Saturday, February 28, 2015

Would Woodrow Wilson have become President without Harper's Weekly?

In his book Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann wrote the following about what the CPI achieved: (page 47)
Probably this is the largest and the most intensive effort to carry quickly a fairly uniform set of ideas to all the people of a nation. The older proselyting worked more slowly, perhaps more surely, but never so inclusively. Now if it required such extreme measures to reach everybody in time of crisis, how open are the more normal channels to men's minds? The Administration was trying, and while the war continued it very largely succeeded, I believe, in creating something that might almost be called one public opinion all over America.

He who controls the flow of information controls the world. However, an entirely uniform set of ideas is not necessary in order to gain control or to gain an edge that cannot be overcome by others. All you need is a message that doesn't stop. But tracking the message, now that's the fun part.

It all starts on February 3, 1906. At the Lotos Club, George B. Harvey gave a speech in which he was the first to float the idea of Woodrow Wilson as a Presidential Candidate. This dinner was in honor of Woodrow Wilson. The text of Harvey's speech can be found here and here.

Looking into the details have been somewhat fun, since the people who did this were so braggadocios about it after the fact. Harvey's "first lieutenant" during the years of 1906 to 1912 when they engaged in this campaign to elect Woodrow Wilson was William Inglis. Inglis wrote this article detailing how they did it.

However, Inglis was not the only one to brag. Harper's Weekly itself ran a 39 page article detailing how one single report in their publication spawned 5 other reports, 8 other reports, sometimes a dozen other reports. In other words, Harper's readers were not the only ones treated to the "Elect Woodrow" campaign.

The article, titled "The Triumph of an Idea", does the kind of cataloging and tracking of a specific idea that any media-watching organization would be envious of. Harper's naturally had its own biased reason for tracking it - they wanted to put on display their victory. But in today's time, this kind of article is useful for more than just the relic that it is.

Once Harper's(George Harvey) was convinced that Wilson was the man for the job, covers like the one below were also common.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Government by Journalism - The Road to America

We in America have a problem with media bias. Who or where does it come from? What did those people say, write, or do? Did it evolve by multiple steps, or by one step? When did the use of narrative get introduced?

In an attempt to answer some of these questions and others, the result is a paper that I have recently written, here. I put it up online for all to read and examine, and I hope there will be those who will take the time to follow the footnotes back and read the original source material. These are things we need to know.

I personally have done a lot of research into some of the early pioneers of modern journalism, because of their relation to progressivism. The historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote: (page 186)

"It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the Progressive mind was characteristically a journalistic mind, and that its characteristic contribution was that of the socially responsible reporter-reformer."

It is clear to anybody that thinks about it that a "reporter-reformer" simply cannot exist. At best a "reporter-reformer" is an advocate, an activist. At worst, they're a malcontent with ill designs. But the link between the early progressives and the journalists of that era is what's so important here, and it is what I tried to focus in on the most in the paper.

Walter Lippmann is considered the father of modern journalism, because he is arguably the biggest reason why we have "objective journalism" today. Take the time to read Walter Lippmann, you would see that the only thing journalism today is about is (in Lippmann's own words) the "Manufacture of Consent". Walter Lippmann was a socialist, and also was a co-founder to The New Republic.

The journalist William Thomas Stead once wrote about his ideology called "Government by Journalism"(text) in which he described the power that journalists have. He wrote:

"They decide what their readers shall know, or what they shall not know."

Coming out of the era of Yellow Journalism, Stead's ideal became compounded when Lippmann wrote: (page 355)

"It is a problem of provoking feeling in the reader, of inducing him to feel a sense of personal identification with the stories he is reading. News which does not offer this opportunity to introduce oneself into the struggle which it depicts cannot appeal to a wide audience. The audience must participate in the news, much as it participates in the drama, by personal identification. Just as everyone holds his breath when the heroine is in danger, as he helps Babe Ruth swing his bat, so in subtler form the reader enters into the news. In order that he shall enter he must find a familiar foothold in the story, and this is supplied to him by the use of stereotypes. They tell him that if an association of plumbers is called a "combine" it is appropriate to develop his hostility; if it is called a "group of leading business men" the cue is for a favorable reaction.

It is in a combination of these elements that the power to create opinion resides. Editorials reinforce."

This is the basis of modern journalism. Using key words to describe some groups favorably, others unfavorably, and the editorials reinforce. We see it every day, don't we? On the surface we see claims of objectivity, but in reality we have nothing but supplied stereotypes and narratives from modern reporter-reformers. After 100 years, they're still at it.

Walter Lippmann's most important book, "Public Opinion" is the book you should read, and is in the public domain. You can find the text here, here, and here. If you do not have the time to read it, then I would like to read it to you. Download the MP3s from here. Its that important. Stead's essay "Government by Journalism" is also an hour well spent.

Here is the paper.