11.25.2016 Doc of the Day

TheBrassCheck book upton sinclair“INTRODUCTORY

The social body to which we belong is at this moment passing through one of the greatest crises of its history, a colossal process which may best be likened to a birth.  We have each of us a share in this process, we are to a greater or less extent responsible for its course.  To make our judgments, we must have reports from other parts of the social body; we must know what our fellow-men, in all classes of society, in all parts of the world, are suffering, planning, doing.

There arise emergencies which require swift decisions, under penalty of frightful waste and suffering.  What if the nerves upon which we depend for knowledge of this social body should give us false reports of its condition?

The first half of this book tells a personal story: the story of one man’s experiences with American Journalism.  This personal feature is not pleasant, but it is unavoidable.  If I
were taking the witness-chair in a court of justice, the jury would not ask for my general sentiments and philosophic opinions; they would not ask what other people had told me, or what was common report; the thing they would wish to know — the only thing they would be allowed to know — is what I had personally seen and experienced.

So now, taking the witness-stand in the case of the American public versus Journalism, I tell what I have personally seen and experienced.  I take the oath of a witness: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.  After this pledge,
earnestly given and earnestly meant, the reader must either believe me, or he must exclude me from the company of civilized men.

My motive in writing this book is not to defend myself.
We live in a time of such concentrated agony and peril that a
man who would waste ink and paper on a defense of his own
personality would be contemptible. What I tell you is : “Look !
Here is American Journalism! Here is what it did to one
man, systematically, persistently, deliberately, for a period of
twenty years. Here are names, places, dates — such a mass of
material as you cannot doubt, you cannot evade. Here is the
whole thing, inside and out. Here are your sacred names,
the very highest of your gods. When you have read this story,
you will know our Journalism; you will know the body and
soul of it, you will know it in such a way that you will not
have to be told what it is doing to the movement for industrial
freedom and self-government all over the world.”

In the second half of the book you will hear a host of
other witnesses-^several score of them, the wisest and truest
and best people of our country. They are in every part of
our country, in every class and every field of public life; and
when you have heard their experiences, told for the most part
in their own words, you must grant my claim concerning this
book — ^that it is a book of facts. There are no mistakes in
it, no guesses, no surmises ; there are no lapses of memory, no
inaccuracies. There are only facts. You must understand that
I have had this book in mind for twenty years. For twelve
years I have been deliberately collecting the documents and
preserving the records, and I have these before me as I write.
In a few cases of personal experiences I have relied upon my
memory ; but that memory is vivid, because the incidents were
painful, they were seared into my soul, and now, as I recall
• them, I see the faces of the people, I hear their very tones.
Where there is any doubt or vagueness in my recollection, or
where there is hearsay testimony, I state the fact explicitly;
otherwise I wish the reader to understand that the incidents
happened as I say they happened, and that upon the truth of
every statement in this book I pledge my honor as a man
and my reputation as a writer.

One final word: In this book I have cast behind me the
proprieties usually held sacred ; I have spared no one, I have
narrated shameful things. I have done this, not because I
have any pleasure in scandal; I have not such pleasure,
being by nature impersonal. I do not hate one living being.
The people I have lashed in this book are to me not individuals,
but social forces; I have exposed them, not because they lied
about me, but because a new age of fraternity is trying to be
born, and they, who ought to be assisting the birth, are strangling the child in the womb.

CC BY-SA by indy138
CC BY-SA by indy138

 

PART I—THE EVIDENCE

 

CHAPTER I—THE STORY OF THE BRASS CHECK

Once upon a time there was a little boy ; a nice little boy,
whom you would have liked if you had known him — at least,
so his mother says. He had been brought up in the traditions
of the old South, to which the two most important things in
the world were good cooking and good manners. He obeyed
his mother and father, and ate his peas with a fork, and never
buttered the whole slice of his bread. On Sunday mornings
he carefully shined his shoes and brushed his clothes at the
window, and got into a pair of tight kid gloves and under a
tight little brown derby hat, and walked with his parents to
a church on Fifth Avenue. On week-days he studied hard
and obeyed his teachers, and in every field of thought and
activity he believed what was told him by those in authority.
He learned the catechism and thought it was the direct word
of God. When he fell sick and the doctor came, he put him-
self in the doctor’s hands with a sense of perfect trust and
content; the doctor knew what to do, and would do it, and
the little boy would get well.

The boy’s grandfather had been a Confederate naval
officer, drowned at sea. The boy’s father had spent his youth
in Virginia during the agonies of the Civil War, thus missing
most of his education. After the war the family was ruined,
and the father had to enter into competition with Yankee
“hustle,” handicapped by a Southern gentleman’s quaint notions
of dignity, and also by a Southern gentleman’s weakness for
mint-juleps. So the last week’s board bill was generally a
matter of anxiety to the family. But always, no matter how
poor the family might be, the little boy had a clean white
collar, and a copy of the “New York Sun” every morning.
This paper was beautifully printed, smooth and neat; the
little boy knew all its peculiarities of type, and he and his
father and his mother accepted every word they read in it,
both the news-columns and the editorial page, precisely as they
accepted the doctor’s pills and the clergyman’s sermons, the
Bible and the multiplication table and Marian Harland’s cook-
book.

The “New York Sun” was edited by one of the bitterest
cynics that ever lived in America. He had been something of
a radical in his early days, and had turned like a fierce wolf
upon his young ideals. He had one fixed opinion, which was
that everything new in the world should be mocked at and
denounced. He had a diabolical wit, and had taught a
tradition to his staff, and had infected a good part of American
Journalism with the poison of his militant cynicism. Once
every twenty-four hours the little boy absorbed this poison,
he took it for truth, and made all his ideas of it.

For example, there were women who’ were trying to
be different from what women had always been. There
was a thing called “Sorosis.” The boy never knew what
“Sorosis” was; from the “Sun” he gathered that it was a
collection of women who wanted to have brains, and to take
part in public affairs — ^whereas the “Sun” acidly considered
that woman’s place was the home. And the boy found it
easy to agree with this. Did not the boy’s grandmother make
the best ginger-cakes of any grandmother in the whole city
of Baltimore? Did not his mother make the best chocolate-
cake and the best “hot short-cake” — ^that is, whenever the
family could escape from boarding-houses and have a little
kitchen of its own. The boy was enormously fond of chocolate-
cake and short-cake, and of course he didn’t want women
neglecting their duties for fool things such as “Sorosis.”

Also there were the Populists. The little boy had never
seen a Populist, he had never been given an opportunity to
read a Populist platform, but he knew all about the Populists
from the funny editorials of Charles A. Dana. The Populists
were long-haired and wild-eyed animals whose habitat was the
corn-fields of Kansas. The boy knew the names of a lot of
them, or rather the nick-names which Dana gave them ; he. had
a whole portrait-gallery of them in his mind. Once upon a
time the “Sun” gave some statistics from Kansas, suggesting
that the Populists were going insane; so the little boy took
his pen in hand and wrote a letter to the editor of the “Sun,”
gravely rebuking him. He had never expected to read in the
columns of the “Sun” a suggestion that Populists might go
insane. And the “Sun” published this feeble product of its
own “smartness.”

Later on the boy discovered the “New York Evening Post,”
the beau ideal of a gentleman’s newspaper, and this became for
years his main source of culture. The “Evening Post” was
edited by E. L. Godkin, a scholar and a lover of righteousness,
but narrow, and with an abusive tongue. From him the boy
learned that American politics were rotten, and he learned
the cause of the rottenness : First, there was an ignorant mob,
composed mainly of foreigners ; and second, there were venal
politicians who pandered to this mob. Efforts were continually
being made by gentlemen of decency and culture to take the
government away from these venal politicians, but the mob
was too ignorant, and could not be persuaded to support a
clean government. Yet the fight must be kept up, because
conditions were going from bad to worse. The boy witnessed
several “reform campaigns,” conducted mainly by the “Evening
Post” and other newspapers. These campaigns consisted in
the publication of full-page exposures of civic rottenness, with
denuhciations of the politicians in office. The boy believed
every word of the exposures, and it never occurred to him
that the newspapers might be selling more copies by means
of them; still less did it occur to him that anybody might be
finding in these excitements a means of diverting the mind
of the public from larger and more respectable forms of
“graft.”

There was a candidate for district attorney, William
Travers Jerome by name; a man with a typical “Evening
Post” mind, making an ideal “Evening Post” candidate. He
conducted a “whirlwind” campaign, speaking at half a dozen
meetings every evening, and stirring his audience to frenzy
by his accounts of the corruption of the city’s police-force.
Men would stand up and shout with indignation, women would
faint or weep. The boy would sit with his finger-nails dug
into the palms of his hands, while the orator tore away the
veils from subjects which were generally kept hidden from
little boys.

The orator described the system of prostitution, which
was paying its millions every year to the police of the city.
He pictured a room in which women displayed their persons,
and men walked up and down and inspected them, selecting
one as they would select an animal at a fair. The man paid
his three dollars, or his five dollars, to a cashier at the
window, and received a brass check; then he went upstairs,
and paid this check to the woman upon receipt of her favors.
And suddenly the orator put his hand into his pocket and drew
forth the bit of metal. “Behold!” he cried. “The price of
a woman’s shame !”

To the lad in the audience this BRASS CHECK was the
symbol of the most monstrous wickedness in the world. Night
after night he would attend these meetings, and next day
he would read about them in the papers. He was a student
at college, living in a lodging-house room on four dollars a
week, which he earned himself ; yet he pitched in to help this
orator’s campaign, and raised something over a hundred
dollars, and took it to the “Evening Post” candidate at his
club, interrupting him at dinner, and no doubt putting a strain
on his patience. The candidate was swept into office in a
tornado of excitement, and did what all “Evening Post”
candidates did and always do — that is, nothing. For four
long years the lad waited, in bewilderment and disgust, ending
in rage. So he learned the grim lesson that there is more
than one kind of parasite feeding on human weakness, there
is more than one kind of prostitution which may be symbolized by the BRASS CHECK. …

OWNING THE OWNERS

The second of the methods by which our Journalism is controlled is by far the most important of all the four. I do not mean merely that the owners are owned by mortgages, and such crude financial ties. They are owned by ambition, by pressure upon their families, by club associations, by gentle- men’s agreements, by the thousand subtle understandings which make the solidarity of the capitalist class. I have written elsewhere of labor-leaders, otherwise incorruptible, who have accepted “the dress-suit bribe.” These same bribes are passed in the business-world, and are the biggest bribes of all. When you have your shoes shined, you pay the boot- black ten cents; but can you figure what you are paid for having your shoes shined? When you buy a new suit of clothes, you pay the dealer, say, one hundred dollars ; but can you figure what you are paid for being immaculately dressed, for having just the right kind of tie, just the right kind of accent, just the right manner of asserting your own importance and securing your own place at the banquet-table of Big Business ? If you are the publisher of a great newspaper or magazine, you belong to the ruling-class of your community. You are invited to a place of prominence on all public occasions ; your voice is heard whenever you choose to lift it. You may become a senator like Medill McCormick or Capper of Kansas, who owns eight newspapers and six magazines; a cabinet-member like Daniels, or an ambassador like Whitelaw Reid or Walter Page. You will float upon a wave of prosperity, and in this prosperity all your family will share; your sons will have careers open to them, your wife and your daughters will move in the “best society.” All this, of course, provided that you stand in with the powers that be, and play the game according to their rules. If by any chance you interfere with them, if you break their rules, then instantly in a thousand forms you feel the pressure of their displeasure. You are “cut” at the clubs, your sons and daughters arc not invited 358 Owning the Ownees 259 to parties — ^you find your domestic happiness has become dependent upon your converting the whole family to your strange new revolutionary whim ! And what if your youngest daughter does not share your enthusiasm for the “great unwashed”? What if your wife takes the side of her darling?

Vincent van Gogh - The State Lottery Office
Vincent van Gogh – The State Lottery Office

It is such hidden forces as this which account for much of the snobbery in American newspapers; the fact that in every department and in every feature they favor the rich and powerful, and reveal themselves as priests of the cult of Mammon. I have watched the great metropolitan dailies, and those in many smaller cities and towns ; I have yet to see an American newspaper which does not hold money for its god, and the local masters of money for demi-gods at the least. The interests of these Olympian beings, their sports, their social doings, their political opinions, their comings and goings, are assumed by the newspapers to be the object of the absorbed interest of every American who knows how to read. On every page and in every column of every page the American newspaper preaches the lesson: “Get money, and all things else shall be added unto you — especially newspaper attention.” When Mr. John P. Gavit, managing editor of the “New York Evening Post,” wrote to Mr. Melville E. Stone, general manager of the Associated Press, that I had a reputa- tion “as an insatiable hunter of personal publicity,” what Mr. Gavit meant was that I was accustomed to demand and obtain more space in newspapers than the amount of my worldly possessions entitled me to. Some years ago my wife went for a visit to her home in the far South, after the unusual adventure of marrying a Socialist; she met one of her girl- hood friends, who exclaimed: “My, but your husband must be a rich man !” “My husband is a poor man,” said M. C. S. Whereat the girl-friend laughed at her. “I know better,” said she. “But it’s true,” said M. C. S. “He has no money at all; he never had any.” “Well,” said the other, skeptically, “then what are the papers all the time talking about him for ?”

CC BY by Nick Kenrick.
CC BY by Nick Kenrick.

A large part of what is called “conservatism” in our Journalism is this instinctive reverence for wealth, as deeply rooted in every American as respect for a duke in an English butler. So the average American newspaper editor is a horse 360 The Brass Check that stands without hitching, and travels without a whip. But emergencies arise, a fork in the road, a sudden turn, a race with another vehicle ; and then a driver is needed — and perhaps also a whip ! I showed you Mr. Ochs pulling the “Metropolis” story off the front page of the “New York Times” at one o’clock in the morning. Every Hearst editor has stories to tell of one-o’clock-in-the-morning visits from the owner, result- ing in the whole policy of the paper being shifted. And where the owner is owned, maybe somebody will call him up and lay down the law ; maybe an agent will be set to keep watch over his doings, and to become the real master of his paper. I could name more than one famous editor and publisher who has been thus turned out of his job, and remains nothing but a name. For great “interests” have a way of being wide-awake even at the late hour when the forms of newspapers close; they have a way of knowing what they want, and of getting it. “I am a great clamorer for dividends,” testified old Rockefeller; and imagine, if you can, a publishing enterprise controlled by old Rockefeller — how closely the policy of that enterprise would be attended to! Imagine, if you can, one controlled by Pierpont Morgan! It happens that I can tell you about one of these latter. The story has to do with one of the most famous publishing- houses in America, a house which is a national institution, known to every literate person — ^the ancient house of “Harper’s,” which now has the misfortune to have an eight hundred thousand dollar mortgage reposing in the vaults of J. P. Morgan & Company. Would you think me absurd if I should state that the publishing-business of Harper & Bros, is managed to the minutest detail by this mortgage ? money fundsFirst, recall to mind “The Money-changers,” a novel dealing with the causes of the 1907 panic. The “villain” of this novel is a certain “Dan Waterman,” a great financier who dominates the life of Wall Street, and who in his relations to women is an old wild boar. The veil of fiction was thin, and was meant to be. Every one who knew the great Metropolis of Mammon would recognize Pierpont Morgan, the elder, and would know that the picture was true both in detail and in spirit. Naturally old “J. P.” himself would be furious, and his hired partisans would be looking for a chance to punish his assailant. Owning the Owners 261 Very well. Five years passed, and I was editing an anthology of revolutionary literature. I was quoting authors from Homer to H.\ G. Wells, several hundred in all, and as part of the routine of the job, I addressed a long list of authors and publishing-houses, requesting permission to quote brief extracts from copyrighted books, due credit of course to be given. Such quotations are a valuable advertisement for any book, the more valuable because they are permanent; the request is a matter of form, and its granting a matter of course. It proved to be such in the case of all publishing- houses both in America and in England — all save one, the house of the eight hundred thousand dollar mortgage! This house informed me that no book of mine might contain a line from any book published by them. My reputation was such that I would injure the value of any book which I quoted! I am interested in this capitalistic world, and try to find out as much about it as I can. So I took the trouble to visit the dingy old building in Franklin Square, and to interview the up-to-date gentleman who had rendered this unexpected decision. He was perfectly polite, and I was the same. I pointed out to him that some of the authors — “his” authors — were personal friends of mine, and that they themselves desired to be quoted in my anthology. Mr. Charles Rann Kennedy, for example, was a Socialist. Mr. William Dean Howells was one of Harper’s own editors; he was in that very ofifice, and I had in my hand a letter from him, giving cordial consent to the publication of two passages from “A Traveller from Altruria” ! Also Mr. H. G. Wells, an English Socialist, who had honored me with his friendship, had pub- lished “When the Sleeper Wakes” through “Harper’s,” and now requested that I be permitted to quote from this book in my anthology. Also Mark Twain had honored me with his friendship; he had visited my home in Bermuda, and had expressed appreciation of my writings. He was no longer where I could consult him, in the matter, but I offered evidence to Messrs. Harper & Bros, proving that he had not regarded me as a social outcast. But no matter ; the decision stood. I took the question to the authors themselves, and I am sorry to have to record that neither Mr. William Dean Howells nor Mr. Charles Rann Kennedy cared to support a fellow- Socialist in this controversy with a great capitalist publishing- house. So it comes about that you will not find Mr. Kennedy 263 The Brass Check or Mr. Howells quoted in “The Cry for Justice” ; but you will find “When the Sleeper Wakes” quoted, the reason being that Mr. Wells did stand by me. Mr. Wells lives farther away, and is not so deeply influenced by an eight hundred thousand dollar mortgage in the vaults of a Wall Street banking-house ! The point of this story is the petty nature of the vengeance of this mortgage, the trouble it took, the minute detail into which it was willing to go. The moral for you is just this: that when you pick up your morning or evening newspaper, and think you are reading the news of the world, what you are really reading is a propaganda which has been selected, revised, and doctored by some power which has a financial interest in you; and which, for the protecting of that financial interest, has been willing to take trouble, and to go into the most minute detail! You will miss the point of this book if you fail to get clear that the perversion of news and the betrayal of public opinion is no haphazard and accidental thing; for twenty-five years — that is, since the day of Mark Hanna — ^it has been a thing deliberately planned and systematically carried out, a science and a technique. High-priced experts devote their lives to it, they sit in counsel with the masters of industry, and report on the condition of the public mind, and determine pre- cisely how this shall be presented and how that shall be sup- pressed. They create a public psychology, a force in the grip of which you, their victim, are as helpless as a moth in the glare of an arc-light.

Bonus Army Clash demonstration depression poverty  And what is the purpose of it all? One thing, and one only — that the wage-slaves of America shall continue to believe in and support the system whereby their bones are picked bare and thrown upon the scrap-heap of the profit-system.” Upton Sinclair, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism