SUPERFICIAL, erroneous in places and uncritical throughout, "Jazz Journalism" is nevertheless a clever defense of the tabloid press and a direct rebuke to the upper classes which abhor it. Both the demand for such a press and the fact that it is avidly read, by these same upper classes is clearly demonstrated.
Mr. Bessie goes back to the days of urban growth and legislation compelling school attendance, that is, to the days that followed the Civil War, and sets the stage for yellow journalism by quoting Whitelaw Reid as saying in 1879: "There is not a newspaper editor in New York who does not know the fortune awaiting the man who is willing to make a daily paper as disreputable and vile as 150,000 readers would be willing to buy." Hence the "New York World," which Mr. Pulitzer founded "because I want to talk to a nation, not a select committee." And hence the "New York Evening Journal." Mr. Pulitzer had beaten the "Police Gazette" at its own game and now Mr. Hearst beat Mr. Pulitzer at the same game.
The book describes the birth of America's first tabloid, Joseph Medill Patterson's "Illustrated Daily News," which appeared on June 26, 1919, modeled on the already successful English tabloids. It kept on appearing and today it is the largest selling paper in the nation, yet for three years Mr. Hearst never saw in it a potential rival. When he did it was too late. Mr. Bessie then launches into a dry examination of the contents of the "Daily News" down thought the years, showing the tabloid formula and the current (if invisible) trend towards straight news, and concludes with circulation statistics.
Less than three years ago Mr. Bessie was an editor of this paper. He received a Harvard magna cum laude degree, and "Jazz Journalism," which is dedicated to a member of the History department, is illustrative of the shallow scholarship that Harvard too often teaches. Mr. Bessie's research is flawless, but his naivete is stupendous. In the entire work the words "morbidity," "propaganda," "sadism," "malice" and "fabrication" do not once appear. Mr. Bessie seems unaware of persecutions and deliberate hoaxes for editorial or sensational reasons. He gives credit to the ingenuity of none but the most scurvy editors, and the important question of whether the public demanded the tabloid or whether unprincipled publishers forced it down the public's throat, Mr. Bessie leaves unsolved.