“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.” John Swinton 1880

The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress
The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress

“One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

‘There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty four hours my occupation would be gone.

Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress
Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress

‘The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

‘We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
(Source: Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)

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12 thoughts on ““There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.” John Swinton 1880

  1. Interesting… I wonder how much the advent of blogs, twitter, eBooks, etc… has changed this. It seems like amateurs without much to lose have a – potentially – bigger voice than anytime in recent history. Of course, it’s easy to dismiss these independent voices as kooks if they stray too far from the mainstream. But it might be chipping away at the puppeteers power.

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  2. A very good post and food for thought. Yet, for all its limitations, where would be without the Press?
    And what will happen when paper press eventually dies, and will be substituted by constant unchecked e-rumbling? Or is it rAmbling?)

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    • “Yet, for all its limitations, where would be without the Press?” Good question. Here’s my take on it at the moment:

      Maybe there was a time when independent journalists admitted that they were partisan or inadequately informed, but I’m not sure. I think there’s at least two problems with journalism: one being that we respect journalists way more than we should; two that most of what’s considered the “real” press is owned by about five powerful people.

      Back in the railroad building days everyone in business and politics realized that the papers were bought, sold and edited by special interests. It’s the same today. Real outside investigative journalists are pariahs.

      Somehow Americans think that just because someone goes and gets a journalism degree that they possess ethics and wisdom not pride and ambition.

      Watching network news anchors cover a presidential debate is torture. Where would we be if citizen journalists who actually cared about their neighborhood or country or humanity took to the internet with passion? Probably in a better place than we’re at now.

      If anything I think we should trust the well-groomed, arrogantly self-possessed celebrity journalists and commentators even less than a video filmed on someone’s cell phone. Power to the people! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Power to the people indeed! (Reminds me of an old song, way before your time) Couldn’t agree more. The difficulty is how to… enact it? It generally means representatives who take the power for themselves. (The depiction of US Senators in fiction is not exactly flattering. Some would seem to confuse their “mandate” for a free ride). Journalists? Same goes. Some are good, expose “bad stuff” vey bravely, and yet, nothing seems to happen. At least where I live, which is the land of “nunca pasa nada”. As a hint: it is the country where 43 students were just abducted by the local police who then turned them over to the narcs who finished those still alive and burned them to ashes…
        😦

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      • Ah, south of the border. Gotta love lawlessness. Kidding. The best thing that happened to keep us asleep was tv. If only we’d all go to our local political meetings, but we don’t and wonder why such psychopaths run the nation.

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      • One cannot be a politician, be honest, and intelligent at the same time. If you’re honest and intelligent you’re not a politician. If you’re a politician and intelligent you’re not honest, and so forth!
        😦
        Now you can imagine how it is “South of the border”…
        (re) 😦
        Have a lovely (rest of the) week anyway.
        🙂
        Brian

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  3. Your first photo reminded me that I saw the musical ‘Newsies’ last Sunday. The setting was when TR was governor of New York. So, set in that period you love to write about – and I love to read about thanks to your blog.

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