"The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth"
One of my readers eloquently quoted John Swinton of the New York Times, in response to my post The Huffington Rost and just so those of you who don't read readers's comments don't miss out, I have reprinted his quote below.
But please also note that variations of this quote have been misattributed as a response to a toast, by John Swinton, as "the former Chief of Staff at the New York Times", before the New York Press Club in 1953.
Accoding to http://www.constitution.org/pub/swinton_press.htm, however, Swinton, (who died already in 1901), after moving to New York, wrote an occasional article for the New York Times and was hired on a regular basis in 1860 as head of the editorial staff. He left the paper in 1870 and became active in the labor struggles.
The remarks were apparently made by Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, one night in 1880. Swinton 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.
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.)
According to http://www.constitution.org, despite the misattribution, "the quote raises the issue of whether there is not continuing truth in Swinton's remarks, and whether some candid journalist might not be able to fairly say similar things today."
And anyone who has followed the media coverage of the Iraq war, the lies about "weapons of mass destruction," the Valerie Plame affair, or Judith Miller's incorrect reporting for the New York Times on the war and her subsequent fate, would recognize that not much has changed.
Fortunately, I think those are exceptions that confirm the daily reality, and that is that without our free press we would have long ago fallen into the hands of a worse political dictatorship than we have today.
I for one, am very grateful that we have a "free" press, even though it may have its blemishes and even though many newspapers are controlled by powerful families.
Without this press, we'd have nothing left of our freedom.
Something to think about the day after 4th of July.