9.20.2016 Quote of the Day

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 judg-
ments, 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?working ppl bus artThe 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.media papers newspaperMy 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.”Pixabay Image 447577In 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.diego rivera work labor art
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 stran-
gling the child in the womb.

PART I

THE EVIDENCE

CC BY-SA by indy138

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.

annie oakley wild west gun womenFor 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.”

CC BY-NC by Jim Surkamp

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
denunciations 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 symbol-
ized by the BRASS CHECK.”  Upton Sinclair; The Brass Check–a Study of American Journalism, 1919