical voices. Two of these were Pittsburgh
and Cleveland, where a robust competition was maintained into the latter
twentieth century through the blessing of joint operating agreements in
both cities. Those JOAs eventually failed ? first in Cleveland, where the
Press ceased publishing in 1983,28 and then in Pittsburgh, with the closing
of the Press there in 1993.29 The loss of these JOA competitions is
meaningful in a discussion of the effects of competition on editorial
diversity and vigor; Lacy found in 1986 that joint operating agreement
newspapers ?more closely resemble competitive newspapers in news and
editorial content than they do monopoly newspapers.? 30 But during the
early years of the twentieth century, the Pittsburgh and Cleveland
newspapers engaged in lively competition and debate.
As the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Spanish-American war
provided subjects for editorial disagreement in New York, so did the
beginnings of World War I ? specifically, the sinking by the Germans of the
British ocean liner the Lusitania in 1915 ? offer an opportunity for the
Pittsburgh Press and the Gazette Times (the forerunner of the Post-Gazette)
to put forward different takes on that foreign entanglement. The sinking,
carried out without warning by a German U-boat on May 7 off the coast of
Ireland, resulted in the drowning of 1,198 people, 114 of whom were
Americans, and 63 infants. These two newspapers shared in their anger over
the situation, but their viewpoints diverged from there, as did the
placement of their editorials. Editorial position is one method, beyond
political ideological variations, that newspapers might differ in their
opinions. The lead editorial position, just like the lead story on page one
of the newspaper, commands the most attention, sending the message to
readers that the newspaper editors consider this opinion to be the primary
one of the day. The Press, an evening newspaper, made the Lusitania outrage
the lead editorial of its May 8 edition. The editorial began, ?The
awfulness of a death struggle between great nations is never fully realized
until we ourselves, or something belonging to us, happens to get into their
way. The thrill of horror with which the people of the United States
learned yesterday afternoon of the sinking of the Lusitania with its great
cargo of human freight is an example.?31
That same morning, the Gazette Times rued the affront to
international law. But the interesting aspect of the editorial was its
placement as the second editorial of the day, following a commentary,
ironic in its mention about the United States and South America being ?the
only important national units free from armed conflict? should Italy enter
the European war and China and Japan begin a new war, about the business
climate in the United States. The editorial on the Lusitania began:
Since international law and usage have been shot to pieces in the
European war, their bearing upon the destruction of the Lusitania
no extended discussion. Hitherto, it is true it had been the
practice of supposedly
civilized nations, while exercising the right to sink merchant ships
countries, to afford those on board an opportunity to save their
lives. The status
of the Lusitania as an unarmed craft engaged in transporting
passengers and cargo
from a neutral to a belligerent port will not be questioned.32
In their differing conclusions, the Press urged that the president
be given ?the opportunity to deal with the situation unhampered by any
explosions of jingoism or any partisan effort to ?force his hand,? ?33
while the Gazette Times called the incident ?especially serious ? since so
many United States citizens were aboard the vessel ? a score or more from
our own city. Undoubtedly, some have perished. The situation cannot be
ignored by our government. It is the gravest of the war to us.?34
The Gazette Times, though, had second thoughts about the Lusitania
sinking needing no ?extended discussion.? The next day it published a
lengthy lead editorial that opened with a reference to partisans of Germany
urging an ?orderly process of diplomacy, and to keep cool and go slow.?
But, the editorial concluded, ?there can be nothing but execration and
condemnation for this frightful deed. ? Germany has committed an
unpardonable offense for which, sooner or later, she will have to
answer.?35 The Press did not have a follow-up editorial on the Lusitania
subject the next day.
Presidential campaigns are topics that often create disparate voices
? and sometimes similar opinions that differ in other ways ? on competing
editorial pages. Such was the case in three races of the early twentieth
century in Pittsburgh. The scrappy 1912 election saw former Republican
President Theodore Roosevelt run on a third party, Progressive ticket,
splitting the Republican vote and tossing the race to Democrat Woodrow
Wilson. This election brought the two Pittsburgh dailies together in their
support of the Republican candidate, William Howard Taft, on behalf of
preserving a strong business and economic climate. ?If peace and prosperity
are one of the chief ends of government ? and most people will admit they
are ? the conditions prevalent throughout the country should be a tower of
strength next Tuesday for the party in power,? claimed the Press in
endorsing Taft and the Republican Party on Nov. 2.36
Similarly, the Gazette Times expressed ?much confidence, and the
soundness of underlying conditions will act as a buffer to any adverse
developments that may occur.?37 But this newspaper then surpassed its rival
in not only endorsing the Republican platform but by taking direct aim at
Wilson in a separate editorial with a distinctly negative tone. This
illustrates how newspaper editorialists can differ in ways other than
political ideology through tone and focus. Following is an excerpt of the
Gazette Times? anti-Wilson opinion:
From beginning to end of the campaign he had taken refuge in
has resorted to mere phrasemaking. He has not discussed his platform
comprehensively. He has not been frank nor explicit on the tariff
has not explained how, if he removes the custom house barriers and
influx of foreign commodities in competitive lines, our
manufacturers will escape
injury and our workingmen the unwelcome penalty of reduced wages. This
evasion ? a studied and deliberate attempt to elude damaging
avert adverse judgment ? is self revealing of a weakness in Gov.
character which should cause every Republican and every conservative
to ?stop, look and listen.?38
After Wilson won, the Press in its November 6 lead editorial
analyzed the election as one having an expected outcome and concluded that
?if the country must have a Democratic administration it could not possibly
have been entrusted to cleaner, stronger or better hands than those of
The Gazette Times similarly praised Wilson, noting in an apparent
about-face from its previous assessment of the new president?s character
is a source of gratification to know that, even though the change
Republican defeat at the polls, the exalted office of president
one gentleman to another. There is reason to rejoice that, if the
is a Democrat, he is a man of refined instincts and of dignified
to whom the word ?bully? is not the most expressive term in this
language and in whom the attitude of a bully is impossible.40
It should be noted, though, that this back-handed praise (and barely
veiled slap at Theodore Roosevelt?s ?bully pulpit?) came in the third
editorial of the day that suggests, at the least, some reservation about
the outcome. The people, after all, do rule, claimed the editorial, and
this ?under the old constitution stands out strongly. On this point at
least there is no occasion for despair.?41
In 1920, it was the turn of the Press to single out a Democratic
candidate, James M. Cox, for denunciation in an editorial that relied on
the weaknesses of his candidacy and personality rather than on the
strengths of the Republicans. Again, this is an editorial difference that
despite unanimity in purpose (support for the Republicans) demonstrates a
difference in tone. The editorial, published November 1, almost hints that
the paper might be willing to go with the Democrats if not for the
particular weaknesses of this candidate.
Gov. Cox might, if he had not deserted his platform and betrayed
every principle that his party supposedly stands for in this
met defeat with a certain remnant of appearance of honor. As it is,
himself more interested in victory than in any principle, and as the
voting approaches depends the conviction of millions that he is
in the sincerity and integrity of character which are the most
qualifications for the presidential office.42
The Gazette Times the next day invoked ?American determination to
put the American house in order, restore good business practices to our
domestic government, assure prosperity and constitutional processes at home
in order that we may of right demand the respect abroad to which our
sovereignty entitles us.? The newspaper simply urged its readers to ?vote
the straight Republican ticket. As in war straight shooting was called for,
so now straight voting is demanded: straight Republican voting for the
preservation of Our Country.?43
Four years later, the newspapers dramatically parted ways in their
presidential candidate preferences, with the Press this time lining up
behind the Progressive Party while the Gazette Times stood by the
Republican party. The differing editorial opinions offer evidence of a
political ideology variance that provided readers, and voters, a clear
option. The Press, in its support of Progressive Party candidate Robert M.
La Follette on November 3, 1924, scolded President Warren Harding and Vice
President Calvin Coolidge for breaking their pledge on behalf of
conservation and accused the incumbent administration and the Democrats of
supporting ?special privilege, the vested interests.?
? the people should this year vote the two corrupt and untrustworthy old
parties out and vote the new Independent party in. That party, with Senator
as its leader, is the party of the people. It is the only party
which is honest with
its followers, and which can be depended on to restore the people to
of their government.44
The next day, the Gazette Times offered an explanation for why the
nation is Republican ? and why it ought to vote that way in the upcoming
election. Opining that the Democrats offered little of worth to voters and
that any radicalism in the campaign belonged to La Follette, the newspaper
dismissed the Wisconsin senator as a man whose ?progressive principles have
been picked from the junk heap of socialistic adventures in government that
failed, and it is so un-American that it has boldly proposed, to knock off
the cornerstone of the Constitution on which American liberties rest.?
The Republican party, its candidates and the platform on which they
stand, are soundly American. That is what has appealed to the people
bring them to the polls today in greater numbers than ever before.45
One of the major criminal trials of the early twentieth century,
that of Sacco and Vanzetti, followed by their execution, prompted violent
anger and debate. The pages of the Gazette Times, which by now had become
the Post-Gazette, and the Press, now owned by Scripps-Howard following Roy
Howard?s agreement, unbeknownst to E.W. Scripps, to buy the newspaper in
1923,46 reflected those differences. This particular instance of editorial
diversity offers a vivid example of how two newspapers, both supporters of
the American capitalist system, judging by their previous presidential
endorsement editorials, and both members of the American intellectual
mainstream, furthered the democratic discussion by expounding opposing
sides of this issue.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were put to death in Boston on
August 23, 1927, having been convicted of the 1920 killing of a factory
guard. Many believed they were victimized because of their radical,
socialist beliefs and associations. The Press in an impassioned editorial
published August 23 called the execution a mistake, despite the following
of correct legal procedure that nonetheless was marked by a sorry
?exhibition of judicial ineptitude.?
The work now to be done is to bring about a careful, calm, impartial
inquiry into the Massachusetts judicial system. Good can be wrought
this present mistake ? for we cannot recede from our conviction that
execution was a tragic mistake ? if through this mistake the courts
in America can be protected against such mistakes in the future.47
The Post-Gazette countered with the argument that justice had been
done, and it invoked the authority of society and the law. This editorial
agreed with the Press position that every legal means had been exhausted on
behalf of the two men, that ?all were enlisted in a campaign that in its
last days took on the character of a crusade. But justice and authority
stood firm. The case is ended.?
The majesty of the law, the rights of society, will now be sustained
united efforts of all justice-loving, God-fearing, law-revering
The Roosevelt years in Cleveland
The beginning of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency during the Great
Depression and its culmination in World War II offered ample opportunity
for editorial commentary on issues ranging from war to a highly activist
government policy aimed at economic recovery. A selection of topics ? the
passage of the Social Security Act, the Pearl Harbor bombing by the
Japanese and America?s dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima provide
examples of clear editorial diversity.
Scripps? The Cleveland Press, which he founded in 1878 as a
continuation of the penny press, cheap newspaper philosophy,49
editorialized in the spirit of its founder and his sympathies toward the
common workers50 in its support of the passage of the Wagner-Lewis Social
Security Act of 1935 during the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The
act, providing for a new tax with revenues to be set aside to supplement
retirement savings of American citizens, drew a different sort of reaction
from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Besides offering opposing reactions to the
measure, the newspapers also differed in the amount of space they gave to
their respective editorials ? thus providing evidence of another kind of
measure of support, opposition or indifference to issues: the length of
opinion devoted to them. The cool reception to the bill by The Plain Dealer
indicates a reaction that, if not clearly against this popular legislation,
suggests an editorial attitude of indifference compared to the red-carpet
editorial welcome of the new law from the Press.
?President Roosevelt?s signature to the Wagner-Lewis social security
act puts the United States, on paper at least, suddenly abreast a score of
other civilized countries that for decades have provided against some of
the hazards of the machine age,? raved The Cleveland Press in an
eight-paragraph editorial. ?With all its faults, it may prove to be the
greatest achievement of the New Deal.?51
The Plain Dealer, on the other hand, devoted two paragraphs to the
act, combined with two paragraphs on the president signing a bill
establishing a 40-hour work week for postal employees. Noted the newspaper:
?The president?s signature affixed Wednesday makes of the social security
bill, using his own words, a ?corner stone in a structure which is being
built, but is by no means complete.??
This social security act is an expression of the national interest in
seeing justice done to the humblest citizen, to the helpless and
the victims of a harsh industrial system which cares too little for
casualties. ?Historic for all time,? Mr. Roosevelt says this session
for having passed this measure, even if the session had done nothing
Note that the opinions of the Plain Dealer editorial are not the
newspaper?s; they are attributed to others ? the act is an ?expression of
national interest,? and it is the president, not the newspaper, who
characterizes the legislation as ?historic.?
World War II, both its beginning for the United States and one of
the events that brought about its end, received an interestingly diverse
reaction from these newspapers. Both sets of reactions discussed here
involved bombings and the Japanese ? the December 7, 1941 attack by the
Japanese on Pearl Harbor that led to U.S. entry into the war, and the
August 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States.
The newspapers reacted promptly, but differently, to the Pearl
Harbor attack, editorializing on behalf of war and retaliation. The
difference is found in their primary targets of retaliation ? the Japanese
for the Press, the Germans for the Plain Dealer.
?It came not by attack from Europe as so many feared,? said the
Press, ?but in the Pacific, which many Americans believed impossible.? The
newspaper observed that the Japanese, who had found the United States ?slow
to wrath,? now would find a nation ?mighty in wrath. They found us
unwilling to strike the first blow. They will yet find us striking the last
The Plain Dealer, on the other hand, began its editorial with a
reference to World War I, telling readers that the nation faced a situation
that was ?the most serious? since then. The background of the two
situations, it editorialized, was ?much the same ? The rights of our
country had been shamefully disregarded by a nation with which we were at
peace.? That nation, in World War I, was Germany, not Japan, ?but the plot
is the same and the course which this nation must choose is even clearer
today than it was then. For to thinking people the consequences of an Axis
victory are very much more certain. Hitler?s technique is different from
that employed by Kaiser Wilhelm, but the world he would build through
complete military domination is even a poorer world and an unhappier world
than the Kaiser ever contemplated.? 54 The words ?Japan? or ?Japanese?
were used just once in the Plain Dealer editorial, while references to
Germany numbered six. The Press editorial referenced Japan thirteen times,
Germany once. So there was a clear difference in these editorials regarding
which nation was seen to be the primary foe.
The ?last blow? against the Japanese warned of by the Press came in
the fiery, massive destruction at Hiroshima and then of Nagasaki. Following
the dropping of the A-bomb on Hisroshima, both newspapers discussed the
frightening and enormous power of this new weapon and its implications;
they then concluded their editorial remarks in noticeably diverse ways that
speak to the differing attitude toward nuclear weaponry that emerged
following its first use. The Press, citing a ?new epoch? that compared to
the first use of metal, the invention of gun powder and the use of
electricity, discussed the weapon?s ability to ?save countless numbers of
American lives,? then urged that wise heads prevail in the development and
use of this new energy. ?Scientists have liberated an unbelievable force.
Statesmen must use it for good instead of evil.?55
The Plain Dealer, discussing the ?profound implications? of the bomb
and atomic energy, observed that the United States had ?not only devised a
means of obliterating Japan but we have literally produced a monster
capable of destroying all civilization.? The editorial also pointed out the
potential for good in the development of atomic energy, including the
possibility of commercial uses. ?Thus, it may be that the world is standing
on the threshold of an economic revolution. The possibilities of the use of
atomic energy to advance civilization or to alter the economic structure of
a nation are limited only by the imagination.? The Plain Dealer editorial
writer than unleashed his own imagination in the two concluding paragraphs
of the editorial:
For the superstitious Japanese, the atomic bomb contains an omen
of doom. They think their emperor is descended from the sun and the
sun is the emblem of their empire. But now the sun itself is
and their empire, for the atomic bomb is composed of the same force
which the sun draws its power.
If we may make a suggestion to the War Department, it is this; Why
not drop a string of the atomic bombs in the crater of Fujiyama and
happens? Perhaps ? the greatest ? explosive force ever devised by man would
act as a trigger to release volcanic power, now dormant, to produce
nature?s most explosive demonstration.?56
So here we find a remarkable difference in editorial opinion, one
cautioning about future uses of the most destructive force ever created by
humans and urging its use for good purposes, the other writing in the same
vein until surrendering to jingoistic urgings that include an experimental
and destructive use of the bomb with damages to the planet that can only
be guessed at.
As these and other editorials cited above suggest, newspapers can
differ editorially in many ways. These include, most obviously, ideological
disagreements ? as manifest in this limited survey in election
endorsements, social policy and capital punishment. But editorial diversity
arises in other, non-political ways as well ? in their vigor of argument,
in tone, in agenda, in focus. In this survey, such differences were found
in editorials on subjects that included slavery ? opinions in which the
competing voices agreed on the need to end slavery but disagreed on how
quickly and how to end it ? the Social Security Act and the dropping of the
atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Even more subtly, editorials might differ in such
areas as their placement and how much space is devoted to them.
Certainly, editorials of competing newspapers frequently agree on
topics; for example, several editorials of competing pages surveyed for
this study endorsed the same political candidates, for the same reasons. It
is important to remember that newspaper owners for the most part are
members of and players in the American economy ? a capitalist-based
cultural institution that generally is pro-business. They participate in
the legal processes of the national democracy ? a system that, while
recognizing and appreciating pluralism, also adheres to certain fundamental
principles such as individual rights and freedoms, including property rights.
The purpose of this study, though, has been to look not at editorial
agreement and similarities, which are abundant, but at instances of
editorial difference and diversity ? in particular communities that serve a
certain population of readers ? with an eye toward demonstrating what this
nation might be losing in an era of monopolistic and chain newspaper
ownership and dwindling competition within communities. The changing
economic environment of newspapers represents the passing of an era invoked
by long-time journalism educator and historian Dr. William David Sloan, who
cited in an interview numerous instances of the important role newspaper
editorials have played in the development of the nation.
?There would be a lot of things positive? regarding the assets of
editorial competition, said Sloan, a journalism educator since 1973,
co-author of ?Great Editorials: Masterpieces of Opinion Writing? and ?The
Early American Press, 1690-1783? and co-series editor of ?The History of
American Journalism? published by Greenwood Press. Sloan cited the role of
the press during the Revolutionary War, for example. ?There weren?t such a
thing as editorials in the modern sense,? he said. ?But newspapers were
starting to play a role in crystallizing opinions.? This process, he said,
included opinions relating to the adoption of the Constitution and the
shaping of the nation?s early political philosophies.57 Editorials also
played an important role in the buildup to the Civil War and during the
national period, he said.
This has changed today, he said. Increasing chain ownership has
contributed to an altered emphasis on newspapers? roles and
responsibilities ? including those of newspaper editorials. ?I would say
the model for newspaper chains, the main point, is to have a good
investment. I would say that?s the ultimate purpose of a corporation and
most newspaper editorials; the primary purpose is not to promote an opinion
as it was a hundred years ago.?58 The gain to the bottom line, then, equals
a corresponding loss in the editorial line ? and, ultimately, to the
readers and the democratic society that the newspaper editorial serves.
Further research on this topic should include additional and more
recent instances of editorial diversity in communities that no longer enjoy
daily newspaper competition. It would be useful to observe the variety and
vigor of editorial differences in communities that continue to enjoy such
competition. And primary sources that need to be tapped would include
editorial writers and newspaper editors who can speak to editorial combats
past and present and who would have their own, current, opinions about the
loss and importance of editorial debate served through competing daily
1 Susan Annette Thompson, ?The Antebellum Penny Press,?
unpublished dissertation. (University of Alabama, 2002), 120-121.
2 Ibid, 120.
3 Robert A. Rutland, 1987, ?The First Great Newspaper Debate:
The Constitutional Crisis of 1787-1788,? Proceedings of the American
Antiquarian Society 97 (Part I, 1987): 56.
4 Ibid, 57.
5 Ibid, 44.
6 Ibid, 57-58.
7 Ibid, 58.
8 Susan H. Chaffee and Donna G. Wilson, ?Media Rich, Media
Poor: Two Studies of Diversity in Agenda-Holding,? Journalism Quarterly
54 (Autumn 1977): 466-476.
9 Don R. Pember, Mass Media Law, 5th Ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C.
Brown Publishers, 1990), 591-92.
10 Benjamin M. Compaine, Who Owns the Media?, 2nd. ed. (White
Plains, N.Y.: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1982), 34.
11 Martha M. Matthews, ?How Public Ownership Affects Publisher
Autonomy,? Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 73, 2 (Summer 1996): 342.
12 Judith Sobel and Edwin Emery, ?U.S. Dailies? Competition in
Relation to Circulation Size: A Newspaper Data Update,? Journalism
Quarterly 55 (spring 1978): 145-49. The figures for 1986 were taken from
?87 Facts about newspapers, American Newspaper Publishers Association.
13 Editor & Publisher International Yearbook 2000, (New York:
Editor & Publisher).
14 Thompson, ?The Antebellum Penny Press,? 62-63.
15 William David Sloan, Cheryl S. Wray and C. Joanne Sloan,
Great Editorials, 2nd ed. (Northport, Ala.: Vision Press, 1997), 68.
16 Thompson, ?The Antebellum Penny Press,? 64.
17 William E. Huntzicker, The Popular Press, 1833-1865.
(Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999), 118.
18 Ibid, 118.
19 James Melvin Lee, History of American Journalism., 2nd ed.
(Garden City, New York: The Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1923), 213.
20 Ibid, 213-214.
21 Fourierism, which advocated the reorganization of society
into small communities or phalanxes, was based on the socialist philosophy
of France?s Charles Fourier and came to be known in 1840s America as
22 Thompson, ?The Antebellum Penny Press,? 220-221.
23 Ibid, 219-220.
24 Carlson and Bates, Hearst: Lord of San Simeon, 106.
25 William M. Armstrong, E.L. Godkin and American Foreign Policy
1865-1900 (New York: Bookman Associates, 1957), 196.
26 Oliver Carlson and Ernest Sutherland Bates, Hearst: Lord of
San Simeon (New York: The Viking Press, 1936), 242.
27 George Juergens, Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 253.
28 Editor & Publisher International Yearbook 1983, (New York:
Editor & Publisher)
29 John Craig, former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor, telephone
interview, Feb. 24, 2004.
30 Stephen Richard Lacy, ?The Effects of Ownership and
Competition on Daily Newspaper Content,? unpublished dissertation. (The
University of Texas at Austin, 1986), 271.
31 ?The Sinking Of The Lusitania,? The Pittsburgh Press, May 8,
32 ?Sinking of the Lusitania,? The Gazette Times, May 8, 1915, 4.
33 Op. cit. ?The Sinking Of The Lusitania,? 8.
34 Op. cit. ?Sinking of the Lusitania,? 4.
35 ?Being Fair to Germany,? The Gazette Times, May 9, 1915, 4.
36 ?The One Speck On Business Horizon,? The Pittsburgh Press,
Nov. 2, 1912, 6.
37 ?The Business Situation,? The Gazette Times, Nov. 2, 1912, 4.
38 ?Wilson in New York,? The Gazette Times, Nov. 2, 1912, 4.
39 ?The Republican Waterloo,? The Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 6, 1912, 6.
40 ?Wilson Elected,? The Gazette Times, Nov. 6, 1912, 4.
41 ?The people do rule,? The Gazette Times, Nov. 6, 1912, 4.
42 ?Gov. Cox Throws Up The League Sponge,? The Pittsburgh Press,
Nov. 1, 1920, 10.
43 ?Vote for Our Country,? The Gazette Times, Nov. 3, 1920, 6.
44 ?The Duty Of All,? The Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 3, 1924, 12.
45 ?Why America Is Republican,? The Gazette Times, Nov. 4, 1924, 6.
46 Vance H. Trimble, The Astonishing Mr. Scripps, (Ames, Iowa:
Iowa State University Press, 1992), 468.
47 ?The Execution Of Sacco And Vanzetti,? The Pittsburgh Press,
Aug. 23, 1927, 12.
48 ?The Law Claims Its Due,? The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug.
23, 1927, 6.
49 E.W. Scripps disquisition, ?Ingratitude,? Feb. 17, 1919, E.W.
Scripps Collection, Ohio University.
50 E.W. Scripps disquisition, ?Principles of the Scripps idea of
journalism,? March 2, 1910, E.W. Scripps Collection, Ohio University.
51 ?A Cornerstone,? The Cleveland Press, Aug. 15, 1935, 10.
52 ?Bills Now Laws,? The Plain Dealer, Aug. 16, 1935, 6.
53 ?In War,? The Cleveland Press, Dec. 8, 1941, 16.
54 ?History Repeats,? The Plain Dealer, Dec. 8, 1941, 12.
55 ?The Atomic Bomb ? and After,? The Cleveland Press, Aug. 7,
56 ?Manhattan Project,? The Plain Dealer, Aug. 7, 1945, 6.
57 William David Sloan, telephone interview with the author,
Feb. 11, 2004.
Battles of opinion