Brass Tacks

Hildy Johnson's Captivity

In the period immediately following November 2, much talk centered upon the five--elections-- wrong American press, which had all but unanimously pressed for the losing Republican candidate and, to cap the atrocity, had completely mistaken the public pulsebeat in the process. By new, how-ever, most newspapers have managed to submerge the issue and settle down to the merry business of waving an admonishing finger in the direction of the Truman Administration.

Not so in two, signification instances the news-Paperman's newsjournal, currently carries a strong pronunciamento by Nieman Foundation Curator Louis M. Lyons, and "The United Automobile Worker," the nation's most extensively circulated labor newspaper, whose editor, Frank Winn, recently pointed to the need for new papers "that will accurately and honestly reflect the opinions and desires of the majority of the people."

Public Respect Drops

Lyons reminds the journalistic profession that its stock with the reading public has fallen far. "It will take a chastened and informed effort to restore it," he declares, adding, "in very few spots is there any evidence of such an effort or even a recognition of its need." Reporters forfeited their function to the crystal-gazers. Worse, those newsmen who doubted the certainty of the polls "failed to express their doubts, partly by their intoxication with the accepted certainty; and partly, one may suspect, because they doubted that their papers would welcome a dissenting report."

To the UAW-CIO's editorialist, the indictment indeed falls less upon the "honest reporters and lower ranking editors" than upon the top policy-makers, "those whose closest contact with working people is in ritzy country clubs and athletic clubs, union league clubs and meetings of the American Newspaper Publishers Association."

"We can't let the daily press laugh the incident off," Winn writes, "with nervous jokes about eating crow, and jittery gestures in the direction of a pseudo good-natured sportsmanship." But the press is Big Business. How can the public interest find protection? It could be hoped that some of the publishers themselves "would begin to get concerned about the situation they find themselves in and voluntarily do something about it. . . . there is little evidence that that will be the case." Nor would Winn favor the imposition of government controls. "Were that proposed, we would have to take our stand with the publishers of the daily press and fight for their right to express their opinions. . ."

The solution is twofold: strengthening of the labor press and labor union encouragement of "individuals, groups of individuals, and organizations" desiring to establish independent newspapers. "If there are such," Winn concludes, "they have a great opportunity. The field is wide open."

Reston Defines Error

Undoubtedly, the election was a complex event, the product of enough variant factors to cloud any inherently clear meaning for the press. Most reputable middle-of-the-road journalists nevertheless agree that, while the Truman victory doesn't admit to pat analysis, the basic reportorial error, attributable to whatever primary cause, is quite uncomplicated in its implications. Correspondent James Reston wrote to his own New York Times the morning after that "we were wrong, not only on the election, but, what's worse, on the whole political direction of our time." Richard Lee Strout of the Christian Science Monitor's Washington staff commented that in past New Deal elections there was generally divided judgement over the result. "This time we missed the boat altogether. It is not a healthy sign in a democracy for such a gap to exist between the press and the masses."

A Way Out

As the sickness continues the cry for doctors and medicine will grow louder. Private enterprising publishers who fear enterprising unionism might accede to existent social values and avoid an other-wise inevitable decline. But enlightened entrepreneurs are the exception. It is probably true, as some say, that given the American environment, only a metropolitan daily labor-owned press frankly speaking from a labor viewpoint can counteract ostensibly public-interested press actually talking the language of business. Ideally, the goal does not lie in this course, but rather in Winn's independent citizen venture. Under the leadership of Marquis W. Childs, for example, a broad-based group of Easterners has invested from $10 upward individually to found a cooperative radio station in Washington, devoted to the public interest and freed from the lone motive of profit of the ordinary out-let or, on the other hand, the possibly prejudiced orientation of the labor-owned stations springing up. Here is one method applicable to the entangled dilemma of journalism--although a new newspaper's circulation battle is admittedly far more critical than a young radio station's early months. Labor unions might well take the initiative in such projects without necessarily assuming a dominant role, Cooperative civic action of this sort in promising localities would both trailblazer in a perilous jungle and underscore public rebellion against conservatism's captivity of Hildy Johnson.