• U.S.

Editors & Publishers: The Ultimate Weapon

3 minute read


Most of the 1.221 news executives who gathered in Manhattan last week for the 77th convention of the American Newspaper Publishers Association had something to complain about. There had been no fewer than 27 newspaper strikes in the previous year; there was the growing problem of automation; further troubles with labor are in the offing. And there was, as a major topic of conversation, that old whipping boy, managed news.

One way to approach that problem is simply to deplore it. In his keynote talk. Irwin Maier, publisher of the Milwaukee Journal and president of the A.N.P.A., worked up a good deal of enthusiasm doing just that.

“What the news press and the American people need at this time,” said Maier, “is an authoritative and clear-cut assurance from this Administration that there is no place in its program for the use of the lie as an instrument of national policy.” Editors and publishers are “concerned,” he added, “when an Administration official speaks of using news as a weapon in the cold war, of controlling and managing the flow of news, and even of the Government’s ‘right to lie.’ “

Herbert Brucker, articulate editor of the Hartford Courant and newly elected president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, took a more practical tack. Hoping to put the issue in perspective, and also to put it on the shelf, he suggested that he and his colleagues “put ourselves in the other fellow’s shoes.”

Managed news is old hat. Brucker said; what is new “is the open defense of it as a patriotic virtue.”

Brucker conceded that “no one wants to risk hurting the common cause by prying too much or spilling secrets,” but he did object to the fact that the Administration seems to regard any attempt to get information about its actions as “an irresponsible act that risks spilling the military beans, an all but traitorous tipping-off of the enemy to our defense secrets.” Said Brucker: “That is managed news with a vengeance. It is more in the tradition of Dr. Goebbels than our own.” In fact, it reminded him of a World War II parody of Kipling’s L’Envoi:

When the last newspaper is printed and the ink is faded and dried,

And the oldest critic is muzzled and the youngest croaker has died,

We shall pass to a tranquil era of government by decree,

When every voice shall be silenced but the voice of the B.B.C.

“It is in the nature of things that government and the press should often be at odds,” said Brucker, particularly when the government is engaged in a Cold War with a clever, secretive enemy. “Even so, we hold in our hands the weapon with which to conquer managed news. It is the same weapon that has always won against earlier attempts to conceal and manipulate. What is that weapon? It is the newspaper reporter.”

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