Tag Archives: media

Freedom of the Press ~ It’s Essential

In every State, probably, in the Union, the press has exerted a freedom in canvassing the merits and measures of public men of every description which has not been confined to the strict limits of the common law. On this footing the freedom of the press has stood; on this footing it yet stands. . . . Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of everything, and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided by the practice of the States that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits. And can the wisdom of this policy be doubted by any who reflect that to the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression; who reflect that to the same beneficent source the United States owe much of the lights which conducted them to the ranks of a free and independent nation, and which have improved their political system into a shape so auspicious to their happiness? ~ James Madison (1751– 1836)

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Free Press in the United States

Ida Tarbell helped transform journalism by introducing what is called today investigative journalism. Through her achievements, she not only helped to expand the role of the newspaper in modern society and stimulate the Progressive reform movement, but she also became a role model for women wishing to become professional journalists.

Born on the oil frontier of western Pennsylvania in 1857, Tarbell was among the first women to graduate from Allegheny College in 1880. After trying her hand at the more traditional women’s job of teaching, Tarbell began writing and editing a magazine for the Methodist Church. Then, after studying in France for a few years, she joined S. S. McClure’s new reform-minded magazine in 1894. Initially she wrote two popular biographical series–on Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln. In 1902, she embarked on her ground breaking study of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, or what was called the Standard Oil Trust. Her History of the Standard Oil Company, published in 1904, was a landmark work of expos√© journalism that became known as “muckraking.” Her exposure of Rockefeller’s unfair business methods outraged the public and led the government to prosecute the company for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. As a result, after years of precedent-setting litigation, the Supreme Court upheld the break-up of Standard Oil.

As the most famous woman journalist of her time, Tarbell founded the American Magazine in 1906. She authored biographies of several important businessmen and wrote a series of articles about an extremely controversial issue of her day, the tariff imposed on goods imported from foreign countries. Of this series President Wilson commented, “She has written more good sense, good plain common sense, about the tariff than any man I know of.” During World War I, she joined the efforts to improve the plight of working women. In 1922, The New York Times named her one of the “Twelve Greatest American Women.” It was journalism like hers that inspired Americans of the early twentieth century to seek reform in our government, in our economic structures, and in our urban areas. Along with other muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, and Upton Sinclair, Tarbell ushered in reform journalism. Ever since, newspapers have played a leading role as the watchdogs and consciences of our political, economic, and social lives.

Although Tarbell was not, herself, an advocate of women’s issues or women’s rights, as the most prominent woman active in the muckraking movement and one of the most respected business historians of her generation, Tarbell succeeded in a “male” world ‚Äì the world of journalism, business analysis, and world affairs, thus helping to open the door to other women seeking careers in journalism and, later, in broadcasting.

Free Press in the United States

William Lloyd Garrison’s opening editorial in THE LIBERATOR, January 1, 1831

During my recent tour for the purpose of exciting the minds of the people by a series of discourses on the subject of slavery, every place that I visited gave fresh evidence of the fact, that a greater revolution in public sentiment was to be effected in the free states — and particularly in New-England — than at the south. I found contempt more bitter, opposition more active, detraction more relentless, prejudice more stubborn, and apathy more frozen, than among slave owners themselves. Of course, there were individual exceptions to the contrary. This state of things afflicted, but did not dishearten me. I determined, at every hazard, to lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation, within sight of Bunker Hill and in the birth place of liberty. That standard is now unfurled; and long may it float, unhurt by the spoliations of time or the missiles of a desperate foe — yea, till every chain be broken, and every bondman set free! Let southern oppressors tremble — let their secret abettors tremble — let their northern apologists tremble — let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble.

I deem the publication of my original Prospectus unnecessary, as it has obtained a wide circulation. The principles therein inculcated will be steadily pursued in this paper, excepting that I shall not array myself as the political partisan of any man. In defending the great cause of human rights, I wish to derive the assistance of all religions and of all parties.

Assenting to the “self-evident truth” maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights — among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. In Park-street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popluar but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and absurdity. A similar recantation, from my pen, was published in the Genius of Universal Emancipation at Baltimore, in September, 1829. My consicence in now satisfied.

I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

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The free press is not the enemy of the people but rather the enemy of tyrants!