Things have been going pretty badly at L.A. Weekly! In October, Voice Media Group sold the paper to a shadowy corporation known as the Semanal Media Group, whose ownership was kept secret. Then, the new owners—still anonymous at the time—appointed Orange County Register opinion editor Brian Calle, a man who described his mission at his last position as “advancing the cause of free markets and free minds,” to run their new, historically left-wing, outlet. Last Wednesday, when the deal closed, Semanal and Calle abruptly fired the vast majority of the paper’s editorial staff; in the aftermath, contributor Keith Plocek published an article headlined “Who Owns L.A. Weekly?,” which was a strange question to ask in the pages of L.A. Weekly.
Things didn’t look up on Friday, when some of the paper’s new owners finally stepped forward. Calle, wildly misreading the room, answered Plocek’s article with his own, “And the New Owners Are …,” in which he took a giant dump on the people he’d just fired (L.A. Weekly “was once a richly influential and important cultural force in Los Angeles,” he lamented) and reassured readers that the paper had not fallen into the hands of “some Trumpista.”
In fact, as the O.C. Weekly reported, it had fallen into the hands of at least one “Trumpista”: Mike Mugel, who donated $25,000 to the Trump Victory Committee. (Additionally, investor Andy Bequer is reportedly a member of a Facebook group called “CUBANS FOR TRUMP.”) L.A. Weekly’s new owners, it turned out, were mostly men from Orange County, many with right wing ties and at least one with a certain amount of contempt for the city whose newspaper he’d just bought. Attorney and investor Steve Mehr, who lives in Dana Point, told the Los Angeles Times, “We don’t have a cultural scene on par with New York and San Francisco. We want L.A. to rise to that level…” Inspiring!
The new L.A. Weekly, its owners revealed, had an incredible plan for bringing culture to Los Angeles: not paying the writers. But the search for unpaid contributors hit a snag over the weekend, when whoever was running the paper’s social media feed started headhunting by posting a since-deleted Tweet with this stock photo:
The word for the city’s residents is usually spelled “Angelenos,” which is exactly the sort of trivia you might expect a local alt-weekly to master. And the hits keep coming: columnist Henry Rollins quit in solidarity, former writers, including Jeff Weiss and April Wolfe, are calling for a boycott, celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Ava DuVernay are supporting them, and advertisers are pulling out of the paper’s upcoming events. In short, it’s been a rough transition so far.
Which is why I’d like to help! As someone with a little experience in the “content business,” I can confidently predict that the biggest challenge for a newspaper with no writers is going to be the writing. And there’s only so much writing you can buy when you’re not willing to pay any money for it, no matter how many passionate, passionately stupid “Angelinos” you can trick into working for free. But! Although it’s probably not a big topic of study at the Claremont Institute, the right-wing think tank where Brian Calle worked before beginning his adventures in journalism, there’s a wide variety of written work in the public domain that belongs to all of us. Anyone can publish any of it, at any time, without paying a single writer a single thin dime!
For example, L.A. Weekly could publish Upton Sinclair’s The Brass Check, a book from 1919 about the way capital inevitably corrupts journalistic institutions, limiting the range of ideas presented to the American public in the service of shoveling more money into the pockets of the country’s richest people. That’s right, Upton Sinclair—excuse me, Pulitzer-Prize winner Upton Sinclair—is available to write for L.A. Weekly right now, today, for the decidedly non-princely salary of zero dollars and zero cents. I think the paper’s new owners will find Sinclair’s view of journalists, including himself, to be pretty compatible with their own:
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.
It’s true that it’s not a perfect work for L.A. Weekly, given that Sinclair hates the situation he’s describing, and hates the money men behind the scenes most of all. And as a piece of writing, it’s honestly not his best work: Sinclair seems to think that every time a newspaper declined to publish one of his letters to the editor, it did so as a deliberate blow against the working class, and he’s kept track of—and quotes from, extensively—those unpublished letters, as well as a dizzying collection of his own press clippings, good and bad. As a result, he cuts a sort of Ignatius J. Reilly figure, particularly in the first section of the book, a memoir in which he settles countless arcane scores with journalists and publishers. He spends an entire chapter defending himself in excruciating detail against the charge that he caused a scene at a hotel restaurant over a 10-cent discrepancy on the bill, and the less said about the section about his divorce, the better. It’s the kind of thing that would be hailed as brilliant if Nabokov wrote it on purpose, but the Kinbotian persona Sinclair sometimes presents here seems to have happened by accident. There’s also the occasional whiff of the prevailing social attitudes about gender, sex, race, and religion you’d expect in a book from 1919. But “unintentionally hilarious” still counts as hilarious, and with all its flaws, The Brass Check is a million times better than anything L.A. Weekly is going to get anyone to write for free. And since L.A. Weekly is currently providing the public with an object lesson in Sinclair’s central idea, it might as well print it word-for-word:
The thesis of this book is that our newspapers do not represent public interests, but private interests; they do not represent humanity, but property; they value a man, not because he is great, or good, or wise, or useful, but because he is wealthy, or of service to vested wealth.
I’ve emailed the complete text to email@example.com and am also publishing as much of it as Slate’s content management system can handle without choking (thirty chapters—the full book is available online here) right here in this very blog post. Best of luck to the new owners of L.A. Weekly as they endeavor to bring culture, at long last, to the nation’s second-largest city!
THE BRASS CHECK
A Study of American Journalism
By Upton Sinclair
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.
PART I: THE EVIDENCE
CHAPTER ONE: 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 himself 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 Sunevery 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 cookbook.
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 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 symbolized by the BRASS CHECK.
CHAPTER TWO: THE STORY OF A POET
The boy, now become a youth, obtained a letter of introduction from his clergyman to the editor of his beloved Evening Post, and at the age of sixteen was given a trial as reporter. He worked for a week collecting odd scraps of news, and when the week was over he had earned the generous sum of two dollars and sixty-seven cents. This was his first and last experience as newspaper reporter, and it confirmed his boyish impression of the integrity of the journalistic profession. His work had consisted of compiling obituary notices about leading citizens who had died. “John T. McGurk, senior partner of McGurk and Isaacson, commission- merchants of 679 Desbrosses Street, died yesterday of cirrhosis of the liver at his home, 4321 George Washington Avenue, Hoboken. Mr. McGurk was 69 years of age, and leaves a widow and eleven children. He was a member of the Elks, and president of the North Hoboken Bowling Association.” And these facts the Evening Post printed exactly as he had written them. In a book which will not have much to say in favor of American Journalism, let this fidelity to truth, and to the memory of the blameless McGurk, have its due meed of praise.
The youth took to writing jokes and jingles, at which he earned twice as much as the Evening Post had paid him. Later on he took to writing dime-novels, at which he made truly fabulous sums. He found it puzzling that this cheap and silly writing should be the kind that brought the money. The editors told him it was because the public wanted that kind; but the youth wondered—might not at least part of the blame lie with the editors, who never tried giving anything better? It was the old problem—which comes first, the hen or the egg?
We have spoken jestingly of the traditions of the old South, in which the youth was brought up; but the reader should not get a false impression of them—in many ways they were excellent traditions. For one thing, they taught the youth to despise a lie; also to hate injustice, so that wherever in his life he encountered it, his whole being became a blaze of excitement. Always he was striving in his mind to discover the source of lies and injustice—why should there be so much of them in the world? The newspapers revealed the existence of them, but never seemed to know the causes of them, nor what to do about them, further than to support a reform candidate who did nothing but get elected. This futility in the face of the world’s misery and corruption was maddening to the youth.
He had rich relatives who were fond of him, so that he was free to escape from poverty into luxury; he had the opportunity to rise quickly in the world, if he would go into business, and devote his attention thereto. But would he find in business the ideals which he craved? He talked with business men, also he got the flavor of business from the advertisements in the newspapers—and he knew that this was not what he was seeking. He cultivated the friendship of Jesus, Hamlet and Shelley, and fell in love with the young Milton and the young Goethe; in them he found his own craving for truth and beauty. Here, through the medium of art, life might he ennobled, and lifted from the muck of graft and greed.
So the youth ran away and buried himself in a hut in the wilds of Canada, and wrote what he thought was the great American novel. It was a painfully crude performance, but it had a new moral impulse in it, and the youth really believed that it was to convert the world to ways of love and justice. He took it to the publishers, and one after another they rejected it. They admitted that it had merit, but it would not sell. Incredible as it seemed to the youth, the test by which the publishers judged an embryo book and its right to be born, was not whether it had vision and beauty and a new moral impulse; they judged it as the newspapers judged what they published—would it sell? The youth earned some money and published the book himself, and wrote a preface to tell the world what a wonderful book it was, and how the cruel publishers had rejected it. This preface, together with the book, he sent to the leading newspapers; and thus began the second stage of his journalistic experiences!
Two newspapers paid attention to his communication—the New York Times, a respectable paper, and the New York American, a “yellow” paper. The American sent a woman reporter, an agreeable and friendly young lady, to whom the author poured out his soul. She asked for his picture, saying that this would enable her to get much more space for the story; so the author gave his picture. She asked for his wife’s picture; but here the author was obdurate. He had old-fashioned Southern notions about “newspaper notoriety” for ladies; he did not want his wife’s picture in the papers. There stood a little picture of his wife on the table where the interview took place, and after the reporter had left, it was noticed that this picture was missing. Next day the picture was published in the New York American, and has been published in the New York American every year or two since. The author, meantime, has divorced his first wife and married a second wife—a fact of which the newspapers are fully aware; yet they publish this picture of the first wife indifferently as a picture of the first wife and of the second wife. When one of these ladies says or does a certain thing, the other lady may open her paper in the morning and receive a shock!
Both the New York Times and the New York American published interviews with the young author. It had been his fond hope to interest people in his book and to cause them to read his book, but in this he failed; what both the interviews told about was his personality. The editors had been amused by the naïve assumption of a young poet that he might have something of importance to say to the world; they had made a “human interest” story out of it, a journalistic tidbit to tickle the appetites of the jaded and worldly-wise. They said scarcely anything about the contents of the book, and as a result of the two interviews, the hungry young author sold precisely two copies!
Meantime he was existing by hack-work, and exploring the world in which ideas are bought and sold. He was having jokes and plots of stories stolen; he was having agreements broken and promises repudiated; he was trying to write worth-while material, and being told that it would not sell; he was trying to become a book-reviewer, and finding that the only way to succeed was to be a cheat. The editor of the Independent or the Literary Digest would give him half a dozen books to read, and he would read them, and write an honest review, saying that there was very little merit in any of them: whereupon, the editor would decide that it was not worth while to review the books, and the author would get nothing for his work. If, on the other hand, he wrote an article about a book, taking it seriously, and describing it as vital and important, the editor would conclude that the book was worth reviewing, and would publish the review, and pay the author three or four dollars for it.
This, you understand, was the “literary world,” in which ideas, the most priceless possession of mankind, were made the subject of barter and sale. In every branch of it there were such petty dishonesties, such tricks of the trade. There were always ten times as many people trying to get a living as the trade would support. They were clutching at chances, elbowing each other out of the way and their efforts were not rewarded according to their love of truth and beauty, but according to quite other factors. They were dressing themselves up and using the “social game,” they were posing and pretending, the women were using the sex-lure. And everywhere, when they pretended to care about literature and ideas, they were really caring about money, and “success” because it would bring money. Everywhere, above all things else, they hated and feared the very idea of genius, which put them to shame, and threatened with annihilation their petty gains and securities.
From these things the youth fled into the wilderness again, living in a tent with his young wife, and writing a story in which he poured out his contempt upon the great Metropolis of Mammon. This was “Prince Hagen,” and he sent it to the Atlantic Monthly, and there came a letter from the editor, Professor Bliss Perry, saying that it was a work of merit and that he would publish it. So for weeks the young author walked on the top of the clouds. But then came another letter, saying that the other members of the Atlantic staff had read the story, and that Professor Perry had been unable to persuade them to see it as he saw it. “We have,” said he, “a very conservative, fastidious and sophisticated constituency.”
The young author went back to his “pot-boiling.” He spent another winter in New York, wrestling with disillusionments and humiliations, and then, fleeing to the wilderness for a third summer, he put his experience into “The Journal of Arthur Stirling,” the story of a young poet who is driven to suicide by neglect and despair. The book was given to the world as a genuine document, and relieved the tedium of a literary season. Its genuineness was accepted almost everywhere, and the author sat behind the scenes, feeling quite devilish. When the secret came out, some critics were cross, and one or two of them have not yet forgiven the writer. The New York Evening Post is accustomed to mention the matter every once in a while, declaring that the person who played that trick can never receive anyone’s confidence. I will not waste space discussing this question, save to point out that the newspaper reviewers had set the rules of the game—that love and beauty in art were heeded only in connection with personalities and sensation; so, in order to project love and beauty upon the world, the young author had provided the personalities and sensation. As for the Evening Post and its self-righteousness, before I finish this book I shall tell of things done by that organ of Wall Street which qualify decidedly its right to sit in judgment upon questions of honor.
CHAPTER III: OPEN SESAME!
My next effort was Manassas, a novel of the Civil war. I poured into it all my dream of what America might be, and inscribed it: “That the men of this land may know the heritage that has come down to them.” But the men of this land were not in any way interested in the heritage that had come down to them. The men of this land were making money. The newspapers of this land were competing for advertisements of whiskey and cigars and soap, and the men who wrote book-reviews for the literary pages of these newspapers were chuckling over such works of commercial depravity as The Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son. They had no time to tell the public about Manassas; though Jack London called it “the best Civil War book I’ve read,” and though it is my one book which no severest critic can say has any propaganda motive. Charlotte Perkins Gilman told me a story of how she persuaded an old Civil War veteran to read it. The old fellow didn’t want to read any book about the war by a youngster; he had been through it all himself, and no youngster could tell him anything. But Mrs. Gilman persisted, and when she met him again she found him with shining eyes and a look of wonder on his face. “It’s the War,” he cried. “It’s the War—and he wasn’t even born!”
It happened that at this time Lincoln Steffens was publishing his terrible exposes of the corruption of American civic life. Steffens did for the American people one specific service. He knocked out forever the notion, of which E.L. Godkin and his New York Evening Post were the principal exponents, that our political corruption was to be blamed upon “the ignorant foreign element.” Steffens showed that purely American communities, such as Rhode Island, were the most corrupt of all; and he traced back the corruption, showing that for every man who took a bribe there was another man who gave one, and that the giver of the bribe made from ten to a thousand times as much as he paid. In other words, American political corruption was the buying up of legislatures and assemblies to keep them from doing the people’s will and protecting the people’s interests; it was the exploiter entrenching himself in power, it was financial autocracy undermining and destroying political democracy.
Steffens did not go so far as that in the early days. He just laid bare the phenomena, and then stopped. You searched in vain through the articles which he published in McClure’s for any answer to the question: What is to be done about it? So I wrote what I called “An Open Letter to Lincoln Steffens.” I cannot find it now, but I recall the essence of it well enough.
“Mr. Steffens, you go from city to city and from state to state, and you show us these great corporations buying public privileges and capitalizing them for tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, and unloading the securities upon the general investing public. You show this enormous mass of capital piling up, increasing at compound interest, demanding its toll of dividends, which we, the people who do the hard work of the world, who produce the real wealth of the world, must continue forever to pay. I ask you to tell us, what are we to do about this? Shall we go on forever paying tribute upon this mass of bribery and fraud? Can we go on paying it forever, even if we want to? And if not, what then? What will happen when we refuse to pay?”
I sent this letter to Steffens, to see what he thought about it. He replied that it was the best criticism of his work that he had seen, and he tried to persuade McClure’s to publish it, but in vain. I forget whether it was he or I who sent it to Collier’s Weekly; but anyway, the article was read and accepted, and Robert J. Collier, the publisher, wrote and asked me to come to see him.
Picture me at this moment, a young writer of twenty-five who has been pleading with the American public to remember its high traditions, and has seen his plea fall flat, because the newspapers and magazines overlooked him; also—a painful detail, but important—who has been supporting a wife and baby on thirty dollars a month, and has been paid only five hundred dollars for two years work on a novel. A friend who knows the literary world tells me that this is the chance of my life. Collier’s is run “on a personal basis,” it appears; a sort of family affair. “If Robbie likes you, your fortune is made,” says my friend. “This is your ‘open sesame’ to the public mind.”
Well, I go to see Robbie, and it appears that Robbie likes me. I am young and ascetic-looking; the tension under which I have worked has given me dyspepsia, so my cheeks are hollow and my skin is white and my eyes have a hectic shine. Robbie, no doubt, is moved to sympathy by these phenomena; he himself is a picture of health, florid and jolly, a polo- player, what is called a “good fellow.” He asks me, will I come to dinner at his home and meet some of his friends and his editorial staff? I answer that of course I will.
My worldly-wise friend insists that I shall invest my spare savings in a dress-suit, but I do not take this advice. I go to Robbie’s palatial home in my old clothes, and Robbie’s velvet-footed butler escorts me upstairs to Robbie’s dressing room, where Robbie’s valet is laying out his things on the bed. And while Robbie is dressing, he tells me again how much he admires my article. It is the most illuminating discussion of present-day problems that he has ever read. He and his friends don’t meet many Socialists, naturally, so I am to tell them about Socialism. I am to tell them everything, and needn’t be afraid. I answer, quite simply, that I shall not be in the least afraid.
The evening was spoiled because Robbie’s father came in. Old Peter Collier was a well-known character in New York “society”; but as not all my readers have been intimate in these circles, I explain that he had begun life as a pack-peddler, had started Collier’s Weekly as an advertisement sheet, and by agents offering books as premiums had built up a tremendous circulation. Now he was rich and important; vulgar, ignorant as a child, but kind-hearted, jovial—one of those nice, fatherly old fellows who put their arms about you, no matter who you are.
And here he had come in to dinner with his son, and found his son entertaining a Socialist. “What? What’s this?” he cried. It was like a scene in a comedy. He would hear one sentence of what I had to say, and then he would go up in the air. “Why—why—that’s perfectly outrageous! Who ever heard of such a thing?” He would sputter for five or ten minutes, to the vast amusement of the rest of the guests.
Presently he heard about the “Open Letter to Lincoln Steffens.” “What’s this? You are going to publish an article like that in my magazine? No, sir! I won’t have it! It’s preposterous!” And there sat Robbie, who was supposed to be the publisher; there sat Norman Hapgood, who was supposed to be the editor—and listened to Old Peter lay down the law. Norman Hapgood has since stated that he does not remember this episode, that he never knew Peter Collier to interfere with the policy of the magazine. Well, the reader may believe that the incident was not one that I would forget in a hurry. Not if I should live to be as old as Methuselah will I forget my emotions, when, after the dinner, the old gentleman got me off in a corner and put his arm around my shoulders. “You are a nice boy, and I can see that you’ve got brains, you know what you’re talking about. But what you ought to do is to put these ideas of yours into a book. Why do you try to get them into my magazine, and scare away my half million subscribers?”
I went home that evening feeling more sick at heart than I like to remember. And sure enough, my worst fears were justified. Week after week passed, and my Open Letter to Lincoln Steffens did not appear in the columns of Collier’s Weekly. I wrote and protested, and was met with evasions; a long time afterwards, I forget how long, Collier’s graciously condescended to give me back the article, without asking the return of the two hundred dollars they had paid me. The article was rejected by many other capitalist magazines, and was finally published in some Socialist paper, I forget which.
Such is the picture of a magazine “run on a personal basis.” See what it means to you, the reader, who depend upon such a magazine for the thoughts you think. Here is Lincoln Steffens, taking his place as America’s leading authority on the subject of political graft; and here am I, making what Steffens declares is the best criticism of his work. It is accepted and paid for, and a date is set to give it to you, the reader; but an ignorant and childish old pack-peddler steps in, and with one wave of his hand sweeps it out of your sight. Sixteen years have passed, and only now you hear about it—and most of you don’t hear about it even now!
But here is a vital point to get clear. The old pack-peddler wiped out my discussion of the question, but he did not wipe out the question. To-day the question is cried aloud from the throats of a hundred and eighty million people in Russia, and the clamor of it spreads all over Europe, a deafening roar which drowns out the eloquence of statesmen and diplomats. It is the question of the hour in America, and America must find the answer under penalty of civil war. Sixteen years ago the answer was given to Robert Collier, and if he had had the courage to stand out against his father, if Norman Hapgood had been what he pretended to be, an editor, they would have taken up the truth which I put before them, they would have conducted a campaign to make the American people see it—and to-day we should not be trying to solve the social problem by putting the leaders of the people’s protest into jail.
CHAPTER IV: THE REAL FIGHT
There was a strike of the wage-slaves of the Beef Trust in Chicago, and I wrote for the Appeal to Reason, a broadside addressed to these strikers, trying to point out to them the truth which Peter Collier had concealed from his precious half million subscribers. This broadside was taken up by the Socialists of the Stockyards district, and thirty thousand copies were distributed among the defeated strikers. The Appeal to Reason offered me five hundred dollars to live on while I wrote a novel dealing with the life of those wage-slaves of the Beef Trust; so I went to Packingtown, and lived for seven weeks among the workers, and came home again and wrote The Jungle.
Now so far the things that had been done to me by the world of American Journalism had been of a mocking nature. I had been a sort of “guy”; a young poet—very young—who believed that he had “genius,” and kept making a noise about it. So I was pigeon-holed with long-haired violinists from abroad, and painters with fancy-colored vests, and woman suffragists with short hair, and religious prophets in purple robes. All such things are lumped together by newspapers, which are good-naturedly tolerant of their fellow fakers. The public likes to be amused, and “genius” is one of the things that amuse it: such is the attitude of a world which understands that money is the one thing in life really worth while, the making of money the one object of grown-up and serious-minded men.
But from now on you will see that there enters into my story a new note. The element of horse-play goes out, and something grim takes its place. And what is the reason for this change? Was there any change in me? Did I suddenly become dissipated, dishonest, self-seeking? No, there was no change in me; I was the same person, living the same life. But I ceased to oppose social wickedness with the fragile weapon of poetry, with visions and inspirations and consecrations; instead, I took a sharp sword of contemporary fact, and thrust it into the vitals of one of those monstrous parasites which are sucking the life-blood of the American people. That was the difference; and if from now on you find in this story a note of fierce revolt, please understand that you are listening to a man who for fourteen years had been in a battle, and has seen his cause suffering daily wounds from a cruel and treacherous foe.
My first experience, it happened, was with Collier’s Weekly. But it was not a dinner-party experience this time, there was no element of friendliness or sociability in it.
The Jungle was appearing serially, and was causing a tremendous lot of discussion; it occurred to me that it might be possible to persuade Collier’s to take up the matter, so I wrote an article, telling quite simply some of the things that were going on in the packing-houses of Chicago. I had been there, and had seen—and not as a blundering amateur, as the packers charged. It happened that I had met in Chicago an Englishman, Mr. Adolph Smith, the world’s greatest authority on packing-houses. He had studied methods of meat-packing all over Great Britain, and all overthe continent of Europe, for the London Lancet, the leading medical paper of Great Britain. He had come, as authorized representative of the Lancet, to investigate conditions in America. I had his backing in what I wrote; I also had the backing of various State and Federal authorities; I had the text of the Federal meat-inspection law, which had been written by the packers to enable them to sell diseased meat with impunity.
I took all these facts to Norman Hapgood and Robert Collier. I offered them the opportunity to reap the fame and profit which I subsequently reaped from the book-publication of The Jungle, and incidentally to do a great public service. They were interested, but not convinced, and they employed a United States army-officer, Major Louis L. Seaman, who went out to Chicago and accepted the hospitality of the packers, and reported that all my charges were exaggerated, and most of them entirely false. And Collier and Hapgood accepted Major Seaman’s word against my word and the authorities I offered.
That was all right; I had no complaint against that; they used their editorial judgment. My complaint was of the way they handled the story. In their preliminary announcement (April 15, 1905) they said:
Some very brilliant articles have been sent us about the unhygienic methods of the Beef Trust. In order not to run any risk of wronging that organization we engaged Major Seaman to go to Chicago, and his first report will appear next week.
So, you see, they were going to give an illustration of editorial fairness, of scrupulous regard for exact truth; and having thus prepared their readers, on April 22, 1905, they presented their material—a long article by Major Seaman, praising the Chicago Stockyards, and pretending to refute all my charges. At the same time they published only three paragraphs of my charges—the great bulk of my articles they left unpublished! They gave their readers a few paragraphs from the London Lancet, but so far as concerned me, the readers got only the answers of Major Seaman, and an introductory editorial condemnation of me, explaining that I had submitted my articles to the editors, and they, “desirous of securing the unexaggerated facts,” had sent Major Seaman to Chicago, and now gave his findings.
And this not being enough, they added a discussion of the matter on their editorial page. This editorial they headed, “Sensationalism”; and they subtly phrased it to give the impression that the paragraphs they were publishing constituted all I had to say: “Mr. Sinclair’s article, published alone, would have produced much more of a sensation than it will produce as mitigated by the report of Major Seaman.... Having some doubt, however, about the real facts, we induced Major Seaman to make the trip to Chicago. This incident will serve as an example of the policy mapped out for the conduct of this paper.”
How dignified and impressive! And how utterly and unspeakably knavish! And when I wrote to them and protested, they evaded. When I demanded that they publish my entire article, they refused. When I demanded that they publish my letter of protest, they refused that. And this was done by Norman Hapgood, who posed as a liberal, a lover of justice; a man who spent his editorial time balancing like a tight-rope walker on the narrow thread of truth, occupying himself like a medieval schoolman with finding the precise mathematical or metaphysical dead centre between the contending forces of conservatism and radicalism. A friend of mine talked with him about his treatment of me and reported him as saying, with a smile: “We backed the wrong horse.” The truth was, he had backed the horse of gold, the horse that came to his office loaded down with full-page advertisements of packinghouse products.
Collier’s calls itself “The National Weekly,” and has obtained a reputation as a liberal organ, upon the strength of several useful campaigns. It attacked spiritualist fakers and land-fraud grafters; also it attacked dishonest medical advertising. It could do this, having arrived at the stage of security where it counts upon full-page advertisements of automobiles and packing-house products. But when it was a question of attacking packing-house advertisements—then what a difference!
Robert J. Collier was a gentleman and a “good fellow”; but he was a child of his world, and his world was a rotten one, a “second generation” of idle rich spendthrifts. The running of his magazine “on a personal basis” amounted to this: a young writer would catch the public fancy, and Robbie would send for him, as he sent for me; if he proved to be a possible person—that is, if he came to dinner in a dress-suit, and didn’t discuss the socialization of Collier’s Weekly—Robbie would take him up and introduce him to his “set,” and the young writer would have a perpetual market for his stories at a thousand dollars per story; he would be invited to country-house parties, he would motor and play golf and polo, and flirt with elegant young society ladies, and spend his afternoons loafing in the Hoffman House bar. I could name not one but a dozen young writers and illustrators to whom I have seen that happen. In the beginning they wrote about America, in the end they wrote about the “smart set” of Fifth Avenue and Long Island. In their personal life they became tipplers and cafe celebrities; in their intellectual life they became bitter cynics; into their writings you saw creeping year by year the subtle poison of sexual excess—until at last they became too far gone for Collier’s to tolerate any longer, and went over to the Cosmopolitan, which takes them no matter how far gone they are.
And now young Collier is dead, and the magazine to which for a time he gave his generous spirit has become an instrument of reaction pure and simple. It opposed and ridiculed President Wilson’s peace policies; it called the world to war against the working-class of Russia; it is now calling for repression of all social protest in America; in short, it is an American capitalist magazine. As I write, word comes that it has been taken over by the Crowell Publishing Company, publishers of the Woman’s Home Companion, Farm and Fireside, and the American Magazine. I shall have something to the point to say about this group of publications very soon.
P. S.: A well known journalist writes me that he feels I do an injustice to Norman Hapgood in telling the above story, and in failing to give credit to Hapgood for other fine things he has done. The writer brings facts, and I am always ready to give place to the man with facts. I quote his letter:
“Do you know the circumstances of Hapgood’s break with Collier? Hapgood was the highest paid editor of any periodical in the country. The business side was encroaching on the editorial—demanding that advertising be not jeopardized, and with it the commissions that were its part. Collier, as you know, for years had mixed his whiskey with chorus girls, and needed all the property could milk to supply his erratic needs. So the business office had his ear. And Hapgood left—and made his leaving effective. He took Harper’s and gave the country some of the most important exposes it had. Do you know the story of the Powder Trust treason? I wrote it. It was drawn from official records, and could not be contradicted, that the Powder Trust had once made a contract with a German military powder firm—in the days when military smokeless powder was the goal of every government—to keep it informed as to the quantity, quality, etc., of the smokeless powder it furnished to our government. And this was in the days when we were in the lead in that department. The Powder Trust jumped Hapgood hard. He could have had anything he wanted by making a simple disavowal of me, any loophole they would have accepted—and do you have any doubt that he could have named his own terms? He declined point blank, and threw the challenge to the heaviest and most important client his weekly could have had. That he guessed wrong and `backed the wrong horse’ in the `Jungle’ may be true. But isn’t it fair to assume, in the light of his final challenge to the Collier advertising autocracy, that he was meeting problems inside as best he could—and that he could not tell you at the time of all the factors involved in the Collier handling of the stockyards story?"
CHAPTER V: THE CONDEMNED MEAT INDUSTRY
The Jungle had been accepted in advance by the Macmillan Company. Mr. Brett, president of the company, read the manuscript, and asked me to cut out some of the more shocking and bloody details, assuring me that he could sell ten times as many copies of the book if I would do this. So here again I had to choose between my financial interest and my duty. I took the proposition to Lincoln Steffens, who said: “The things you tell are unbelievable. I have a rule in my own work—I don’t tell things that are unbelievable, even when they are true.”
Nevertheless, I was unwilling to make the changes. I offered the book to four other publishers, whose names I do not now remember; then I began preparations to publish it myself. I wrote to Jack London, who came to my help with his usual impetuous generosity, writing a resounding call to the Socialists of the country, which was published in the “Appeal to Reason.” The result was that in a couple of months I took in four thousand dollars. The Socialists had been reading the story in the “Appeal,” and were thoroughly aroused.
I had the book set up and the plates made, when some one suggested Doubleday, Page and Company, so I showed the work to them. Walter H. Page sent for me. He was a dear old man, the best among business-men I have met. There were several hustling young money-makers in his firm, who saw a fortune in The Jungle, and desperately wanted to publish it. But Page was anxious; he must be sure that every word was true. We had a luncheon conference, and I was cross-questioned on every point. A week or two passed, and I was summoned again, and Herbert S. Houston of the firm explained that he had a friend, James Keeley, editor of the Chicago Tribune, to whom he had taken the liberty of submitting my book. Here was a letter from Keeley—I read the letter—saying that he had sent his best reporter, a trusted man, to make a thorough report upon The Jungle. And here was the report, thirty-two typewritten pages, taking up every statement about conditions in the yards, and denying one after another.
I read the report, and recall one amusing detail. On page one hundred and sixteen of The Jungle is a description of the old packing-houses, their walls covered with grease and soaked with warm moist steam. “In these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years.” The comment upon this statement was: “Unproven theory.” So it was necessary for me to consult the text-books on bacteriology, and demonstrate to Doubleday, Page and Company that unicellular parasitic organisms are sometimes endowed with immortality!
I said: “This is not an honest report. The thing you have to do, if you really wish to know, is to send an investigator of your own, somebody in whom you have confidence.” They decided this must be done, and picked a young lawyer, McKee by name, and sent him to Chicago. He spent some time there, and when he came back his verdict was that I had told the truth. I went to dinner at McKee’s home and spent the evening hearing his story—incidentally getting one of the shocks of my life.
McKee had done what I had urged him not to do: he had gone first to the packers, to see what they had officially to show him. They had placed him in charge of a man—I do not recall the name, but we will say Jones—their publicity agent, a former newspaper man, who served as host and entertainer to inquiring visitors. He had taken McKee in charge and shown him around, and in the course of their conversation McKee mentioned that he was looking into the charges made in a novel called The Jungle. “Oh, yes!" said Jones. “I know that book. I read it from beginning to end. I prepared a thirty-two page report on it for Keeley of the ‘Tribune’.”
So here was a little glimpse behind the curtain of the newspaper world of Chicago! James Keeley was, and still is the beau ideal of American newspaper men; I have never met him, but I have read articles about him, the kind of “write-ups” which the capitalist system gives to its heroes. He had begun life as a poor boy and risen from the ranks by sheer ability and force of character—you know the “dope.” Now he was one of the high gods of newspaperdom; and when it was a question of protecting the great predatory interest which subsidizes all the newspapers of Chicago and holds the government of the city in the hollow of its hand, this high god sent to Armour and Company and had a report prepared by their publicity-agent, and sent this report to a friend in New York as the result of a confidential investigation by a trusted reporter of the Chicago Tribune staff!
And maybe you think this must be an unusual incident; you think that capitalist journalism would not often dare to play a trick like that! I happen to be reading “Socialism versus the State,” by Emile Vandervelde, Belgian Minister of State, and come upon this paragraph:
It will be remembered, for example, that the London Times published, a few years ago, a series of unsigned articles, emanating, it was said from an impartial observer, against the municipal lighting systems in England. These articles made the tour of Europe. They furnish, even today, arguments for the opponents of municipalization. Now, a short time after their publication, it was learned that the “impartial observer” was the general manager of one of the big electric light and power companies of London.
Doubleday, Page and Company published The Jungle, and it became the best-selling book, not only in America, but also in Great Britain and its colonies, and was translated into seventeen languages. It became also the subject of a terrific political controversy.
The packers, fighting for their profits, brought all their batteries to bear. To begin with, there appeared in the Saturday Evening Post a series of articles signed by J. Ogden Armour, but written, I was informed, by Forrest Crissey, one of the staff of the Post. The editor of this paper, George Horace Lorimer, was for nine years an employee of the Armours; he is author of The Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, a text-book of American business depravity. From first to last his paper was at the service of the packers, as it has always been at the service of every great financial interest.
Some of the statements made under Armour’s signature made me boil, and I sat down to write an answer, “The Condemned Meat Industry.” I had the facts at my fingers ends, and wrote the article in a few hours, and jumped on the train and came up to New York with it. I took it to the office of “Everybody’s Magazine” and asked to see E. J. Ridgway, the publisher. I was wise enough by this time to understand that it is the publisher, not the editor, you need to see. I read the article to Ridgway, and he stopped the presses on which Everybody’s Magazine was being printed, and took out a short story and shoved in “The Condemned Meat Industry.”
Everybody’s Magazine at this time was on the crest of a wave of popularity. It had finished Tom Lawson’s exposé of Wall Street, upon the strength of which it had built up a circulation of half a million. Its publishers, Ridgway and Thayer, were advertising men who had bought a broken-down magazine from John Wanamaker, and had made the discovery that there was a fortune to be made by the simple process of letting the people have the truth. They wanted to go on making fortunes, and so they welcomed my article. It gave the affidavits of men whom the Armours had employed to take condemned meat out of the destructors and sell it in Chicago. It told the story of how the Armours had bribed these men to retract their confessions. It gave the reports of State health authorities, who showed how the Armours had pleaded guilty to adulterating foods. It was a mass of such facts fused in a white heat of indignation. United States Senator Beveridge told me that he considered the article the greatest piece of controversial writing he had ever read.
You may find it in the library, Everybody’s for May, 1906. Whatever you think of its literary style, you will see that it is definite and specific, and revealed a most frightful condition in the country’s meat supply, an unquestionable danger to the public health. It was therefore a challenge to every public service agency in the country; above all, it was a challenge to the newspapers, through which the social body is supposed to learn of its dangers and its needs.
It was my first complete test of American Journalism. Hitherto I had tried the newspapers as a young poet, clamoring for recognition; they had called me a self-seeker, and although I felt that the charge was untrue, I was powerless to disprove it to others. But now I tried them in a matter that was obviously in the public interest—too obviously so for dispute. I was still naive enough to be shocked by the result. I had expected that every newspaper which boasted of public spirit would take up these charges, and at least report them; but instead of that, there was silence—silence almost complete! I employed two clipping-bureaus on this story, and received a few brief items from scattered papers here and there. Of all the newspapers in America, not one in two hundred went so far as to mention “The Condemned Meat Industry.”
Meantime The Jungle had been published in book form. I will say of The Jungle just what I said of the magazine article—whatever you may think of it as literature, you must admit that it was packed with facts which constituted an appeal to the American conscience. The book was sent to all American newspapers; also it was widely advertised, it was boosted by one of the most efficient publicity men in the country. And what were the results? I will give a few illustrations.
The most widely read newspaper editor in America is Arthur Brisbane. Brisbane poses as a liberal, sometimes even as a radical; he told me that he drank in Socialism with his mother’s milk. And Brisbane now took me up, just as Robbie Collier had done; he invited me to his home, and wrote one of his famous two- column editorials about The Jungle—a rare compliment to a young author. This editorial treated me personally with kindness; I was a sensitive young poet who had visited the stockyards for the first time and had been horrified by the discovery that animals had blood inside them. With a fatherly pat on the shoulder, Brisbane informed me that a slaughter-house is not an opera-house, or words to that effect.
I remember talking about this editorial with Adolph Smith, representative of the London Lancet. He remarked with dry sarcasm that in a court of justice Brisbane would be entirely safe; his statement that a slaughter-house is not an opera-house was strictly and literally accurate. But if you took what the statement was meant to convey to the reader—that a slaughter- house is necessarily filthy, then the statement was false. “If you go to the municipal slaughter-houses of Germany, you find them as free from odor as an opera-house,” said Adolph Smith; and five or six years later, when I visited Germany, I took the opportunity to verify this statement. But because of the kindness of American editorial writers to the interests which contribute full-page advertisements to newspapers, the American people still have their meat prepared in filth.
Or take the Outlook. The Outlook poses as a liberal publication; its editor preaches what he calls “Industrial Democracy,” a very funny joke. I have dealt with this organ of the “Clerical Camouflage” in five sections of The Profits of Religion; I will not repeat here, except to quote how the pious Outlook dealt with The Jungle. The Outlook had no doubt that there were genuine evils in the packing-plants; the conditions of the workers ought of course to be improved, BUT—
To disgust the reader by dragging him through every conceivable horror, physical and moral, to depict with lurid excitement and with offensive minuteness the life in jail and brothel—all this is to over-reach the object .... Even things actually terrible may become distorted when a writer screams them out in a sensational way and in a high pitched key.... More convincing if it were less hysterical.
Also Elbert Hubbard rushed to the rescue of his best advertising clients. Later in this book you will find a chapter dealing especially with the seer of East Aurora; for the present I will merely quote his comments on my packing-house revelations. His attack upon The Jungle was reprinted by the Chicago packers, and mailed out to the extent of a million copies; every clergyman and every physician in the country received one. I have a copy of his article, as it was sent out by a newspaper syndicate in the form of “plate-matter.” It occupies four newspaper columns, with these head-lines :
ELBERT HUBBARD LASHES THE MUCK-RAKER CROWD.
Says The Jungle Book is a Libel and an Insult to Intelligence, and that This Country is Making Headway as Fast as Stupidity of Reformers Will Admit.
After which it will suffice to quote one paragraph, as follows:
Can it be possible that any one is deceived by this insane rant and drivel?
And also the friend of my boyhood, my beloved New York Evening Post! This organ of arm-chair respectability—I have reference to the large leather receptacles which you find in the Fifth Avenue clubs—had upbraided me for a harmless prank, “The Journal of Arthur Stirling.” Now comes The Jungle; and the Evening Post devotes a column to the book. It is “lurid, overdrawn.... If the author had been a man who cared more for exact truth,” etc. Whereupon I sit myself down and write a polite letter to the editor of the Evening Post, asking will he please tell me upon what he bases this injurious charge. I have made patient investigations in the stockyards, and the publishers of The Jungle have done the same. Will the Evening Post state what investigations it has made? Or does it make this injurious charge against my book without investigation, trusting that its readers will accept its word, and that it will never be brought to book?
This is a fair question, is it not? The organs of armchair respectability ought not to make loose charges against radicals, they ought not condemn without knowledge. So I appeal to my beloved Evening Post, which I have read six times per week for ten or twelve years; and the answer comes: “It is not our custom to permit authors to reply to book-reviews, and we see no reason for departing from our practice in order to permit you to advertise your book and to insult us.” And so the matter rests, until a couple of months later, the President of the United States makes an investigation, and his commission issues a report which vindicates every charge I have made. And now what? Does the Evening Post apologize to me? Does it do anything to make clear to its readers that it has erred in its sneers at The Jungle? The Evening Post says not one word; but it still continues to tell the public that I am unworthy of confidence, because I once played a harmless joke with “The Journal of Arthur Stirling”!
CHAPTER VI: AN ADVENTURE WITH ROOSEVELT
I was determined to get something done about the Condemned Meat Industry. I was determined to get something done about the atrocious conditions under which men, women and children were working in the Chicago stockyards. In my efforts to get something done, I was like an animal in a cage. The bars of this cage were newspapers, which stood between me and the public; and inside the cage I roamed up and down, testing one bar after another, and finding them impossible to break. I wrote letters to newspaper editors; I appealed to public men, I engaged an extra secretary and ran a regular publicity bureau in my home.
It happened that I had occasion to consult the record of the congressional investigations held after the Spanish-American War, into the quality of canned meat furnished by the Chicago packers. Here was Theodore Roosevelt on the witness-stand, declaring: “I would as soon have eaten my old hat.” And now Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States, with power to help me if he would! In a moment of inspiration I decided to appeal to him.
He had already heard about The Jungle, as I learned later; his secretary, Loeb, told me that he had been receiving a hundred letters a day about the book. Roosevelt now wrote, saying that he had requested the Department of Agriculture to make an investigation. I replied that nothing could be expected from such an investigation, because the Department of Agriculture was itself involved in my charges. If he wanted to get the truth, he must do what Doubleday, Page and Company had done, get an independent report. He wrote me to come to Washington, and I had several conferences with him, and he appointed two of his trusted friends to go out to Chicago and make a “secret” investigation. Three days after this decision was made I forwarded a letter to Roosevelt from a working-man in the Chicago stockyards, saying that it was known all over the yards that an investigation was to be made by the government, and that a mad campaign of cleaning up was in progress.
Roosevelt asked me to go with his commission. I was too busy to do this, but I sent Mrs. Ella Reeve Bloor, a Socialist lecturer, and her husband as my representatives, paying the cost out of my own pocket. I knew that they would be trusted by the workers who had trusted me, and thought they might be able to get at least a few of the facts to Roosevelt’s commission. As a matter of fact, they were not able to do very much, because they were shadowed during the entire time by detectives of the packers, and every workingman knew that it would cost him his job to be seen near the commission’s rooms. I found the Socialists of Chicago bitterly distrustful of the commission, and disposed to ridicule me for trying to work with it.
The news of what was going on soon leaked into the newspapers of Chicago. They had already published vicious attacks upon The Jungle; and upon me. One paper—I forget the name—had remarked that it was quite evident that I knew more about the inside of the brothels of Chicago than I knew about the stockyards. This, you understand, in a book-review! I replied to this that possibly the editor might be interested to know the exact facts in the case: I had spent seven weeks patiently investigating every corner of the stockyards, and I have never been inside a brothel in my life.
Now there began to be dispatches from Washington, so phrased as to turn the investigation against me instead of against the packers. Finally there appeared in the Tribune a column or two from Washington, signed by Raymond Patterson, editor of the paper. This dispatch stated in specific and precise detail that President Roosevelt was conducting a confidential investigation into the truth of The Jungle, intending to issue a denunciation and annihilate a muck-raking author. On the day when this story appeared in the Chicago Tribune, I received seventeen telegrams from friends in Chicago!
One of the telegrams—from A. M. Simons—declared that the author of the Tribune dispatch was Roosevelt’s personal friend. So, of course, I was considerably disturbed, and spent the day trying to get Roosevelt on the telephone from Princeton, not an easy achievement. First he was at a cabinet session, then he was at luncheon, then he had gone horseback riding; but finally, after spending my day in the telephone-office in Princeton, I heard his voice, and this is what he said: “Mr. Sinclair, I have been in public life longer than you, and I will give you this bit of advice; if you pay any attention to what the newspapers say about you, you will have an unhappy time.” So I went home to bed. The next time I saw Roosevelt he told me that he had not seen Raymond Patterson, nor had he said anything about his intentions to anyone. “I don’t see how Patterson could have done such a thing,” was Roosevelt’s comment.
The commissioners came back to Washington, and I went down to see them. They were amazingly frank; they told me everything they had seen, and everything that was in their report to the President, nor did they place any seal of confidence upon me. I realized that I was dealing with people who desired publicity, and I had sufficient worldly tact to know that it would be better not to mention this point, but simply to go ahead and do what all parties concerned wanted done.
The report was known to be in the President’s hands, and he had summoned the chairmen of the agricultural committees of the House and Senate, and was holding the report as a threat over their heads to force them to amend the Federal meat inspection law. The newspaper reporters all knew what was going on, and were crazy for news. I returned to my little farm at Princeton, and packed up a suit-case full of documents, letters, affidavits and official reports, and came to New York and called up the offices of the Associated Press.
Here was a sensation, not only nation-wide, but international; here was the whole world clamoring for news about one particular matter of supreme public importance. There had been an investigation by the President of the United States of one of America’s greatest industries, and I had been tacitly commissioned to make the results known to the public, for the benefit of the public, whose physical health was at stake. I came to the great press association, an organization representing at that time some seven hundred newspapers, with scores of millions of readers, hungry for news. The Associated Press was the established channel through which the news was supposed to flow; and in this crisis the channel proved to be a concrete wall.
I was about to describe the thickness of the wall, but I stop myself, remembering my pledge to tell the exact facts. I do not know the thickness of this wall, because I have never been able to dig through it. I only know that it is as thick as all the millions of dollars of all the vested interests of America can build it. I first telephoned, and then sent a letter by special messenger to the proper officials of the Associated Press, but they would have absolutely nothing to do with me or my news. Not only on that day, but throughout my entire campaign against the Beef Trust, they never sent out a single line injurious to the interests of the packers, save for a few lines dealing with the Congressional hearings, which they could not entirely suppress.
It is the thesis of this book that American newspapers as a whole represent private interests and not public interests. But there will be occasions upon which exception to this rule is made; for in order to be of any use at all, the newspapers must have circulation, and to get circulation they must pretend to care about the public. There is keen competition among them, and once in a while it will happen that a “scoop” is too valuable to be thrown away. Newspapermen are human, and cannot be blamed by their owners if now and then they yield to the temptation to publish the news. So I had found it with Everybody’s Magazine, and so now I found it when I went with my suit-case full of documents to the office of the New York Times.
I arrived about ten o’clock at night, having wasted the day waiting upon the Associated Press. I was received by C. V. Van Anda, managing editor of the Times—and never before or since have I met such a welcome in a newspaper office. I told them I had the entire substance of the confidential report of Roosevelt’s investigating committee, and they gave me a private room and two expert stenographers, and I talked for a few minutes to one stenographer, and then for a few minutes to the other stenographer, and so the story was dashed off in about an hour. Knowing the Times as I have since come to know it, I have often wondered if they would have published this story if they had had twenty-four hours to think, and to be interviewed by representatives of the packers. But they didn’t have twenty-four hours, they only had two hours. They were caught in a whirlwind of excitement, and at one o’clock in the morning my story was on the press, occupying a part of the front page and practically all of the second page.
The question had been raised as to how the story should be authenticated. The Times met the problem by putting the story under a Washington “date-line”—that is, they told their readers that one of their clever correspondents in the capital had achieved this “scoop.” Being new to the newspaper game, I was surprised at this, but I have since observed that it is a regular trick of newspapers. When the Socialist revolution took place in Germany, I happened to be in Pasadena, and the Los Angeles Examiner called me up to ask what I knew about the personalities in the new government. So next morning the Examiner had a full description of Ebert and a detailed dispatch from Copenhagen!
The New York Times, having put its hand to the plough, went a long way down the furrow. For several days they published my material. I gave them the address of the Bloors, and they sent a reporter to Delaware to interview them, and get the inside story of the commission’s experiences in Chicago; this also went on the front page. All these stories the Times sold to scores of newspapers all over the country—newspapers which should have received them through the Associated Press, had the Associated Press been a news channel instead of a concrete wall. The Times, of course, made a fortune out of these sales; yet it never paid me a dollar for what I gave it, nor did it occur to me to expect a dollar. I only mention this element to show how under the profit-system even the work of reform, the service of humanity, is exploited. I have done things like this, not once but hundreds of times in my life; yet I read continually in the newspapers the charge that I am in the business of muck-raking for money. I have read such insinuations even in the New York Times!
Also I had another experience which threw light on the attitude of the great metropolitan newspapers to the subject of money. It is the custom of publishers to sell to newspaper syndicates what are called the “post-publication serial rights” of a book. The Jungle having become an international sensation, there was keen bidding for these serial rights, and they were finally sold to the New York American for two thousand dollars, of which the author received half. Forthwith the editorial writers of both the Hearst papers in New York, the American and the Evening Journal, began to sing the praises of The Jungle. You will recall the patronizing tone in which Arthur Brisbane had spoken of my charges against the Chicago packers. But now suddenly Brisbane lost all his distrust of my competence as an authority on stockyards. In the Evening Journal for May 29, 1906, there appeared a double-column editorial, running over into another double column, celebrating The Jungle and myself in emphatic capitals, and urging the American people to read my all-important revelations of the infamies of the Beef Trust:
In his book—which ought to be read by at least a million Americans—Mr. Sinclair traces the career of one family. It is a book that does for modern INDUSTRIAL slavery what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for black slavery. But the work is done far better and more accurately in The Jungle than in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Mr. Sinclair lived in the stockyards. He saw how the men that work there are treated, how the people that buy dreadful, diseased products are treated. HE TOLD THE TRUTH SIMPLY AND CONVINCINGLY. He went there to study life, not merely to tell a story.
As a result of the writing of this book, of the horror and the shame it has aroused, there is a good prospect that the Beef Trust devilries will be CHECKED at least, and one hideous phase of modern life at least modified.....
Meanwhile, the public should be thankful to Mr. Sinclair for the public service he is rendering, and his book The Jungle should sell as no book has sold in America since Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
And then on May 31st, two days later, appeared another editorial of the same character, conveying to the readers of the Evening Journal the fact that they might read this wonderful novel in the Hearst newspapers; the first chapter would be published in both the Evening Journal and the American, and after that the complete story would run in the American. The ordinary capitals used by Mr. Brisbane in his editorials were not sufficient in this crisis; he used a couple of sizes larger—almost an advertising poster. I quote the closing paragraphs from his editorial:
It will please our readers to know that for the right to publish Mr. Sinclair’s book serially in our newspapers—which includes no interest whatever in its publication in book form—we pay to him an amount of money exceeding all that he has been able to earn in six years of hard literary work.
This newspaper, which has opposed the Beef Trust and its iniquities for years, and which first published the facts and the affidavits that form part of Mr. Sinclair’s indictment, rejoices that this young man should have had the will, the courage and the ability to write a work that HAS FORCED NATIONAL ATTENTION, including the attention of the President of the United States......
We urge that you read the first installment of Mr. Sinclair’s book in this newspaper to-day, and that you continue reading it daily as the various installments appear in THE AMERICAN.
CHAPTER VII: JACKALS AND A CARCASE
Roosevelt had hoped to get the new inspection bill through Congress without giving out the report of his commission. But the packers and their employes in Congress blocked his bill, and so finally the report was given out, and caused a perfect whirlwind of public indignation. The packers, fighting for their profits, made their stand in the Agricultural Committees of the House, which apparently they owned completely. Courteous hearings were granted to every kind of retainer of the Beef Trust, while the two representatives of the President were badgered on the witness-stand as if they had been criminals on trial. I sent a telegram to Congressman Wadsworth of New York, chairman of the committee, asking for a hearing, and my request was refused. I then wrote a letter to Congressman Wadsworth, in which I told him what I thought of him and his committee—which letter was taken up later by his democratic opponents in his district, and resulted in his permanent removal from public life.
But meantime, Wadsworth was king. In the fight against him, I moved my publicity bureau up to New York, and put three stenographers at work. I worked twenty hours a day myself—nor was I always able to sleep the other four hours. I had broken out of the cage for a few weeks, and I made the most of my opportunity. I wrote articles, and sent telegrams, and twice every day, morning and evening, a roomful of reporters came to see me. Some of these men became my friends, and would tell me what the packers were doing in the New York newspaper-offices, and also with their lobby in Washington. I recall one amusing experience, which gave me a glimpse behind the scenes of two rival yellow journals, the New York Evening World and the New York Evening Journal.
The Evening Journal sent a reporter to see me. Would I write an article every day, telling what I knew about conditions among working-girls in New York? I signed a contract with the Journal for a month or two, and that same evening all the wagons which delivered papers for the Journal were out with huge signs over them: “Upton Sinclair will write, etc., etc.” Then next day came my friend William Dinwiddie, representing the Evening World. Would I write a series of articles for the Evening World? Certainly I would, I said, and signed a contract for a number of articles at five cents a word; so all the wagons of the World appeared with the announcement that I would tell in the World what I knew about conditions in the packing-houses of New York. And the editorial writers of the Evening World, who had hitherto ignored my existence, now suddenly discovered that I was a great man. They put my picture at the top of their editorial page, celebrating me in this fashion:
A BOOK THAT MADE HISTORY
Not since Byron awoke one morning to find himself famous has there been such an example of world-wide celebrity won in a day by a book as has come to Upton Sinclair.
Yesterday unknown, the author of The Jungle is to-day a familiar name on two continents. Paris, London and Berlin know him only less well than New York and Boston. They know about him even in far-off Australia.
Forthwith came the man from the Journal, all but tearing his hair with excitement. What unspeakable treachery was this I had committed? Was it true that I had promised to write for the World, as well as for the Journal? I answered that it was, of course. “But,” said this man, “you gave me an exclusive contract.” “I gave you nothing of the sort,” I said, and pulled out the contract to prove it. “But,” said he, “you promised me personally that it would be an exclusive contract.” “I promised you nothing of the sort,” I said. “I never thought of such a thing.” But he argued and insisted—I must have known, my common-sense must have told me that my stories for them were of no value, if at the same time I was writing for their deadly rival. I was rather shocked at that statement. Were they entirely interested in a “scoop,” and not at all in the working girls of New York? “To hell with the working girls of New York!" said the Hearst reporter; whereat, of course, I was still more shocked.
For three days this man from the Journal and other men from the Journal kept bombarding and besieging me; and I, poor devil, suffered agonies of embarrassment and distress, being sensitive, and not able to realize that this was an every-day matter to them—they were a pack of jackals trying to tear a carcase away from another pack of jackals. But when I stood by my contract with the Evening World, the Journal dropped its contract, and lost its interest, not merely in the working-girls of New York, but also in the sins of the Chicago packers.
The lobbyists of the packers had their way in Washington; the meat inspection bill was deprived of all its sharpest teeth, and in that form Roosevelt accepted it and prepared to let the subject drop. I was bitterly disappointed, the more so because he had made no move about the matter which lay nearest my heart. I had made a remark about The Jungle which was found amusing—that “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” It is a fact that I had not been nearly so interested in the “condemned meat industry” as in something else. To me the diseased meat graft had been only one of a hundred varieties of graft which I saw in that inferno of exploitation. My main concern had been for the fate of the workers, and I realized with bitterness that I had been made into a “celebrity,” not because the public cared anything about the sufferings of these workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef.
I had objected to Roosevelt that he was giving all his attention to the subject of meat-inspection, and none to the subject of labor-inspection. His answer was that he had power to remedy the former evils, but no power to remedy the latter. I tried to persuade him to agitate the question and obtain the power; but I tried in vain. The Jungle caused the whitewashing of some packing-house walls, and it furnished jobs for a dozen or two lady-manicurists, but it left the wage-slaves in those huge brick packing-boxes exactly where they were before. Ten years later the war broke out, and as these wage-slaves became restive, an investigation was made. Here are a few paragraphs describing the adventures of the Federal investigators:
The first four homes brought expressions of horror from the women of the party, dark, insanitary, pest-ridden rooms and foodless kitchens.
Mrs. Belbine Skupin. Working in the yards. The six Skupin children in their home at 4819 Laflin Street, hugging the stove and waiting for “mother to return.” “I didn’t think such things existed outside the books,” said one indignant young lady visitor, Miss Walsh.
In one home, seven children found. Youngest, a baby of fourteen months; oldest, a boy of eight years. Baby “mothered” by girl of four. Father and mother work in stock-yards. Children had no shoes or stockings and flimsy underwear. No food in house except pot of weak coffee, loaf of rye bread and kettle containing mess of cabbage. But in the basement was a ‘conservation’ card, bearing the motto “Don’t waste food.”
I look back upon this campaign, to which I gave three years of brain and soul-sweat, and ask what I really accomplished. Old Nelson Morris died of a broken conscience. I took a few millions away from him, and from the Armours and the Swifts—giving them to the Junkers of East Prussia, and to Paris bankers who were backing enterprises to pack meat in the Argentine. I added a hundred thousand readers to Everybody’s Magazine, and a considerable number to the New York Times. I made a fortune and a reputation for Doubleday, Page and Company, which immediately became one the most conservative publishing-houses in America—using The Jungle money to promote the educational works of Andrew Carnegie, and the autobiography of John D. Rockefeller, and the obscene ravings of the Reverend Thomas Dixon, and the sociological bunkum of Gerald Stanley Lee. I took my next novel to Doubleday, Page and Company, and old Walter Page was enthusiastic for it, and wanted to publish it; but the shrewd young business-men saw that The Metropolis was not going to be popular with the big trust companies and insurance companies which fill up the advertising pages of the World’s Work. They told me that The Metropolis was not a novel, but a piece of propaganda; it was not “art.” I looked them in the eye and said: “You are announcing a new novel by Thomas Dixon. Is that ‘art’?”
Quite recently I tried them again with King Coal, and they did not deny that King Coal was “art.” But they said: “We think you had better find some publisher who is animated by a great faith.” It is a phrase which I shall remember as long as I live; a perfect phrase, which any comment would spoil. I bought up the plates of The Jungle, which Doubleday, Page and Company had allowed to go out of print—not being “animated by a great faith.” I hope some time to issue the book in a cheap edition, and to keep it in circulation until the wage-slaves of the Beef Trust have risen and achieved their freedom. Meantime, it is still being read—and still being lied about. I have before me a clipping from a Seattle paper. Some one has written to ask if The Jungle is a true book. The editor replies, ex cathedra, that President Roosevelt made an investigation of the charges of The Jungle, and thoroughly disproved them all!
And again, here is my friend Edwin E. Slosson, literary editor of the Independent, a man who has sense enough to know better than he does. He reviews The Profits of Religion in the brief fashion:
The author of The Jungle has taken to muck-raking the churches—with similar success at unearthing malodorous features and similar failure to portray a truthful picture.
I write to Slosson, just as I wrote to the New York Evening Post, to ask what investigation he has made, and what evidence he can produce to back up his charge that The Jungle is not a “truthful picture”; and there comes the surprising reply that it had never occurred to Slosson that I myself meant The Jungle for a truthful picture. I had not portrayed the marvelous business efficiency of the Stockyards, their wonderful economies, etc.; and no picture that failed to do that could claim to be truthful! That explanation apparently satisfied my friend Slosson, but it did not satisfy the readers of the Independent—for the reason that Slosson did not give them an opportunity to read it! He did not publish or mention my protest, and he left his readers to assume, as they naturally would, that the Independent considered that I had exaggerated the misery of the Stockyards workers.
CHAPTER VIII: THE LAST ACT
I am telling this story chronologically, but in dealing with a subject like The Jungle it seems better to skip ahead and close the matter up. There was a last act of this Packingtown drama, about which the public has never heard. The limelight had been turned out, the audience had gone home, and this act was played in darkness and silence.
A year had passed and I was living at Point Pleasant, New Jersey, when W. W. Harris, editor of the Sunday magazine-section of the New York Herald, came to call on me, and explained a wonderful idea. He wanted me to go to Chicago secretly, as I had gone before, and make another investigation in the Stockyards, and write for the New York Herald an article entitled “Packingtown a Year Later.”
He was a young editor, full of enthusiasm. He said: “Mr. Sinclair, I know enough about the business-game to feel quite sure that all the reforms we read about are fakes. What do you think?"
I answered, “I know they are fakes, because not a week passes that I don’t get a letter from some of the men in Packingtown, telling me that things are as bad as ever.” And I showed him a letter, one sentence of which I recall: “The new coat of whitewash has worn off the filthy old walls, and the only thing left is the row of girls who manicure the nails of those who pack the sliced dried beef in front of the eyes of the visitors!"
“Exactly!" said the editor. “It will make the biggest newspaper story the Herald has ever published.”
“Possibly,” said I. “But are you sure the Herald will publish it?"
“No worry about that,” said he. “I am the man who has the say.”
“But where is Bennett?"
“Bennett is in Bermuda.”
“Well,” said I, “do you imagine you could sign a contract with me, and put such a job through, and get such a story on the Herald presses without Bennett’s getting word of it?"
“Bennett will be crazy for the story,” said the editor. “Bennett is a newspaper man.”
“Well, you have to show me.”
I explained that I was writing another novel, and was not willing to stop, but my friend Mrs. Ella Reeve Bloor, who had represented me with Roosevelt’s investigating committee, would do the work. Let the Herald send Mrs. Bloor and one of its own reporters, to make sure that Mrs. Bloor played the game straight; and when the investigation was made, I would write an introductory statement, which would lend my name to the articles, and make them as effective as if I had gone to Packingtown myself. But first, before I would trouble Mrs. Bloor, or do anything at all about the matter, the editor must put it before Bennett and show me his written consent to the undertaking. “I am busy,” I said. “I don’t care to waste my time upon a wild goose chase.” The editor agreed that that was reasonable, and took his departure.
James Gordon Bennett, the younger, was the son of the man who had founded the New York Herald, establishing the sensational, so-called “popular” journalism which Pulitzer and Hearst afterwards took up and carried to extremes. Bennett, the elder, had been a real newspaper man; his son had been a debauché and spendthrift in his youth, and was now in his old age an embittered and cynical invalid, travelling in his yacht from Bermuda to the Riviera, and occasionally resorting to the capitals of Europe for fresh dissipations. He had made his paper the organ of just such men as himself; that is to say, of cosmopolitan café loungers, with one eye on the stock-ticker and the other on their “scotch and soda.” And this was the publisher who was to take up a new crusade against the Beef Trust!
But to my surprise, the editor came back with a cablegram from Bennett, bidding him go ahead with the story. So I put the matter before Mrs. Bloor, and she and the Herald reporter went out to the Stockyards and spent about two months. Mrs. Bloor disguised herself as a Polish woman, and both she and the reporter obtained jobs in half a dozen different places in the yards. They came back, reporting that conditions were worse than ever; they wrote their story, enough to fill an eight-page Sunday supplement, with numerous photographs of the scenes described. There was a conference of the editorial staff of the Herald, which agreed that the story was the greatest the paper had ever had in its history. It must be read by Mr. Bennett, the staff decided. So it was mailed to Bermuda—which was the last ever seen or heard of it!
Week after week I waited for the story to appear. When I learned that it was not to appear I was, of course, somewhat irritated. I threatened to sue the Herald for payment for the time I had spent writing the introduction, but I found myself confronting this dilemma: the enthusiastic young editor was a Socialist, and if I made trouble, he was the one who would be hurt. So I decided to forego my money-claim on the Herald. But I would not give up the story—that was a public matter. The public had been fooled into believing that there had been reforms in Packingtown; the public was continuing to eat tubercular beef-steaks, and I was bound that somehow or other the public should get the facts. I wrote up the story and submitted it to other newspapers in New York. Not one would touch it. I submitted it to President Roosevelt, and he replied that he was sorry, but was too busy to take the matter up. “Teddy” was a shrewd politician, and knew how hard it is to warm up dead ashes, how little flavor there is in re-cooked food.
I knew, of course, that I could publish the story in the Socialist papers. That has always been my last recourse. But I wanted this story to reach the general public; I was blindly determined about it. There was a big Socialist meeting at the Hippodrome in New York, and I went up to the city and asked for fifteen minutes at this meeting. I told the story to an audience of five or six thousand people, and with reporters from every New York paper in front of me. Not a single New York paper, except the Socialist paper, mentioned the matter next morning.
But still I would not give up. I said: “This is a Chicago story. If I tell it in Chicago, public excitement may force it into the press.” So I telegraphed some of my friends in Chicago. I planned the most dramatic thing I could think of—I asked them to get me a meeting in the Stockyards district, and they answered that they would.
Mind you, a little over a year before I had put Packingtown on the map of the world, I had made Packingtown and its methods the subject of discussion at the dinner-tables of many countries; and now I was coming back to Packingtown for the first time since that event. There was a big hall, jammed to the very doors with Stockyards workers. You will pardon me if I say that they made it clear that they were glad to have me come there. And to this uproarious audience I told the story of the New York Herald investigation, and what had been discovered. I stood, looking into the faces of these workingmen and women, and said: “You are the people who know about these matters. Are they true?" There was a roar of assent that rocked the building. I said: " I know they are true, and you know they are true. Now tell me this, ought they be made known to the American people? Would you like them to be made known to the American people?" And again there was a roar of assent.
Then I looked over the edge of the platform to a row of tables, where sat the reporters looking up, and I talked to them for a while. I said: “You are newspaper men; you know a story when you see it. Tell me now—tell me straight—is not this a story?” The newspaper men nodded and grinned. They knew it was a “story” all right. “The public would like to read this—the public of Chicago and the public of all the rest of America—would they not?” And again the newspaper men nodded and grinned. “Now,” said I, “play fair with me; give me a square deal, so far as you are concerned. Write this story just as I have told it tonight. Write it and turn it in and see what happens. Will you do that?” And they pledged themselves, the audience saw them pledge themselves. And so the test was made, as perfect a test as anyone could conceive. And next morning there was just one newspaper in Chicago which mentioned my speech in the Stockyards district—the Chicago Socialist. Not one line in any other newspaper, morning or evening, in Chicago!
A little later I happened to be on the Pacific coast, and made the test once more. I was putting on some plays, and it happened that a newspaper had played me a dirty trick that morning. So in my curtain-speech I said what I thought of American newspapers, and told this Chicago story. Just one newspaper in San Francisco published a line about the matter, and that was the Bulletin, edited by Fremont Older, who happened to be a personal friend, and one of the few independent newspaper editors in America. Excepting for Socialist papers, the Bulletin has the distinction of being the only American newspaper which has ever printed that story.
I say the only American newspaper; I might say the only newspaper in the world. Some time afterwards there was a scandal about American meat in England, and the London Daily Telegraph requested me to cable them “without limit” any information I had as to present conditions in Packingtown. I sent them a couple of thousand words of this New York Herald story, but they did not publish a line of it. They had, of course, the fear that they might be sued for libel by the Herald. It is no protection to you in England that you are publishing the truth, for the maxim of the law of England is: “The greater the truth the greater the libel.” Also, no doubt, they were influenced by newspaper solidarity—a new kind of honor among thieves.
CHAPTER IX: AIMING AT THE PUBLIC’S HEART
The publication of The Jungle had brought me pitiful letters from workingmen and women in others of our great American slave-pens, and I went to Ridgway of Everybody’s with the proposition to write a series of articles dealing with the glass industry, the steel industry, the coal-mines, the cotton-mills, the lumber-camps. I offered to do all the work of investigating myself; my proposition was accepted and I set to work.
I went first to the glass-works of South Jersey, where I saw little children working all night in eleven-hour shifts, carrying heavy trays of red-hot glass bottles. Other children worked at the same tasks in the blazing heat of summer, and sometimes they fainted and had their eyes burned out by hot glass. When the State child-labor inspector came, he was courteous enough to notify the superintendent of the glass-works in advance, and so the under-age children were collected in the passageway through which fresh air was blown to the furnaces. I told the story of one little Italian boy who had to walk several miles on the railroad- track to his home after his all-night labors. He fell asleep from exhaustion on the way and the train ran over him. I submitted this article to Everybody’s, who sent one of their editors to check up my facts. I recall one remark in his report, which was that he could not see that the little boys in the glass-factories were any worse off than those who sold newspapers on the streets of New York. My answer was that this was not a reason for altering the glass-article; it was a reason for adding an article about the news-boys!
Meantime I was investigating the steel-mills of Alleghany County. I spent a long time at this task, tracing out some of the ramifications of graft in the politics and journalism of Pittsburgh. The hordes of foreign labor recruited abroad and crowded into these mills were working, some of them twelve hours a day for seven days in the week, and were victims of every kind of oppression and extortion. An elaborate system of spying crushed out all attempt at organization. I talked with the widow of one man, a Hungarian, who had had the misfortune to be caught with both legs under the wheels of one of the gigantic travelling cranes. In order to save his legs it would have been necessary to take the crane to pieces, which would have cost several thousand dollars; so they ran over his legs and cut them off and paid him two hundred dollars damages.
This article also I brought to Everybody’s, and watched the process of the chilling of their editorial feet. What influences were brought to bear to cause their final break with me, I do not know; but this I have observed in twenty years of watching—there are few magazines that dare to attack the Steel Trust, and there are no politicians who dare it. Our little fellows among the corporations, our ten and hundred million dollar trusts, are now and then fair game for some muck-raker or demagogue; but our billion dollar corporation is sacred, and if any one does not know it, he is taught it quickly.
While I am on the subject of Everybody’s, I might as well close my account with them. They had gained the purpose of their “muck-raking” campaign—that is, half a million readers at two dollars per year each, and one or two hundred pages of advertising each month at five hundred dollars a page. So year by year one observed their youthful fervors dying. They found it possible to discover good things in American politics and industry. They no longer appreciate my style of muck-raking; they do not stop their presses to put on my articles. Again and again I have been to them, and they are always friendly and polite, but they always turn me down. Three or four years ago, I remember, they published an editorial, telling what wonderful people they were; they had been over their files, and gave a long list of the campaigns which they had undertaken for the benefit of the American people. Whereupon I wrote them a letter, asking them to take up this list and test it by the one real test that counted. From the point of view of a magazine, of course, it suffices if the public is told it is being robbed. That brings readers to the magazine; but what good does it do the public, if the robbery continues, and if the magazine drops the subject, and makes no move to get back the stolen money, or even to stop the future stealings? Let Everybody’s apply the one test that had any meaning—let them point out one instance where their exposures had resulted in changing the ownership of a dollar from the hands of predatory exploiters to the hands of their victims!
I was in position to bear witness in one of the cases cited by Everybody’s Magazine. I knew that the condemned meat industry was still flourishing, I knew that the wage-slaves of Packingtown were still being sweated and bled. I knew also that the campaign of Tom Lawson had brought no result. Everybody’s had clamored for laws to prevent stock-gambling and manipulation, but no such laws had been passed, and Everybody’s had dropped the subject. What had the magazine to say about the matter? Needless to add, the magazine had nothing to say about it; they did not answer my letter, they did not publish my letter. They have been taken over by the Butterick Publishing Company, and are an adjunct of the dress-pattern trade, not an organ of public welfare. For years I continued to look over the magazine month by month, lured by vain hopes; it has been several years since I have found an article with any trace of social conscience. They have just finished a series of articles on After-the-War Reconstruction, which for futility were unexampled; after glancing over these articles, I removed Everybody’s from that small list of magazines whose contents repay the labor of turning over the pages.
CHAPTER X: A VOICE FROM RUSSIA
For the sake of consecutiveness in this narrative, I have put off mention of a newspaper-sensation which occurred during my Jungle campaign, and which I happened to observe from the inside. I am glad to tell this story, because it gives the reader a chance to hear about the troubles of another man than Upton Sinclair.
First, picture to yourself the plight of the Russian people in the spring of 1906: one or two hundred million people held down by the most brutal tyranny of modern times, all knowledge withheld from them, their leaders, their best brains and consciences systematically exiled, slaughtered, tortured to death in dungeons. The people had been led into an imperialist war with Japan, and after a humiliating defeat were making an effort at freedom. This effort was being crushed with constantly increasing ferocity, and the cry of despair of the Russian people now echoed throughout the whole of civilization.
Among these enslaved masses was one man who by titanic genius had raised himself to world fame. Nor had fame spoiled or seduced him; he stood a heroic figure, championing the rights of his people before the world. He came to America to plead for them, and to raise funds for their cause. Never since the days of Kossuth had there been an appeal which should have roused the American people to greater enthusiasm than this visit of Maxim Gorky.
A group of American Socialists went out on the revenue-cutter “Hudson” to meet Gorky’s steamer in the harbor; among them I remember Gaylord Wilshire, Abraham Cahan, Leroy Scott. There were also reporters from all the newspapers, and on the way down the bay a reporter for the World came to Wilshire and asked if he had heard a report to the effect that the lady who was coming as Gorky’s wife, Madame Andreieva, was not legally his wife. Wilshire answered by explaining to the reporter the situation existing in Russia: that marriage and divorce there were a graft of the orthodox church. It cost a good deal to get married, and it cost still more to get a divorce; the money you paid went to the support of fat and sensual priests, who were occupied in conducting pogroms, and keeping the peasantry of the country in superstition and slavery. Naturally, all Russian revolutionists repudiated this church, and paid it no money, for marriage or divorce or any other purpose. The revolutionists had their own marriage code which they recognized. Gorky had complied with this code, and regarded Madame Andreieva as his wife, and everybody who knew him regarded her as his wife, and had no idea that she was not his wife. The reporters of other papers had gathered about, listening to this explanation, and they all agreed that the American public had no concern with the marriage customs of Russia, and that this story had nothing to do with Gorky’s present mission.
Gorky went to the Hotel Belleclaire, as Wilshire’s guest. From the moment of his arrival he was the object of several different intrigues. In the first place there was the embassy of the Tsar, who was hanging and shooting Gorky’s partisans in Russia, and naturally spared no labor or treasure to destroy him in America. A spy of the embassy afterwards confessed that it was he who took the story about Gorky’s unorthodox marriage to the New York newspapers, and who later on succeeded in persuading the World to make use of it.
Then there were representatives of the various newspaper syndicates and magazines and publishing-houses, which wanted Gorky’s writings, and were besieging his friends. And then there were two different groups of radicals, competing for his favor—the “Friends of Russian Freedom,” settlement-workers and folks of that sort, many of whom have since become Socialists, but who in those days were carefully bourgeois and painfully respectable, confining their revolutionary aims strictly to Russia; and the American Socialists, who knew that Gorky was an internationalist like themselves, and wished to use his prestige for the benefit of the American movement, as well as for the Russian movement.
It happened that at this time Moyer and Haywood were being tried for their lives, and this case was the test upon which the right and left wings were dividing. Gaylord Wilshire, who was then publishing a Socialist magazine in New York, drafted a telegram of sympathy to Moyer and Haywood, and submitted it to Madame Andreieva, proposing that Gorky should sign it. Which, of course, threw the “Friends of Russian Freedom” into a panic. If Gorky supported Moyer and Haywood, he would get no money from the liberal millionaires of New York, the Schiffs and the Strausses and the Guggenheims and the rest, who might be persuaded to subsidize the Russian revolution, but who had no interest in industrial freedom for America! The matter was explained to Gorky, and he gave his decision: he was an international Socialist, and he would protest against the railroading of two radical labor leaders to the gallows. He signed the telegram, and it was sent, and next morning, of course, the New York newspapers were horrified, and the Russian Embassy got busy, and President Roosevelt cancelled a reception for Gorky at the White House!
But the worst mistake that Gorky made was in his contracts for his writings. He fell into the very same trap that I have told about in Chapter VII—he signed a contract with the New York Journal, and thereby incurred the furious enmity of the New York World! So then the editors of the World remembered that story which they had got from the Russian Embassy; or maybe the Embassy reminded them of it again. By this story they could destroy entirely the news-value of Gorky’s writings; they could render worthless the contract with their hated rival! That incidentally they would help to hold one or two hundred million people in slavery and torment for an indefinite number of years—that weighed with the staff of the World not a feather-weight.
Next morning the World came out with a scare-story on the front page, to the effect that Maxim Gorky had insulted the American people by coming to visit them and introducing his mistress as his wife. And instantly, of course, the news- channels were opened wide—the Russian Embassy saw to that. (Do you recollect the fact that the general manager of the Associated Press went to Russia and received a decoration from the Tsar?)
From Maine to California, American provincialism quivered with indignation and horror. That night Gorky and his “mistress” were invited to leave the Hotel Belleclaire. They went to another hotel, and were refused admittance there. They went to an apartment-house and were refused admittance there. They spent a good part of the small hours of the morning wandering about the streets of New York, until friends picked them up and whisked them away to a place which has never been revealed. And next morning all this shameful and humiliating story was flaunted on the front page of the newspapers—especially, of course, the New York World.
A perfect flood of abuse was poured over the head of poor, bewildered Gorky; the clergy began to preach sermons about him, and our great, wise, virtuous statesmen, who were maintaining a “house of Mirth” in Albany, and high-class houses of prostitution in every State capital and in the National capital, joined in denunciations of this display of “foreign licentiousness.” So Gorky’s mission fell absolutely flat. His writings were scorned, and all he had to send to his heroic friends in Russia was the few dollars he himself was able to earn. I saw him several times during the year or two he stayed in America, first on Staten Island and then in the Adirondacks: a melancholy and pitiful figure, this Russian giant who had come to make his appeal to the heart of a great and liberal people, and had been knocked down and torn to pieces by the obscene vultures of commercial journalism. Even now the story is raked up, to serve the slave-drivers of the world. Gorky is defending his revolution against allied world-capitalism; the United States Senate is officially collecting scandal concerning the Bolsheviki; and Senator Knute Nelson, aged servant of privilege from Minnesota, puts these words on the Associated Press wires: “That horrible creature Maxim Gorky—he is about as immoral as a man can be.”
CHAPTER XI: A VENTURE IN CO-OPERATION
The next experience with which I have to deal is the Helicon Home Colony. I will begin by telling very briefly what this was: an attempt to solve the problem of the small family of moderate means, who have one or two children and are not satisfied with the sort of care these children get from ignorant servant-maids, nor with the amount of playspace they can find in a city apartment. I wrote an article in the Independent, pointing out that the amount of money which these people spent in maintaining separate kitchens and separate nurseries would, if expended in co-operation, enable them to have expert managers, and a kindergartner instead of a servant-girl to take care of their children. I proposed that a group of forward-looking people should get together and establish what might be called a home-club, or a hotel owned and run by its guests. There was nothing so very radical about this idea, for up in the Adirondacks are a number of clubs whose members rent cottages in the summertime and eat their meals in a club dining-room. Why might there not be in the same community a school, owned and run by the parents of the children?
The economic importance of the idea, if it could be made to work, would be beyond exaggerating. There are twenty million families in America, maintaining twenty million separate kitchens, with twenty million stoves and twenty million fires, twenty million sets of dishes to be washed, twenty million separate trips to market to be made. The waste involved in this is beyond calculation; I believe that when our system of universal dog-eat-dog has been abolished, and the souls of men and women have risen upon the wings of love and fellowship, they will look back on us in our twenty million separate kitchens as we look upon the Eskimos in their filthy snow-huts lighted with walrus-blubber.
Here was a man who had made thirty thousand dollars from a book, risking the whole of it, and giving all his time to an effort to demonstrate that fifty or sixty intelligent people might solve this problem, might learn to co-operate in their housekeeping, and save a part of their time for study and play. Here were the newspaper-editors of New York City, who were supposed to report the experiment, and who behaved like a band of Brazilian Indians, hiding in the woods about Helicon Hall and shooting the inmates full of poisoned arrows. Upton Sinclair and his little group of co-workers became a public spectacle, a free farce-comedy for the great Metropolis of Mammon. The cynical newspaper editors, whose first maxim in life is that nothing can ever be changed, picked out their cleverest young wits and sent them to spy in our nursery, and eavesdrop in our pantry, and report all the absurdities they could see or hear or invent.
The procedure was so dishonest that even the reporters themselves sickened of it. There was one young man who used to come every Sunday, to write us up in Monday’s New York Sun; for, you see, on Mondays there is generally scarcity of news, and we served as comic relief to the sermons of the Fifth Avenue clergy. The Sun, of course, treated us according to its tradition—as in the old days it had treated “Sorosis” and the “Populists.” “Mr. Sinclair,” said this young reporter, “you’ve got an awfully interesting place here, and I like the people, and feel like a cur to have to write as I do; but you know what the Sun is.” I answered that I knew. “Well,” said the reporter, “can’t you think of something amusing that I can write about, that won’t do any harm?” So I thought. I had brought a collie dog from my farm at Princeton, and three times this dog had strayed or been stolen. “You might write about the dog instead of about the people,” I said. So next morning there were two or three columns in the New York Sun, making merry over this latest evidence of the failure of co-operative housekeeping! Upton Sinclair’s dog refused to stay at Helicon Hall!
And then there was the famous adventure with Sadakichi Hartmann. One day there arrived a post-card, reading “Sadakichi Hartmann will call.” The announcement had a sort of royal sound, and I made inquiry and ascertained that I ought to have known who Sadakichi Hartmann was. Just about dinner-time there appeared two men and a girl, all three clad in soiled sweaters. One of the men was the Japanese- German art-critic, and the other was Jo Davidson, the sculptor, a lovable fellow, who made sketches of us and kept us entertained. But Hartmann had evidently been drinking, and when he told us that he had come to spend the night, we assured him quite truthfully that we had no room and could not accommodate him. There happened to be a meeting of the executive committee that night, with important problems to be settled; and when I came out from the committee-room at eleven o’clock, I found the art-critic making preparations to spend the night on one of the couches in our living-room. He was told politely that he must leave, whereupon there was a scene. He spent a couple of hours arguing and denouncing, and next day he wrote a letter to all the newspapers, telling how he and his companions had been turned out of Helicon Hall at one o’clock in the morning, and had spent the night wandering about on the Palisades.
And then there was a gentleman from Boston via Montmartre, Alvan F. Sanborn by name. He had written a book about the revolutionists of Paris, looking at them through a microscope as if they had been so many queer kinds of bugs; and now he came to turn his microscope on us. He proved to be a gentleman with a flowing soft necktie and a sharp suspicious nose. He accepted our hospitality, and then went away and criticized the cooking of our beans. His article appeared in the Evening Transcript of Boston, a city which is especially sensitive on the subject of beans. Mr. Sanborn found our atmosphere that of a bourgeois boarding-house. I have no doubt it was a different atmosphere from that of the Quartier Latin, where Mr. Sanborn’s standards of taste had been formed.
Also there were the two Yale boys who ran away from college and came to tend our furnaces, and then ran back to college and wrote us up in the New York Sun. They were Allan Updegraff and Sinclair Lewis, both of whom have grown up to be novelists. What they wrote about us was playful, and I would have shared in the fun, but for the fact that some of our members had their livings to think about. For example, there was a professor of philosophy at Columbia. Once or twice a week he had to give lectures to the young ladies at Barnard, and the Dean of Barnard was a lady of stern and unbending dignity, and after those articles had appeared our professor would quiver every time he saw her. We were trying in Helicon Hall not to have servants, in the sense of a separate class of inferior animals whom we put off by themselves in the basement of the building. We tried to treat our workers as human beings. Once a week we had a dance, and everybody took part, and the professor of philosophy danced with the two pretty Irish girls who waited on the table. The fact that his wife was present ought to have made a difference, even to a Dean, but the stories in the Sun did not mention the wife.
So before long we began to notice dark hints in the newspapers; such esoteric phrases as “Sinclair’s love-nest.” I have since talked with newspaper men and learned that it was generally taken for granted by the newspaper-world that Helicon Hall was a place which I had formed for the purpose of having many beautiful women about me. Either that, or else a diseased craving for notoriety! I remember Ridgway of Everybody’s asking the question: “Couldn’t you find some less troublesome way of advertising yourself?"
Now, I was still naive about many things in the world, but I assure the reader that I had by this time learned enough to have kept myself securely on the front pages of the newspapers, if that had been my aim in life. A group of capitalists had come to me with a proposition to found a model meatpacking establishment; they had offered me three hundred thousand dollars worth of stock for the use of my name, and if I had accepted that offer and become the head of one of the city’s commercial show-places, lavishing full-page advertisements upon the newspapers, I might have had the choicest and most dignified kind of publicity, I might have been another Nicholas Murray Butler or George Harvey; I might have been invited to be the chief orator at banquets of the Chamber of Commerce and the National Civic Federation, and my eloquence would have been printed to the extent of columns; I might have joined the Union League Club and the Century Club, and my name would have gone upon the list of people about whom no uncomplimentary news may be published under any circumstances. At the same time I might have kept one or more apartments on Riverside Drive, with just as many beautiful women in them as I wished, and no one would have criticized me, no newspaper would have dropped hints about “love-nests.” I have known many men, prominent capitalists and even prominent publishers and editors, who have done this, and you have never known about it—you would not know about it in ten thousand life-times, under our present system of predatory journalism.
But what I did was to attack the profit-system—even the profit in news. I refused to go after money, and when money came to me, I spent it forthwith on propaganda. So it comes about that you think of me—at best as a sort of scarecrow, at worst as a free-lover and preacher of sexual riot.
So far as Helicon Hall was concerned, we were a gathering of decent literary folk, a number of us not Socialists or cranks of any sort, several of the ladies coming from the South, where standards of ladyhood are rigid. There were Professor William Noyes of Teachers’ College and his wife; Prof. W. P. Montague of Columbia, and his wife; Edwin Björkman, the critic, editor of the Modern Drama Series, and during the war director of the government’s propaganda in Scandinavian countries; his wife, Frances Maule Björkman, a well-known suffrage worker; Mrs. Grace MacGowan Cooke, the novelist, and her sister Alice MacGowan; Edwin S. Potter, now assistant editor of the “Searchlight on Congress,” and his wife; Michael Williams and his wife. Williams has since turned into a Roman Catholic, and has written an autobiography, “The High Romance,” in which he pokes fun at our Socialist colony, but he is honest enough to omit hints about “free love.”
What our people did was to work hard at their typewriters, and spend their spare time in helping with our community problems. We had many, and we didn’t solve them all, by any means; it was not easy to find competent managers, and we were all novices ourselves. We had only six months to work in, and that was not time enough. But we certainly did solve the “servant-problem”; from first to last those who did the monotonous household work of our colony conducted themselves with dignity and sympathy. Also we solved the problem of the children; we showed that the parents of our fourteen children could co-operate. Our children had a little world of their own, and did their own work and lived their own community life, and were happier than any fourteen children I have seen before or since. Also we had a social life, which no one who took part in will forget. Such men as William James and John Dewey came to see us frequently, and around our big four-sided fireplace you heard discussions by authorities on almost every topic of present-day importance. But nobody read about these discussions in the newspapers; the publishers of newspapers were not selling that sort of news.
I look back on Helicon Hall to-day, and this is the way I feel about it. I have lived in the future; I have known those wider freedoms and opportunities that the future will grant to all men and women. Now by harsh fate I have been seized and dragged back into a lower order of existence, and commanded to spend the balance of my days therein. I know that the command is irrevocable, and I make the best of my fate—I manage to keep cheerful, and to do my appointed task; but nothing can alter the fact in my own mind—I have lived in the future, and all things about me seem drab and sordid in comparison. I feel as you would feel if you were suddenly taken back to the days when there was no plumbing and when people used perfume instead of soap.
CHAPTER XII: THE VILLAGE HORSE-DOCTOR
At three o’clock one morning in March there came a fire and wiped out the Helicon Home Colony. Everybody there lost everything, but that did not save us from dark hints in the newspapers, to the effect that some of our members had started the fire. The colony had just purchased ropes to be used as fire-escapes from some remote rooms on the third floor of the building. It was not mentioned by the newspapers that the managing committee had been discussing the need of those ropes for three or four months. For my part I escaped from my room in the tower of the building with my night-clothing burned, and part of my hair singed off, and my feet full of broken glass and burning brands, which laid me up for two or three weeks.
The American Magazine printed an editorial based on the rumor that the fire had been caused by leaking gas. The fact that we had defective gas-pipes and not enough fire escapes proved to the American Magazine that industrial co- operation was an impossibility! They gave me space to answer that there was absolutely no evidence that the fire had been caused by gas-leaks, and that for years the authorities of the town had allowed Helicon Hall to be conducted under the profit-system as a boarding-school for boys, with no provision for fire-escapes whatever. They did not allow me to state that at the time the mysterious fire took place I had in the building the data of many months of secret investigation into the armor-plate frauds, whereby the Carnegie Steel Company had robbed the United States government of a sum which the government admitted to be seven hundred thousand dollars, but which I could have proven to be many millions. I had, for example, the precise designation of a certain plate (A.619) in the conning-tower of the battleship Oregon, which was full of plugged up blow-holes, and would have splintered like glass if struck by a shell. I had the originals of the shop-records of many such plates, which had been doctored in the hand-writings of certain gentlemen now high in the counsels of the Steel Trust. I had enough evidence to have sent these prominent gentlemen to the penitentiary for life, and I myself came very near being burned along with it. I put a brief account of these matters into The Money-changers, and some of the heads of the Steel Trust announced that they were going to sue me for libel, but thought better of it. I shall give some details about the matter later on, in telling the story of The Money-changers and its adventures.
There was a coroner’s inquest over the body of one man who lost his life in the Helicon Hall fire. This inquest I attended on crutches, and was cross-questioned for a couple of hours by the village horse-doctor. Two or three members of the jury were hostile, and I couldn’t understand it, until near the end of the session it came out. We had had two organizations at Helicon Hall; the company, which owned the property, and the colony, a membership corporation or club, which leased the property from the company. We had made this arrangement, because under the law it was the only way we could keep the right to decide who should have admittance to the colony. If we had had one corporation, anybody who bought our stock would have had the right to come and live with us. But now it appeared that the village horse-doctor and the village barber and the village grocer suspected the colony of a dire plot to keep from paying its just debts in the locality! I made haste to assure these gentlemen that my own credit was behind the bills, and that everything would be paid—except the account of one painter who had contracted to do a job for three hundred dollars and had rendered a bill for seven hundred.
Also they questioned us closely about moral conditions in the colony, and brought out some sinister facts, which were spread on the front pages of the New York Evening World and the New York Evening Journal. It appeared that we had not had enough bed-rooms at Helicon hall, and on the third floor there was a huge studio which had served for the drawing-classes of the boys’ school. It was proposed to convert this studio into bed-rooms, but first it would be necessary to raise the roof, and this would cost more money than we had to spare. Our architect had advised us that the same lumber which would be needed for this work might serve temporarily to partition off compartments in the studio, which would serve for sleeping-quarters with curtains in front. So here at last the newspapers had what they wanted! Here was something “suggestive,” and a coroner’s jury thrusting into it a remorseless probe!
As it happened, in those curtained-off compartments there had slept an elderly widow who had begged to be allowed to work for us in order to educate her sixteen-year-old son— who slept in the compartment next to her. Also there was an old Scotchman, an engineer who had come all the way across the continent to take charge of our heating-plant; also a young carpenter who was working on the place, and one or two others whose names I forget, but all quite decent and honest working-people whom we had come to know and respect. It is perfectly obvious that if people wish to be decent, curtains are sufficient; whereas, if they wish to be indecent, the heaviest doors will not prevent it: just as a woman can behave herself in a scanty bathing-suit, or can misbehave herself though clad in elaborate court-costume. These considerations, however, were not presented to the readers of the New York Evening World and the New York Evening Journal. What they got were the obscene hints of a village horse-doctor, confirming their impression that Socialists are moral lepers.
There were forty adults at Helicon Hall, and they did not live together six months without some gossip and some unpleasantness. There was a young workingman who spouted crude ideas on sex, to the indignation of our two pretty Irish girls, and he was asked to shut up or to leave. There was a certain doctor, not a Socialist, but an entirely conventional capitalist gentleman, who left of his own accord after asking one of the pretty Irish girls to visit his office. Also there was a man who fell in love with another man’s wife. You cannot run a hotel—not even a co-operative hotel—without such things happening. Every hotel-manager knows it, and counts himself lucky indeed if nothing worse happens. I was told by one of those in charge of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York that there sits on every floor a woman-clerk whose duty it is to see who goes into whose room. Quite recently I had dinner in a certain gorgeous and expensive leisure-class hotel in Southern California, and heard some young men of the world, guests of the hotel, discussing what was going on there: the elderly ladies of fashion who were putting paint on their cheeks and cutting their dresses half-way down their backs, and making open efforts to seduce these young men; the young matrons of the hotel, who disappeared for trips into the mountain canyons near by; the married lady of great wealth, who had been in several scandals, who caroused all night with half a dozen soldiers and sailors, supplying them with all the liquor they wanted in spite of the law, and who finally was asked to leave the hotel—not because of this carousing, but because she failed to pay her liquor bills.
All this goes on in our fashionable resorts, from California to Florida via Lake Michigan and Newport. It goes on, and everybody in the hotels knows that it is going on, including the management of the hotels; but do you read anything about it in the newspapers? Only when it gets into the law-courts; and then you get only the personal details—never the philosophy of it. Never are such facts used to prove that the capitalist system is a source of debauchery, prostitution, drunkenness and disease; that it breaks up the home, and makes true religion and virtue impossible!
For the most part what you read about these leisure-class hotels in the newspapers is elaborate advertisements of the hotels and their attractions, together with fatuous and servile accounts of the social doings of the guests: columns and columns of stuff about them, what they eat and what they drink and what they wear, what games they play and what trophies they win, how much money they have, and what important positions they fill in the world, and their opinions on every subject from politics to ping-pong. They are “society”; they are the people who own the world, and for whom the world exists, and in every newspaper-office there is a definite understanding that so long as these people keep out of the law-courts, there shall be published no uncomplimentary news concerning them.
I will finish with the subject of Helicon Hall while I am on it. Seven years later I found myself involved in the Colorado coal-strike, fighting to break down the boycott of the capitalist newspapers. A group of young radicals endeavored to tell the story of the Ludlow massacre at a street meeting in Tarrytown, New York, the home of the Rockefellers. They were arrested and thrown into jail, and I started a campaign in Tarrytown to set them free. Under these circumstances I became the object of venomous attacks by the local paper, the Tarrytown News; in one of its editorials the News declared that my home in Englewood, New Jersey, had been raided by the police on account of “free-love” practices; and this statement was reprinted by other papers. I was pretty cross at the time, because of a series of outrages which I had witnessed, so I caused the arrest of the editors of the Tarrytown News for criminal libel. By a curious coincidence I found myself involved once more with a village horse-doctor—not the horse-doctor of Englewood, New Jersey, but the horse-doctor of Tarrytown, New York. Readers of King Coal will find him portrayed as the justice of the peace with whom the hero has an interview.
This judicial horse-doctor issued warrants, and appointed the day of the trial, and a number of my Helicon Hall friends agreed to come. But one was ill and another was called away, and my lawyer arranged with the lawyers of the other side for a week’s postponement. Such agreements between lawyers are always considered matters of honor with the profession, but in this case, when we appeared before the judicial horse-doctor to have the postponement arranged, the lawyers of the other side repudiated their agreement. So we found ourselves in a trap—ordered to proceed to trial without a single witness. Of course we refused to proceed, and the defendants were discharged.
However, I still had the right of civil action, and of this right I prepared to avail myself. The attorneys for the News—as they afterwards told me themselves—made a thorough search of my life, and found nothing to help them. So they were willing to publish a retraction and an apology. There was no doubt that I could have made the News pay a very pretty price; but I had not brought the suit for money, and I agreed to let them off. The retraction was published on the front page of the News, but of course it was not published anywhere else, and there are probably not a dozen people today who know about it. Mark Twain, I believe, is author of the saying that a lie can run all the way round the earth while the truth is putting on its shoes.
I find that wherever people still remember Helicon Hall, it is some of these old newspaper falsehoods they remember, and never our earnest effort to show the economies of domestic co-operation. Even the genial O. Henry—who, being an American, got his ideas about life from the newspapers. “Say, do I look like I’d climbed down one of them missing fire-escapes at Helicon Hall?” inquires the sarcastic James Turner, cleaner of hats, in the story, “What you Want.”
On my desk there lies a copy of the Moving Picture World for April 19, 1919. Somebody has produced a moving picture film out of a book by the Irreverend Thomas Dixon, and the magazine tells the managers of moving picture theaters how to work up interest and make a “clean-up” on this film. “Put up red flags about the town and hire soldiers to tear them down, if necessary,” advises the Moving Picture World. This picture, Bolshevism on Trial, has a sublime patriotic motive. “Columbia’s sword is unsheathed to keep Bolshevism from the Land of the Free,” proclaims the article. And it furthermore informs us that the picture “promises to be one of the clean-up pictures of the season.” The Moving Picture World thinks that it “might profitably be given Government support, for it is a powerful argument in controverting the dream-talk of the Socialists.” It advises you to “get local patriotic societies to help.” “Work all of the crowd stunts,” it urges; and in giving elaborate details of a press campaign, it says
Work gradually to the contention that Socialism will not be possible in this or the succeeding generation because people are not yet prepared for liberty such as Socialism aims at. Later work in allusion to the feature of the limited experiment made by Upton Sinclair some years ago at Halycon Hall, where the community idea fell because all wanted to live without working. All of this should be worked under a pseudonym.
The above, you must understand, is not an advertisement, but is reading matter in the country’s leading motion picture journal. It gives you a fair idea of the intellectual attainments and moral standards of the men who supply the material by which our children’s imaginations are stimulated and developed.
CHAPTER XIII: IN HIGH SOCIETY
I had written a book showing what was going on at one end of the social scale. It now occurred to me to write a book showing what was going on at the other end. Who spent the money wrung from the wage-slaves of the Stockyards, and what did they spend it for? So came The Metropolis, whose adventures I have next to tell.
The dramatization of The Jungle had brought me into touch with a play-broker, Arch Selwyn, who has since become a well-known producer of plays. We were having lunch at some hotel on Broadway, talking about our play-business, when I happened to mention the new novel I was writing, “Say! That’s the real thing!” said Arch. “What you want to do is to get on the inside of that society game. Get a job in one of those Long Island country homes, and treat them to a real muck-raking!” We spent some time “joshing” one another over this idea. I was to get a job as steward on Howard Gould’s yacht! Arch, who had a tendency toward stoutness, was to assist me by butlering in one of the Vanderbilt palaces!
Arch was chummy with a man named Rennold Wolf, who wrote gossip for the Morning Telegraph, organ of the “Tenderloin” and the sporting world of New York. To my consternation, there appeared in the “Telegraph” next morning a news-item with these headlines:
UPTON SINCLAIR PUTS ON LIVERY
Other Servants at “The Breakers,” the Vanderbilt Home in Newport, Catch Him Taking Notes
JUNGLE’S AUTHOR EJECTED
And in the detailed story which followed it was set forth that I had also been employed as a steward on Howard Gould’s yacht. The concluding sentence read:
He says that he was ready to leave, inasmuch as he already had absorbed the salient features of Newport culture.
Now there are three or four main press-agencies whereby news from New York goes out to the rest of the world. I have shown how in the case of the “condemned meat industry” these news-channels became a concrete wall. Here suddenly this concrete wall collapsed and became a channel. In Vancouver and Buenos Aires, in Johannesburg and Shanghai and Auckland, people read next morning that the author of The Jungle had been listening at the keyhole on board the private yacht of an American millionaire. I wrote an indignant letter to the Morning Telegraph, denouncing the story and demanding that they should publish a retraction. They published it—in an obscure corner. I took the trouble myself to forward this letter to all the press agencies which had sent out the story; but the news channels had again become concrete walls.
To show what our press has done to my literary work, let me say that in small countries such as Norway and Denmark and New Zealand I have more readers than in the whole of the United States. A single book of mine, Sylvia’s Marriage, which in America sold two thousand copies in five years, sold in Great Britain forty-three thousand copies in two years. And sometimes I wonder what all these people abroad must think about me, after fifteen years’ operation of the news channel and concrete wall!
I wonder—and then there comes to me the memory of an incident which happened in Holland. I had rented the home of a peasant-family in the country, and was much troubled by fleas, due to a custom of the Hollanders of keeping their cattle and goats in the rear portions of their homes during the winter. I tried insect powders and sulphur fumes in vain, and finally decided upon a desperate remedy. I went to an apothecary and told him that I wanted five pounds of cyanide of potassium and a couple of quarts of sulphuric acid. I remember well his look of dismay. “My dear sir! What—what—" I told him that I was aware of the danger, and would seal up the house for several days, and take all due precautions. They are a polite people, these Hollanders, the most considerate I have ever met, and the apothecary’s comment was a beautiful combination of terseness and tact. “Here in Holland,” said he, “we should say that was a characteristically American procedure.” —And so I suppose it must be with my readers abroad. They would not expect a European author to go prying at key-holes on board a private yacht; but when they read it in a dispatch from New York, they say what the Dutch chemist said about cyanogen gas as a remedy for fleas.
The charge has been made so many times that The Metropolis is a book of servants’ gossip that it might be well to state that there is no detail in the book which was derived in any such way. The newspapers which labored so desperately to discredit the book pointed out that while it was possible for anyone to go into the Stockyards and see what was going on, it was not possible for anyone to go into “society.” They saw fit to overlook the fact that I myself had been brought up in what is called “society”—or at least on the edge of it, with the right to enter whenever I chose. My earliest boyhood recollections have to do with young ladies being prepared for debut parties or for weddings, discussing the material for costumes, and the worldly possessions of various “eligible” young men, and whether so and so’s grandfather was a grocer. I cannot remember the time that I was too young to abhor “society,” its crass materialism, its blindness to everything serious and truly sacred in life.
Also, contrary to the general impression, it is not in the least difficult to meet the New York “smart set,” if you happen to be a celebrity. As the late John L. Sullivan remarked about Grover Cleveland: “A big man is a big man. It don’t matter if he is a prize-fighter or a president.” I remember once asking Arthur Brisbane how he managed to hobnob with the Long Island “smart set,” when he was attacking their financial interests so frequently. He answered that they esteemed success, and cared very little how it had been gained.
You must understand that the members of this “smart set” are bored most of the time. They go hunting wild animals all over the world; they fly in airplanes, and break their necks chasing imitation foxes; they collect porcelains and postage stamps, Egyptian scarabs and Japanese prints; they invite prize-fighters and vaudeville artists and European noblemen—anything in the world to escape boredom. Do you suppose they would resist the temptation of a novelist whose bloody horrors had sent shudders along their spines?
You have read how hunters on the plains are accustomed to draw antelope to them. They stand on their heads and kick their heels in the air, and the timid, curious creatures peer wonderingly, and come nearer and nearer to gaze at the startling spectacle. And precisely so it was with me; after The Jungle came out, and even after it was known that I was writing The Metropolis, I used to see the sharp ears and soft brown eyes of timid and curious society antelopes peering at me through the curtained windows of Fifth Avenue mansions and Long Island country-places. All I had to do was to go on kicking my heels in the air, and they would come out of their hiding-places and draw nearer and nearer—until at last I might leap to my feet and seize my rifle and shoot them.
I can say truly that I did not break any game-laws in The Metropolis. The ladies whom I drew from real life—for example, “Mrs. Vivie Patton” and “Mrs. Billy Alden”—were ladies who let me understand that they were “game”; they lived to be conspicuous, and they would not be distressed to have it rumored that they figured in my novel.
Some extracts from The Metropolis were published serially by the American Magazine. The editors of the magazine opened negotiations with the New York Times, offering to give them the exclusive story of this sensational serial. Van Anda, managing editor of the Times, is a newspaper man, and made preparations for another big scoop, as in the case of the “condemned meat industry.” But this time, alas, he reckoned without his owner! Mr. Adolph Ochs happened in at one o’clock in the morning, and discovered a three or four column story about The Metropolis on the front page of the Times. It was not so bad for Upton Sinclair to attack a great industry of Chicago, but when it came to the sacred divinities of New York, that was another matter. The story was “killed”; and incidentally, Upton Sinclair was forbidden ever again to be featured by the “New York Times.” The law laid down that night has been enforced for twelve years!
The editors of the American Magazine had expected to create a sensation, but they were not prepared for the storm of abuse which fell upon The Metropolis, and upon them for publishing it. I was surprised myself by the way in which those who posed as men of letters dropped their literary camouflage, their pretenses of academic aloofness, and flung themselves into the class-struggle. It is a fact with which every union workingman is familiar, that his most bitter despisers are the petty underlings of the business world, the poor office-clerks, who are often the worst exploited of proletarians, but who, because they are allowed to wear a white collar and to work in the office with the boss, regard themselves as members of the capitalist class. In exactly the same way I now discovered that every penny-a-liner and hack-writer in newspaperdom regarded himself or herself as a member of “society,” and made haste to prove it by pouring ridicule upon The Metropolis. Mrs. Corra Harris, a Southern authoress of rigid propriety, wrote an article about me in The Independent, in which she hailed me as the “buzzard novelist,” and went on to say that I had listened at the key-hole on Howard Gould’s yacht. The Independent printed my answer, which was that I had been following my career as “buzzard novelist” for many years, and had yet to be accused of a falsehood, but that Mrs. Harris, at the very opening of her career as buzzard critic, had repeated a grotesque falsehood which I had denied again and again.
I am not proud of The Metropolis as a work of art; I was ill and desperately harassed when I wrote it, and I would not defend it as literature. But as a picture of the manners and morals of the “smart set” of New York, I am prepared to defend it as a mild statement of the truth. I have been charged with exaggeration in the prices I quoted, the cost of the orgies of the “smart set.” These prices I had verified, not from the columns of the yellow journals, but by the inspection of bills. I was accused of crudeness in mentioning prices, because in “society” it is not good form to mention them. I would answer that this is one of the shams which “society” seeks to impose upon the wondering multitude. I have never anywhere heard such crude talk about the prices of things and the worldly possessions of people as I have heard among the idle rich in New York. And even if “society” were as austere and free from vulgarity as it wishes the penny-a-liners and hack-writers to believe, that would make no difference to me; for if people are squandering the blood and tears of the poor in luxury and wantonness, it does not seem to me such a great virtue that they avoid referring to the fact.
Also the critics were cross with the hero of the novel; they said he was a prig; he ought to have been really tempted by the charms of the lovely “Mrs. Winnie Duval.” Well, I don’t know. I planned the book as the first of a trilogy, meaning to show the real temptations to which men are exposed in the Metropolis of Mammon. It happened to me, not once, but several times, to meet with an experience such as I have portrayed in the “Mrs. Winnie” scene, and I never found it any particular temptation. The real temptation of the great Metropolis is not the exquisite ladies with unsatisfied emotions; it is that if you refuse to bow the knee to the Mammon of its Unrighteousness you become an outcast in the public mind. You are excluded from all influence and power, you are denied all opportunity to express yourself, to exercise your talents, to bring your gifts to fruition. One of the reasons The Metropolis had a comparatively small sale was because I had refused to do the conventional thing—to show a noble young hero struggling in the net of an elegant siren. The temptation I showed was that of the man’s world, not of the woman’s; the temptation of Wall Street offices, not of Fifth Avenue boudoirs. It was a kind of temptation of which the critics were ignorant, and in which the public, alas, was uninterested.
CHAPTER XIV: THE GREAT PANIC
My investigations for The Metropolis had brought me several permanent friendships; for there are true and gracious people in New York “society,” as everywhere else. One of them was Edmond Kelly, who was not only a thinker and writer of distinction, but an international lawyer, known in all the capitals of Europe, and up to the time of his death the only American who had received the cross of the Legion of Honor in France. Kelly had been counsel for Anna Gould in her famous divorce suit, and told me the incredible story of Count Boni de Castellane. The Metropolis was being published in Paris, and causing a sensation there; as I read the eulogies of the French critics, I used to smile to myself, wondering what they would have said if I had made a book about the manners and morals of French “society,” as seen through the eyes of Edmond Kelly!
It happened that I was in New York in the fall of 1907, and was in Kelly’s study late one evening. I had to wait an hour or two for him, and he came in, deeply moved, and told me that he had just left the home of an old friend, Charles T. Barney, President of the Knickerbocker Trust Company, who was in dire distress. I had been reading in the papers for a couple of days wild rumors of trouble in this institution, which had built itself a miniature Greek temple at the corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue. Now I got the inside story of what was going on. It appeared that the masters of high finance in New York, of whom the late J. P. Morgan was king, had determined to break these new institutions, the independent trust companies which were creeping in upon their preserves. Morgan had deliberately led Barney into entanglements, and had given him definite promise of support. That night, when called upon by Barney, he had repudiated his pledge; so the Knickerbocker Trust Company was doomed, several other trust companies would go with it, and the whole financial structure of New York would be shaken to the foundations. Kelly had promised even that late at night to make appeals in Barney’s behalf, so I left him. Next morning I read in the paper that an hour or two after Kelly had parted from him, the President of the Knickerbocker Trust Company had shot himself through the body.
So came the panic of 1907. Pierpont Morgan, having deliberately brought it on to tighten his hold upon the credit of the country, discovered that it was getting beyond his control, and by desperate efforts stopped it—for which action he became the hero of Capitalist Journalism in America. It happened that from two other independent sources I got the story, every part of which dove-tailed together. So I went about the streets of New York, knowing that this mighty master of finance, who was being crowned as a deliverer, was in fact a greedy old ruffian who had deliberately brought ruin to thousands of small business- men, and misery and want to millions of workers.
I had Kelly’s permission to tell the story in the form of a thinly veiled allegory, the meaning of which no one could possibly miss. I took the proposition to the American Magazine, which signed a contract with me to publish the story as a serial. I set to work to write it, but meantime the American Magazine must have begun to hear from Wall Street. It was not very long before John S. Phillips, editor of the magazine, was sending for me and pleading with me as a personal favor to let him off from this contract. I did so, and so ends the chapter of my dealings with another of our great organs of publicity.
I know no more pitiful story in the history of our Journalism than that of the American Magazine. It was founded because Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker and Finley Peter Dunne found they were no longer permitted to tell the truth in McClure’s. They purchased the American, assuming a debt of four hundred thousand dollars. Soon afterwards one of the assistant editors told me that they were having trouble in meeting their interest payments; and then came a crisis, plainly revealed in their columns. The magazine had begun the publication of a sensational series of articles, “Barbarous Mexico,” by John Kenneth Turner. These articles, since published in book form, and a second time suppressed, gave an intimate, firsthand account of the ferocities of the Diaz regime, under which American “dollar diplomats” were coining enormous fortunes. The American began the publication with a grand hurrah; it published two or three of the articles, and then suddenly it quit, with a feeble and obviously dishonest excuse—and poor Turner had to take his articles to that refuge of suppressed muck-rakers, the Appeal to Reason.
There must have been some crisis in the office of the magazine. Somebody had evidently had a “show-down,” the editors had been “taught their place.” Ever since then they have been a theme for tears. Ida Tarbell, who had torn the wrappings off the infamies of Standard Oil, has forgotten the subject, while Standard Oil, after a sham reorganization, has almost doubled the value of its stock, and more than doubled its plundering of the public. Ray Stannard Baker, who exposed the financial knaveries of the Beef Trust, shed his muck-raker skin and metamorphosed himself into “David Grayson,” a back-to-the-land sentimentalist—and this while the Beef Trust has multiplied four times over the profits it takes out of the necessities of a war-torn world! Finley Peter Dunne, who contributed the satires of Mr. Dooley and that withering ridicule of the idle rich under the name of “Mr. Worldly-Wise Man,” has apparently fallen silent from shame. Lincoln Steffens, the one man who stood by his convictions, quit the magazine, and now cannot get his real opinions published anywhere. The American Magazine, which started out to reclaim the industrial and political life of our country, is now publishing articles about how a little boy raises potatoes in a cigar-box, and how a man can become a millionaire by cobbling his own shoes.
I write these words in anger; but then I remember my pledge—the exact facts! So I go to the library and take down the first bound volume my hand touches. Here are the titles of a few “special articles” and “feature stories” from the American Magazine for January, 1918: “How We Decide When to Raise a Man’s Salary.” “What to Do with a Bad Habit.” “Are You Going Somewhere—or Only Wandering Around?” “The Comic Side of Trouble.” “Do You Laugh at the Misfortunes of Others?” “The Business-woman and the Powder Puff: The personal story of one who has made a success and thinks she knows the reason why.” “What I Have Seen Booze Do.” “Interesting People: A Wonderful Young Private Secretary.” “A Barber Who Uses His Head.” “The Star in a ‘One-Girl Show’.” “From Prize-Fighter to Parson.”
Now I ask you: could any muck-raker in a rage make up a list of titles more completely expressive of vulgarity, commercialism and general “bunk” than the above real ones?
I was at this time planning the sequel to The Metropolis, called The Money-changers. The story of the 1907 panic fitted perfectly into my purposes, and so I made it the basis of this novel. Needless to say, I couldn’t get the American Magazine or any other magazine to publish it serially, nor could I get any respectable publishing-house to take up the book. I was forced to go to a fifth-rate concern, which, afterwards went into bankruptcy. By the literary reviewers I was now practically boycotted; I had written a book of scandal, I had declassed myself as a man- of-letters. The fact that every word I had written was the truth, and that the men I pilloried were the plunderers of a great nation, made no difference whatever to the austere guardians of our literary traditions.
Since the year 1908, when The Money-changers was published, it has been the rule of American literary authorities that in discussions of American novelists my name is not mentioned. In 1914 Georg Brandes, the greatest of living critics, visited America, and to reporters at the steamer he made the statement that there were three American novelists whom he found worth reading, Frank Norris, Jack London, and Upton Sinclair. Every New York newspaper except one quoted Dr. Brandes as saying that there were two American novelists he found worth reading, Frank Norris and Jack London. Dr. Brandes was puzzled by this incident, and asked me the reason; when I told him, he consented to write a preface to my next novel, King Coal. He spoke so highly of the book that I refrain from quoting him. But did his praise make any difference to American critics? It did not.
All the publicity The Money-changers got was from our “yellow” journals. The reader will understand that I despise these “yellows”; they are utterly without honor, they are vulgar and cruel; and yet, in spite of all their vices, I count them less dangerous to society than the so-called “respectable” papers, which pretend to all the virtues, and set the smug and pious tone for good society—papers like the New York Tribune and the Boston Evening Transcript and the Baltimore Sun, which are read by rich old gentlemen and maiden aunts, and can hardly ever be forced to admit to their columns any new or vital event or opinion. These are “kept” papers, in the strictest sense of the term, and do not have to hustle on the street for money. They serve the pocketbooks of the whole propertied class—which is the meaning of the term “respectability” in the bourgeois world. On the other hand the “yellow” journals, serving their own pocketbooks exclusively, will often print attacks on vested wealth, provided the attacks are startling and sensational, and provided the vested wealth in question is not a heavy advertiser. An illustration of what I mean is the following, which appeared in the New York American for September 6, 1908:
U. S. NAVY ADMITS ROTTEN ARMOR
Carnegie Co.’s Profit, $700,000
ADMIRAL MASON SAYS OREGON NOW CARRIES 400 TONS
Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and Others Also Have Defective Plates
FACTS HIDDEN 15 YEARS
Revelations in Upton Sinclair’s New Novel Are Fully Verified
Washington, Sept. 5—Rear-Admiral W. P. Mason, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, in an interview to-day admitted that the battleship Oregon, once the pride of the United States Navy, has carried since the day she was built 400 tons of defective armor plate.
In addition the naval authorities reluctantly told that the conning tower of the Oregon, which by expert testimony nearly fifteen years ago was shown to be full of blowholes, is still on this vessel, which may any day be called in defending the country against an enemy.
It is also known that the armor manufactured by the Carnegie Steel Company, Limited, up to the latter part of 1893, which Hilary A. Herbert, then Secretary of the Navy, recommended be stripped from the Indiana, New York, Massachusetts and several other smaller vessels has never been removed.
The investigation made by the American was prompted by the assertion in Upton Sinclair’s new book, The Money-changers, that “there are ships in our navy covered with rotten armor plate that was sold to the Government for four or five times what it cost.”
Referring to the investigation in 1893–94, which resulted in the celebrated armor plate scandal, the author says: “Nothing much was ever done about it. The Government could not afford to let the real facts get out. But, of course, the insiders in the navy knew about it, and the memory will last as long as the ships last.”
This part of the book is a bitter attack on several well-known men who have been connected for years with the steel industry, and whose identity it is easy to trace. It charges that at the time of the armor plate scandal they bought out the Democratic Party and secured the support of a President of the United States.
And here is part of a second dispatch, which appeared in the New York World the following day. It is amusing to note how these two rivals, the World and the American, follow each other up!
Lake Placid, N. Y., Sept. 6—In an interview given by him today, after he had been informed by his publishers and a representative of the World of a report from Pittsburgh that William E. Corey, President of the U. S. Steel Corporation, is to proceed against him for libel, basing his action on charges contained in his new novel, Upton Sinclair, who is spending the summer at Lake Placid, defied the “Steel Crowd,” as he designated Mr. Corey and his associates, to do their worst.
Mr. Sinclair declared he would welcome legal action on the part of Mr. Corey, because it would give him an opportunity to place on record evidence which he declares is in his possession concerning alleged fraudulent acts of the steel men.
“I have not as many documents as I once had,” said Mr. Sinclair; “I have not been able to replace some that were burned at Helicon Hall; but I have more than Mr. Corey would care to see in print, I fancy.”
Mr. Sinclair said that among other documents in his possession before the destruction of Helicon Hall by fire, were affidavits and other papers pertaining to alleged fraudulent practices in connection with the manufacture of steel rails.
“I took the trouble,” said he “to go out to Pittsburgh. I spent a couple of weeks investigating. I had affidavits to prove that these practices prevailed in the case of steel rails, a year or two before E. H. Harriman gave out his statement as to the wretched quality of rails which the Steel Trust was selling his railroads. I can tell Mr. Harriman, too, that his own purchasing officials were not ignorant about it.”
All this, of course, had little to do with literature. But it had something to do with Journalism, had it not? It had to do with matters of vital importance to the American people—battle-ships that could not fight, and steel rails that cracked and caused train-wrecks. How came it that all our organs of “respectability” kept silence, and left these grave matters to the despised “yellow” press?
CHAPTER XV: SHREDDED WHEAT BISCUIT
I had all but ruined my health by overwork, and I now went to California for a winter’s rest. I rested a couple of months, and then wrote three one act plays. Having received a couple of thousand dollars from The Money-changers, I decided to try out a plan which had haunted me for many years, that of establishing a Socialist theatrical enterprise. There were fifteen hundred Socialist locals throughout the United States, some of them large organizations. Would not they welcome a little travelling company, voicing the ideas which were barred from the commercial stage? I began to organize and rehearse such a company in San Francisco. And so came new adventures with the newspapers.
First, the famous Adventure of the Shredded Wheat Biscuit. It must be explained that I was trying queer ideas in diet; I have always been of an experimental temperament, and was willing to try anything in the hope of solving the health problem, which I have since realized is insoluble—there being no diet or system of any sort which will permit a man to overwork with impunity. In California I was living on raw food, and had written some articles about it in Physical Culture. When I had to eat in San Francisco hotels I could not get raw food, of course, but at least I wanted whole wheat bread, or failing that, Shredded Wheat Biscuit. All of which, needless to say, was highly amusing to hotel proprietors and newspaper reporters.
I was staying at the St. Francis, and I ordered a meal in the restaurant, from a menu which specified “One Shredded Wheat Biscuit with cream, 25c; Two Shredded Wheat Biscuit with cream, 40c.” I ordered One Shredded Wheat Biscuit, and after I had eaten it I wanted another, so I told the waiter to make it two. When I received the bill it showed fifty cents, and I pointed out to the waiter that this was an error, it should have been forty cents; I had had only one portion of cream. The waiter consulted and returned with the information that inasmuch as the order had been placed in the form of two orders, the bill was twenty-five cents each. I paid the bill without further comment, but going out into the lobby I reflected that it was rather preposterous to charge twenty-five cents for a Shredded Wheat Biscuit, when you could go around the corner to a grocery-store and buy a dozen in a box for ten or fifteen cents. My abnormal sense of equity vented itself in a brief note to the management, stating that I had been charged fifty cents for two Shredded Wheat Biscuit, when the price on the menu was forty cents, and I would appreciate having my extra ten cents returned to me. This note I handed to the clerk, and there my knowledge of the matter ends. I am not in position to say that the management of the Hotel St. Francis turned over my note to the San Francisco Examiner. I can only say that I did not mention the matter to anyone, and that all I did was to write the note, seal it in an envelope, and hand it to the clerk at the desk.
I understand, of course, that hotels have to have publicity. People are arriving in the city by thousands every day, and the problem of what hotels they go to depends upon what hotels they hear about. If a great soap-magnate or lard-king is visiting the St. Francis, the management makes haste to notify the reporters, and there is published a dignified interview with the soap-magnate or lard-king, giving his opinion of the market-prospects for soap or lard, and the need of a higher tariff on such commodities. If a notorious Socialist muckraker is visiting the St. Francis, and it is discovered that he orders Waldorf salads and Shredded Wheat Biscuit and such-like foods for monkeys and squirrels—why, then the management perceives an opportunity for publicity of a gay and cheerful nature. San Francisco, you understand, prides itself upon being a place of Bohemianism, of bonhomie; San Francisco had more saloons in proportion to its population than any other city in America, and more venereal disease than Paris—so I was told by a Stanford professor. San Francisco must have its little jokes.
Next morning there appeared in the San Francisco Examiner a “feature story” to the effect that Upton Sinclair had ordered two Shredded Wheat Biscuit in the dining-room of the Hotel St. Francis, and when rendered a bill for twenty-five cents had refused to pay it and had raised a disturbance in the dining-room. Immediately, of course, the great concrete wall turned into a news-channel once again, and people in Vancouver and Buenos Aires, in Johannesburg and Shanghai and Auckland, who had last heard of Upton Sinclair as working as a steward on Howard Gould’s yacht, now heard of him as raising a disturbance over Shredded Wheat Biscuit in a hotel dining-room. “Upton Sinclair Rages,” runs the headline in the Los Angeles Examiner. An actress by the name of Rose Stahl was playing up in Seattle, and her publicity man must have seen an opportunity to “get in on the game.” In the afternoon paper there appeared a story to the effect that Rose Stahl had telegraphed me twenty-five cents with which to pay for my Shredded Wheat Biscuit. Rose Stahl did not actually send me the twenty-five cents; at any rate I never received it; she merely gave out the story that she was sending it, and the concrete wall remained a news-channel long enough to convey this report.
I stop and wonder: will my readers find it possible to believe these tales? So many, many things happening to one man! There is something suspicious about it—where there is so much smoke, surely there must have been at least one tiny spark of fire! Did I not really raise a disturbance, just the tiniest little bit of a disturbance— such as would have caused the people at the next table to desist from their conversation and look at me?
All that I can do is to remind the reader of the pledge I gave at the beginning of this book: I am telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Not only did I not raise a disturbance in the dining-room of the Hotel St. Francis, I never in my life raised a disturbance in a public dining-room, nor in any other public place so far as I can recollect. The one act that might be called a “disturbance” was that which I performed in front of the office of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., during the Colorado coal-strike; it consisted of walking up and down in absolute silence with a band of crepe around my arm. On several other occasions I have made Socialist speeches, and the newspapers have seen fit to write these up as if they were disturbances; but I have never in my life engaged in any sort of altercation or controversy in a public place. I am by instinct shy, and I don’t go into public at all, except I am carried by some conviction. As a little boy I got into one or two fights, and got a bloody nose each time, but since the age of eleven or twelve I have never struck a human being, and can only remember threatening to do so on one occasion—in a public park, when I saw an old bootblack beating a very small boy. As for raising a disturbance with a waiter, I can only say that when a poor wage-slave in a leisure-class hotel brings me an improper bill, my impulse is to give him, not a scolding, but an I.W.W. tract. My anger is reserved for the management of the hotel which is robbing me, and I give vent to this anger in a polite letter, which causes the management to rob me still further. As Shakespeare says:
Who steals my purse steals trash;
But he that filches from me my good Name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And leaves me poor indeed.
My wife reads this story, and laughs; she says the world will find me comical, defending myself so very solemnly against a comical charge. Well, I am not without a sense of humor; I look back in retrospect, and have not a little fun over my “monkey diet” days. But I am serious in this book, and if you will bear with me to the end, you will see why; you will see this same predatory journalism, which made a “monkey” out of me, engaged in blasting the best hopes of mankind, and perpetuating slavery and torment for hundreds of millions of people.
CHAPTER XVI: AN INTERVIEW ON MARRIAGE
Two or three days after the Shredded Wheat episode, there called on me a pleasant lady who introduced herself as a friend of an old friend of mine. She wanted to ask me some questions; and as I was just going in to lunch and had an engagement immediately afterwards, I asked this lady to lunch with me. It appeared that a man and woman in the city had announced the completion of a five or ten years’ “trial marriage.” Would I say what I thought about this couple, and about “trial marriages” in general? I have always been willing to say what I thought about any subject, so I explained that while I was not an advocate of “trial marriages,” it was apparent that this couple were sincere, and one must respect people who stood by their convictions in the face of prejudice and ridicule.
I went on to talk to this lady on the subject of modern marriages. I cannot, of course, state word for word what I said, but I know my views, which have not changed in any way, so I can practically duplicate the interview.
In any competitive society, woman is necessarily condemned to a position of inferiority by the burdens of maternity; so, either she has to suppress her love-nature and her desire for children, or she must find some man who will take care of her. In a society whose standards are pecuniary, that is to say, whose members are esteemed in proportion to the amount of their worldly possessions, the average woman is forced into a mercenary attitude toward love and marriage. In weighing the various men who offer themselves, she will generally have to balance money against love; and the more corrupt the society becomes—that is to say, the greater the economic inequality—the more mercenary will become the attitude of women, the more they will weigh money in the balance, and the less they will weigh love. This is particularly true of the older women, who know the world and the ways of the world, and who seek to control the marriages made by their young.
In the course of this abstract discourse I gave some instances. I told of a couple of mothers I had watched, marrying off their daughters to what they called “eligible” men—that is to say, men who could support the daughters in luxury. I said: “Those girls were practically sold.” I told of a young girl being married to a hard and dull old business man. I told of another young girl being married to a rich man who had syphilis. I told of another young girl, who happened to be intimately known to myself and my wife, who had been in the plight of a school-teacher—that is to say, facing a life-time of drudgery, and the ultimate breakdown of her health—and who had married a middle-aged corrupt politician. We had watched the progress of this marriage. We knew that the husband was unfaithful to his wife, and we knew that the wife knew it, and we knew that for the sake of a home and fashionable clothes she was parting with the finer qualities of her nature. Said I: “We have seen this woman’s character deteriorating stage by stage; and when we see things like that, it almost makes us feel ashamed of being married.”
Now, of course, this was a foolish remark; but it was no worse than foolish, was it? It wasn’t precisely criminal. But see what was done with it!
I parted from the lady who had been my guest at lunch, and next morning, January 30, 1909, a member of my little theatrical company called me up in excitement and distress of mind, to ask had I seen that morning’s Examiner. I obtained a copy, and on the front page I saw a picture of myself and a picture of my wife—that stolen picture about which I have previously told. The story had a scare head-line reading
UPTON SINCLAIR SORRY HE WED. SAYS CEREMONY IS FARCE
Underneath the pictures was the caption:
Upton Sinclair and the wife he declared yesterday he is sorry that he married.
I will quote a few paragraphs from the article; you will appreciate the jolly tone of it:
Upton Sinclair says he’s sorry he’s married.
He said it right out in a calm, matter-of-fact tone of voice, and the waiter almost dropped the butter-plate, well trained as the particular waiter who happened to be leaning over the back of Mr. Sinclair’s chair with this particular butter-plate happened to be.
As Mr. Sinclair talked he threw a handful of California raisins into his dish of Waldorf salad and watched with evident pleasure the contrast of the dull purple of the raisins with the pale silver of the celery and the gold of the aspic mayonnaise.
“Why am I so prejudiced against marriage? Why shouldn’t I be prejudiced against it? You might as well ask me why I am so prejudiced against slavery— or against thievery—or if it comes to that against murder either. Marriage in this day is nothing but legalized—slavery; that’s the most polite word to call it, I fancy. The average married woman is bought and sold just exactly as much as any horse or any dog is bought. Marriage—ough! It really isn’t a subject to be discussed at the table!”
Needless to say, here was another occasion where the concrete wall became a news-channel. This story was telegraphed to all the Hearst newspapers, and published with the same photographs in New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The substance of it was telegraphed abroad and laid before the readers of my books, not merely in England and France and Germany and Norway and Sweden, but in South Africa and Australia, in Yokohama and Hong Kong and Bombay. Please do not think that I am just giving you a geography lesson; I made a memorandum at the time concerning this particular story, which hurt me more than anything that had ever happened to me.
It chanced that my three one-act plays were to have their opening performance in San Francisco that evening. So when I was called on the stage to make a speech, I spread out a copy of the Examiner and told what had happened. Next morning the Examiner took up the cudgels, and published an article by “Annie Laurie,” the interviewing lady, upbraiding me for “playing the cry-baby” and refusing to stand by the words that I had spoken. Thinking the matter over, I realized that quite possibly “Annie Laurie” was partly sincere; she may have thought that the interview she wrote represented me! She was so vulgar that she saw no difference between the phrases I had used and the twist she had given to them.
This misquotation by ignorant and vulgar reporters happens not merely to muck-rakers and Socialist agitators; it happens to the most respectable persons. For example, here is Professor J. Laurence Laughlin, of Chicago University; he hides himself in the shade of his classic elms, and does his best to preserve his dignity, but in vain. In an address to a graduating class he urged the class “to seek a sense of form—in dress, manners, speech and intellectual habits. In antithesis it was pointed out that we had lived too long in a kingdom of slouch.” The New York papers got it by telegraph in this fashion:
The wiggling, swaying movements of American women on the streets and the stage have made them the ridicule of all Europe. They have a glide and a wiggle that makes them both undignified and ungraceful.
Whereupon the horrified professor writes to the New York Nation:
Of course, I never said any such thing, but papers in all parts of the country could not know that the report was stupid fiction, and that the quotation marks were absolutely false. Yet in this form the above vulgar paragraphs have gone the length and breath of the country as my utterances.
To understand such incidents you must know the economics of reporting. The person who misquoted Professor Laughlin was probably a student, scratching for his next week’s board bill, and knowing that he would get two or three dollars for a startling story, and nothing at all for a true story—it would be judged “dull,” and would be “ditched.” In my own case, the person to blame was a “star writer”; she was working on a fancy salary, earned by her ability to cook up sensations, to keep her name and her picture on the front page. If this “star” had gone back to her city editor and said, “Upton Sinclair is a good fellow; he gave me an interesting talk about the corruption of modern marriages,” the editor would have scented some preachment and said, “Well, give him two sticks.” But instead she came into the office exclaiming, “Gee, I’ve got a hot one! That fool muck-raker tore up his marriage certificate before my eyes! He says that married women are sold like horses and he’s sorry he’s married to his wife!” So the city editor exclaimed, “Holy Smoke!”—seeing a story he could telegraph to the main offices in New York and Chicago, thus attracting to himself the attention of the heads of the Hearst machine.
For you must understand that while the city editor of the San Francisco Examiner will be getting three or four thousand dollars a year, above him are big positions of responsibility and power—Arthur Brisbane, getting ninety or a hundred thousand, Ihmsen, Carvalho, von Hamm and the rest, getting fifteen or twenty thousand. If you are to be lifted into those higher regions, you must show one thing and one thing only; it is called “a nose for news,” and it means a nose for the millions of pennies which come pouring into the Hearst coffers every day. From top to bottom every human being in the vast Hearst machine, man, woman and office-boy, has every nerve and sinew stretched to the task of bringing in that flood of pennies; each is fighting for a tiny bit of prestige, a tiny addition to his personal share of the flood. And always, of course, from top to bottom the thing to be considered is the million-headed public—what will tickle its fancies, what particular words printed in large red and black letters will cause it to pay out each day the greatest possible number of pennies.
In conflict with such motives, considerations of honor, truth and justice count for absolutely nothing. The men and women who turn out the Hearst newspapers were willing, not merely to destroy my reputation, they have been willing again and again to drive perfectly innocent men and women to ruin and suicide, in order that the copper flood may continue to pour in. They have been willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war. Mr. Hearst’s newspaper machine telegraphed that vile misrepresentation of me all the way round the world; it telegraphed my repudiation of it nowhere, and I was helpless in the matter. Millions of people were caused to think of me as a vulgar and fatuous person—and some of them were permitted to denounce me in Mr. Hearst’s own papers! The following contribution by the Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst, a sensational clergyman of New York, was featured in the New York Evening Journal with large headlines and a portrait of the reverend physiognomy:
Upton Sinclair seems to be a person so profusely developed on the animal side that marriage is not able to be conceived of by him as being other than a mere matter of commerce between two parties of opposite sexes, and sex simply a principle that starts and stops at the level of the physical without ever mounting up into the region of intellect and spirit.
A pig will contemplate even a garden of flowers with a pig’s eye, and instead of arranging those flowers into a bouquet will bore into them with his snout.
Mr. Sinclair’s doctrine is that of free love, and matrimony a physical luxury and an evanescent convenience.
This comes dangerously near to companioning him with the cattle and makes the marriage relation an elegant reproduction of the nuptials of the pasture.
Also I quote a few scattered sentences from a long editorial in the “Commercial-Appeal” of Memphis, Tennessee, an extremely conservative family newspaper, widely read throughout the South:
A few years ago a young man by the name of Upton Sinclair wrote a novel about Packingtown. We do not recall the name of the book; but it should have been entitled The Slaughterhouse. It was just about the most nauseating novel that has ever been written by an American. It was a compound of blood and filth and slaughter, commingled with vice and shame. It was the kind of a book to be handled with a pair of tongs.... But recently Mr. Sinclair has aired his views upon matrimony, and what he has to say is simply shocking to decency..... It is hard for any decent person to understand such an attitude. If there is any one thing that distinguishes man from cats and dogs and other animals it is matrimony..... If Upton Sinclair’s offensive philosophy should be embraced, it would mean the absolute destruction of family life..... The Sinclair philosophy is the philosophy of lust and animalism and it could only emanate from a diseased and perverted mind.
I have quoted the above because there is a “human interest” story connected with it, which will perhaps bring home to you the harm which dishonest journalism does. For something like thirty years the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has been read by the honorable and high-minded old Southern gentleman who is now my father-in-law. Like all good Americans, this gentleman believes what he reads in his morning paper; like most busy Americans, he gets the greater part of his ideas about the world outside from his morning paper. He read this editorial, and got a certain impression of Upton Sinclair; and so you may imagine his feelings when, two or three years later, he learned that his favorite daughter intended to marry the possessor of this “diseased and perverted mind.” He took the beautiful oil painting of his favorite daughter which hangs in his drawing-room, and turned it to the wall. And that may bring a smile to you, but it brought no smile to the parties concerned; for in the South, you must understand, it is the custom for daughters to be devotedly attached to their fathers, and also to be devotedly obedient to their fathers. If you had seen the tears I saw, you would know that this old gentleman’s daughter was not an exception to the rule.
And since we have started the subject, perhaps I might complete the “human interest” story by stating that after all the tears had been shed and the marriage was a couple of years in the past, I went down to visit this old Southern gentleman. It was a queer introduction; because the old gentleman was horribly embarrassed, and I, being impersonal and used to being called bad names, had no idea of it. After we had chatted for an hour or two I retired, and the daughter said: “Well, Papa, what do you think of him?”
The old gentleman is quaintly shy and reticent, and had probably never made an apology in his life before. He did it all in one sentence; “I see I overspoke myself.”
CHAPTER XVII: “GAMING” ON THE SABBATH
I moved myself and family to the little single-tax colony at Arden, Delaware, and spent a winter living in tents. The newspapers of Philadelphia and Wilmington used Arden as the newspapers of New York had used Helicon Hall—for purposes of comic relief. For the most part it was not especially harmful publicity; it had to do with pageants and mediaeval costumes and tennis tournaments and singing festivals. But always there was ridicule, even though mild; and this was not a just light in which to place a group of people who had a serious and useful message to convey. I noticed that in their Arden stories the newspapers carefully refrained from giving any hint of what the single tax meant, or of why single taxers went to live in a colony. What got publicity was the fact that one of the Arden boys built himself a screened sleeping-place up in the branches of a big tree. “Arden Residents Roost in Tree-Tops”! ran the headlines. I wasn’t roosting in tree-tops myself, but the newspapers wanted pictures for this full-page story, and my picture happened to be on hand, so in it went.
I was writing a book, and trying to keep well, and doing my honest best to keep out of the “limelight”; but the fates were in a mood of special waggery, it appeared, and came and dragged me out of my hiding-place.
Close upon the edge of Arden there dwelt an Anarchist philosopher, a shoemaker hermit, whose greatest pleasure in life was to rise in public meetings and in the presence of young girls explain his ideas on the physiology of sex. The little Economic Club of Arden invited him to shut up, and when he claimed the privileges of “free speech,” the club excluded him from its meetings, and when he persisted in coming, had him arrested. It happened that the members of this Economic Club were also members of the base-ball team, and they played a game on Sunday morning; so the Anarchist shoemaker repaired to Wilmington and swore out warrants, on the ground of their having violated an ancient statute, dating back to 1793, forbidding “gaming” on the Sabbath. It happened that I did not belong to the Economic Club, and had had nothing to do with the trouble; but I had played tennis that Sabbath morning, so the Anarchist shoemaker included me in his warrants. He told me afterwards that he knew I would add publicity and “spice” to the adventure.
So behold us, eleven young men summoned to the office of a Wilmington Justice of the Peace one evening, and finding the street packed solid for a block, and people even climbing up telegraph poles and lamp-posts to look in at the window and watch the proceedings. I am accused of seeking notoriety, but on this occasion at least I may be acquitted of the charge. A constable had appeared at my home and interrupted my literary labors, with a notice to appear in this public spectacle, under penalty of dire displeasure of the law!
The members of the Arden Athletic Association appointed me their spokesman, and for an hour or two I labored to persuade the local magistrate that “gaming” meant gambling and not playing tennis and baseball. But the magistrate insisted that there was another statute against gambling, and he had no option but to find us guilty, and to fine us the sum of four dollars and costs, which amounted to a total of one hundred and thirty-two dollars. A large part of this would go to the magistrate and the constable, and we suspected that this was the basis of his decision; therefore we declined to pay our fines, and accepted the alternative of a jail-sentence. The limit under the law was twenty-four hours. We received eighteen, it being mercifully provided that our sentences should begin forthwith-at nine o’clock in the evening. We invited the constable to an ice-cream parlor, and served part of our sentence there, and another part of it taking a trolley-ride to the Newcastle County Workhouse. We sang songs on the way, and the motorman remarked that we were the happiest bunch of convicts he had ever taken to the institution.
This is a book on Journalism, and not on prison-reform, so I will be brief. We spent the night in cells which were swarming with vermin and had filthy, stinking toilets; we were served food which was unfit for animals, and we spent seven or eight hours working on a rock-pile under the charge of men, some of whom were brutal and dishonest. This was the state prison of Delaware, as well as the county workhouse, and it held three or four hundred men, white and black, some twenty of them serving life-sentences, working in a clothing-factory under a sweatshop contractor. The prison had been recently built, and was advertised as a model one, yet there was no exercise-court or spot where men serving life-sentences could get a glimpse of the sunlight or a breath of fresh air!
When we came out from the jail we were met by twenty-two newspaper reporters and three camera-men, and everything we had to say took the front page, top of column. Incidentally, I got a curious revelation. For years I had written poetry, and had never been able to get it published; but now I found that by the simple device of writing it in jail, I could get it on the front page of every newspaper in Philadelphia and New York! The poem was “The Menagerie,” which you may find in The Cry for Justice, if you are interested. I had lain on the floor of my cell all night, listening to the sounds which echoed through the long steel corridors. I quote two lines
And then in sudden stillness mark the sound—
Some beast that rasps his vermin-haunted hide.
When my cell-mate, Berkeley Tobey, read those lines, he remarked: “That’s me!” To which I answered: “Tobey, that’s you!”
What we told about conditions in that jail made an uproar in Delaware. There was still more uproar because the Anarchist shoemaker was threatening to have us arrested every Sunday, if the Economic Club continued to exclude him from its meetings; and we made investigation and discovered that members of the Wilmington Country Club, including the Attorney General of the State and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, were accustomed to play golf on Sunday. We served notice that we would employ detectives and have them all arrested and sent to the Newcastle County Workhouse every Monday, so that they might discover what it meant to be confined in a place with no exercise-court and no chance for a glimpse of sunlight or breath of fresh air. The magistrates of Wilmington held a private conference and decided that they would issue no more warrants upon the charge of “gaming on the Sabbath.” Also the prison commissioners of Newcastle County held a meeting and decided that they had been intending all along to add an exercise-court to the prison.
Here was a case where I got publicity from the newspapers; yet the reader will note, I do not show much gratitude. This story took the front page, not because the newspapers cared anything about conditions in the Newcastle County Workhouse, but solely because the story was funny. Van Valkenburg, publisher of the Philadelphia North American, told a friend of mine that it was the funniest newspaper story he remembered in his entire experience. And of course the facts about the jail conditions were an inseparable part of the fun. What “made” the story was precisely this-that eleven clean and well-educated and refined young idealists were taken and shut up all night in steel cells, were put in prison clothes and set to work on a stone-pile. The fact that the cells were alive with lice could not be omitted, if you were to appreciate the joke on a well-known charity-worker of Philadelphia, now advertising manager of the New Republic, who figured in a poem as “some beast that rasps his vermin-haunted hide.” The fact that the food served in the jail was vile was necessary to set off the joke that the author of The Jungle had made a bolt for an ice-cream parlor as soon as he was released. And so on.
I look back upon my life of nearly twenty years of muckraking, and am able to put my finger on exactly one concrete benefit that I have brought to mankind. Twenty or more men who are serving life-sentences in the Newcastle County Workhouse owe it to me that they get every now and then a glimpse of the sunlight and a breath of fresh air! These men know that they owe it to me, and I have the thought of their gratitude to warm my heart when I am tempted by “the blues.” One of our eleven Sabbath “gamesters,” Donald Stephens, became in war-time a conscientious objector, and was sentenced to the Newcastle County Workhouse in real earnest. He was recently released, and wrote me about his experiences; I quote:
You will be pleased to learn that the short visit we Ardenites paid that institution some years back and the publicity you gave to conditions then led to social improvements—chief of which was the building of an outside recreation yard. Some of the old-timers expressed heartfelt appreciation for the good work you did.
In view of this can you blame me if I am pursued by the thought of how much we could do to remedy social evils, if only we had an honest and disinterested press? Also, can you blame me if I stored away in my mind for future reference the fact that when it is necessary to get some important news into the papers, I can manage it by getting myself sent to jail? This is a discovery which is made, sooner or later, by all social reformers; and so going to jail becomes a popular diversion and an honorable public service.
CHAPTER XVIII: AN ESSENTIAL MONOGAMIST
The adventure of Sabbath “gaming” served as a curtain raiser to the great tragedy of my life. I pause on the brink of this tragedy, hesitating to take the plunge, even in memory; hesitating for the reader’s sake as much as for my own. I ask myself, “Will anybody endure to read a detailed statement of the grievances of one man, at a time when so many millions of men are suffering?” Again, reader, let me beg you to believe that I am not writing this book to defend myself. Amid the terrific events that are going on in the world at this hour, I would not take ten minutes of my time for such a purpose.
I am telling this story in defense of a cause. It was not I, but the cause, that was maimed and tortured through these years, and any other man in my place would have met my experience. The matter at issue in this book is not the character of Upton Sinclair, but the character of the machinery upon which you rely every day of your life for news of the world about you. If that machinery can be used deliberately and systematically to lie about Upton Sinclair, it can be used to disorganize the people’s movement throughout the world, and to set back the coming of Social Justice.
I grope in my mind for a simile to make clear how I feel about this book, how I would have you feel. Say to yourself that Upton Sinclair is a guinea-pig—surely a sufficiently unpretentious creature! It would be entirely preposterous of a guinea-pig to expect that a book should be written about him, or that a research-laboratory should devote its attention to him. But the scientist reaches into a pen full of guinea-pigs, and catches up one by the neck, and makes him the subject of an experiment—removes his thyroid gland, let us say, or gives him an injection of a serum. So suddenly it becomes of the utmost consequence what happens to this guinea-pig. Trained experts take his temperature every ten minutes; they keep a chart of his pulse, they watch his respiration, they analyze his excretions; and nobody thinks this preposterous—on the contrary, every man of science understands that the condition of this guinea-pig may be of greater moment to mankind than the fall of an empire.
So it is that I am giving this story; giving everything—because that is what science requires. In the case of the great tragedy of my life, my divorce scandal, I confront the ordeal with as much shrinking as ever any guinea-pig exhibited. During all the time of this affair, I refused again and again, in spite of great provocation, to say a public word in my own defense; nor have I ever told the story, except to a few intimate friends. The prospect of having to bring it up again was the cause of my putting off writing this book for several years.
Obviously, the story must be told. It is generally believed that there was something in the affair discreditable to me, and if now I pass it over, my critics will say: “Ah, yes! He is quite willing to play the game of frankness, so long as the cards run his way; but when his luck changes, then suddenly he gets ‘cold feet,’ and retires from the game!” Anyone can see that will not do; I must either tell this story, or I must leave the book unwritten. Having decided that it is my duty to write the book, I proceed to the story. I shall tell just as little as I have to tell, in order to make clear the part played by the newspapers. More especially, I shall do my best to spare the feelings of my former wife and her family. My former wife has remarried, and neither her maiden name nor her present name is anybody’s concern in this book.
In Ellen Key’s Love and Marriage occurs a passage explaining that while monogamy is probably the best marital arrangement for the majority of people, there are some individuals so constituted that monogamy is unsatisfactory to them; they find that the fulfillment of their nature requires that they should have more than one love at one time. When my former wife came upon that passage, she brought it to me in triumph. Here was the thesis upon which she had been arguing for many years, and here was a woman, recognized as a great teacher, who believed as she did. I do no unkindness to my former wife in making this statement, because she was accustomed to quote the passage to every one she met, and she defended it in published writings.
Now, I have a respect for Ellen Key’s personality, and for many of her ideas. I admit that she may know more about the nature of woman than I do, and may be correct in her statements as to the love-needs and the love-rights of some women. All I could say was that I found the idea offensive, and I would part company with anyone who acted upon it. What men and women might agree to do in some far-off blissful future I did not attempt to say, but for the present we lived in a world in which venereal disease was an unforgetable menace, and on this account if no other, one had the right to demand marital fidelity. I argued this question through long years, and my former wife found my arguments tiresome and oppressive. To the newspapers she described me as “an essential monogamist,” a phrase which gave great glee to the “Tenderloin” loungers and the newspaper wits who serve them. Just how these wits reconciled the phrase with the charge that I was a “free- lover,” I can not explain, nor have the wits explained it.
Now ordinarily, when Americans find that they are hopelessly disagreed upon such a question, they proceed to establish a residence in Reno or Texas. Etiquette requires that the man should pay all the expenses, and also that he should bear the odium involved. In one of Bernard Shaw’s plays he explains that the English law requires not merely infidelity, but cruelty in the presence of witnesses, and therefore the convention has come to be that the man and woman shall repair to the garden, and there in the presence of the gardener the husband shall knock his wife into a flower-bed. I remember some years ago Mr. Booth Tarkington stepped off a steamer from Europe and was informed by reporters that his wife was suing him for divorce, alleging cruelty; he was asked for a comment, and replied, graciously: “When one’s wife accuses one of cruelty, no gentleman would think of making a reply.”
I was prepared to play my part as a gentleman according to this standard, and several times I made the necessary practical arrangements; but each time the other party changed her mind. She pleaded that the world attached a certain stigma to “a divorced woman”; therefore, it was cruel and unkind for a man to insist upon having a divorce.
I might at least allow her the protection of my name. To this argument I was weak enough to yield.
I had endured for some eight years this kind of domestic precariousness; a maelstrom in which a man’s physical, mental, and moral integrity are subtly and bewilderingly tossed and buffeted and maimed. But finally I came upon certain facts which decided me to put an end to it. It happened in midsummer, when my lawyer was in the country, and in my haste to consult him I made the greatest blunder of my life. I sent a telegram inquiring whether a letter of admission from the other party was evidence in a divorce- suit in New York State; and to this telegram I signed my name.
I have since been told that it is a regular custom of the “yellow” journals, in places where the “smart set” or other people of prominence gather, to maintain relations with telegraph-clerks. When telegrams containing news or hints of news are filed, the clerk furnishes a copy to the newspaper, and is paid according to the importance of the “tip.” Three or four hours after I filed that telegram, I was called to the telephone by the New York American, which told me they had information that I was bringing suit for divorce. I was astounded, for I had not mentioned the matter to a soul. At first I denied the fact; but they said their information was positive, and they would publish the story. So it was a choice between having a false story or a true story made known, and I replied, “I will prepare a statement and send it to you some time this evening.” I prepared the briefest possible statement, to the effect that my wife had left me with another man, and had written to that effect, and that I was preparing to bring suit. The last paragraph read:
I make this statement because I have just learned that word of my intention has reached one newspaper, and I would rather the real facts were printed than anybody’s conjectures. I have nothing to add to this statement and I respectfully ask to be spared requests for interviews.
I sent this statement, and next morning the American published it on the front page, with my picture, and a picture of my former wife, and a picture of a boy which was not our boy, but a “fake.” I quote a few lines:
SINCLAIR ACCUSES HIS WIFE
Upton Sinclair, the author and social colonizer, in a surprising statement last night announced his intention to bring suit for divorce.....
The action of Mr. Sinclair in giving out such a statement, or bringing suit for divorce from his wife, will be a great surprise to his friends and co- workers.....
You will note the phrasing of this, so carefully calculated to make me odious—a man who rushed to the newspapers with an attack upon his wife! And then followed several paragraphs from that old and false San Francisco interview on marriage, to the effect that women are bought in marriage as dogs and horses are bought. How singular that a man who held such ideas should object to marital infidelity!
I am not going into detail concerning the horrors of the next few weeks. Suffice it to say that the herd had me down and proceeded to trample on my face. My personality, my affairs, my opinions and my every-day actions became the subject of discourse and speculation upon the front pages of the New York papers. My mother’s apartment, where I was living, was besieged by reporters, and when I refused to see them, it made no difference—they went away and wrote what they thought I might have said. The other party to the case was interviewed to the extent of pages—I mean literally pages. Gelett Burgess, who passes for a man of letters, and was one of the founders of the Author’s League of America, wrote a full-page burlesque of the tragedy, which was published with illustrations in the New York American. Mr. Burgess told a friend of mine some time afterwards that he had done it because he needed the money, but he was ashamed of having done it. It is not my wish to spare him any of this shame; therefore I reproduce the headlines of his elegant composition
Why Hungry Mrs. Upton Sinclair Went Home to Mamma.
Gelett Burgess Discusses the Failure of Poetry a la carte as an Appetite Satisfier, and the Triumph of a Meal Ticket over Free but Famished Love.
Also I ought not to fail to mention one of the editors of Life, who went to see my former wife in company with a fat little pig of a publisher, his pockets stuffed with bills, which were offered the lady to write a scandal-story of her life with me!
The opinions of the newspaper commentators on the scandal varied from day to day. The generally accepted explanation was that I had married an innocent young girl and taught her “free love” doctrines, and then, when she practised these doctrines, I kicked her out of my home. But some of the newspapers found the matter worse than that. The Chicago Evening Post gave an elaborate analysis of my character and motives. It said it would be possible to forgive me if what I had done was “the jealous rage of a male brute infuriated past reason”; but the awful truth was plain—I had done this deed as “publicity work” for the second volume of Love’s Pilgrimage!
The idea that there lived on earth a human being who could have enjoyed the experience I was then undergoing was one which would not have occurred to me; however, the fact that this newspaper writer could conceive it indicated that there was at least one such person living. I have since heard that certain actors and actresses have increased their fame and incomes by being many times divorced and remarried. But with authors it does not work out that way. Mitchell Kennerley, publisher of Love’s Pilgrimage, had been selling a thousand copies a week of this book, and after the divorce- scandal he did not sell a hundred copies in six months!
I felt in those terrible days precisely like a hunted animal which seeks refuge in a hole, and is tormented with sharp sticks and smoke and boiling water. Under the law it had been necessary for me to obtain certain evidence. I had taken steps to obtain it, and this became a source of mystery as thrilling as a detective-story. For days men followed me every step I took; my mail was tampered with continually, and likewise the mail of my friends. I ran away into the country to hide, I even changed my name for a while, but that did no good—I was found out. Up to this time I had never had a grey hair in my head, but I found many after these months, and have them still.
Among the mass of newspaper items I note one that seems trifling, yet is curiously significant. There appeared in the New York Times a telegraphic dispatch from Wilmington, Delaware, to the effect that I was being sued by a storekeeper in New Jersey for thirty-eight dollars worth of fertilizer. Stop and think a minute how many men in America are sued every day for bills which they refuse to pay, and how seldom does the New York Times hunt out such news by telegraph! Often I have tried to get radical news into the Times, and heard the editors plead space limitations; yet they found room for a dispatch about my being sued for thirty-eight dollars!
Five years before this I had owned a little farm, and had left it in charge of a man who contracted bills in my name.
I had paid all the bills which were properly rendered; but after four years had passed, and I had sold the farm and wiped the matter off my books, I received for the first time a bill for thirty-eight dollars worth of fertilizer. Naturally I refused to pay this bill; so I was sued—and the New York Times, having me down and desiring to trample further on my face, obtained the news and published it in connection with my divorce-scandal.
Nor was that all. The day after this item was published, there appeared in the New York World a column of humor about me, one part of which I quote. Please take the trouble to read it carefully, because it illustrates a significant point:
The following statement, with several long-hand corrections, was received by the World yesterday:
“With regard to the report that I am being sued for thirty-eight dollars worth of fertilizer I might mention that I am being sued for something I never purchased or received. The dealer has admitted in writing that he did not send me the bill until four years after the alleged purchase. I like to get my bills a little sooner than that.
“Please put the above in the form of an interview.”
Now this was funny, was it not? It was a complete exposition of an ass; reading it, you would be perfectly sure you were dealing with an ass—unless possibly with a crook. The Chicago Evening Post took the latter view. It quoted the tell-tale sentence with the comment: “Other papers fell for `Interviews,’ but it was evidently one of the World’s busy days, when not even a cub-reporter could be spared for rewrite.” On the basis of this, the Post went on to expose me as a cold and calculating notoriety-hunter.
Now what is the truth about the statement in the New York World? Here it is:
Three times in the course of that day the World had sent a reporter to seek me out. Would I not say something about the report of my intention to file my suit in Delaware instead of in New York? Would I not say something about the fact that a man had called up the New York World on the telephone, and announced himself as the co-respondent in my divorce case, on his way to have a fist-fight with me? Finally, the third time, would I not at least say something about this suit for thirty-eight dollars worth of fertilizer?
I saw no reason why I should not state the facts in this last matter, so I said to the reporter: “I will not give an interview, because I have been misquoted so many times, and am sick of it. But I will write out what I have to say, and you can make an interview of that, provided you do not change it. I have to look up the dates of the fertilizer bill, and I’ll send what I have to say by a messenger.” This was agreed to, and I wrote out the statement. Having been previously made to appear as seeking publicity, I wanted to be particularly careful in this case, so to remind the reporter of his promise, I added: “Put the above in the form of an interview.”
I have often written those words in sending copy to newspapers. For example, they wire asking for an expression of opinion, and in replying, I remind them that they made the first move, not I. They perfectly understand the meaning of the request, “Put the above in the form of an interview,” and do not commit a breach of confidence except for a definite purpose, to make some person odious. In this particular case it was no oversight, no lack of a “cub- reporter”; it was the deliberate act of malice of the World reporter, abetted by the editors who passed the copy. I know that my statement reached the right reporter, because the rest of the article contained things which he had said to me in the course of his calls. I have gone into such minute detail about this episode, because it shows so perfectly how these corrupt and greedy newspapers have you at their mercy. They do whatever they please to you, and you are helpless. If for any reason, good or bad, you make them angry, they trample you like a vicious stallion. Or perhaps you seem funny to them, and then they amuse themselves with you, about as a wanton child who picks a butterfly to pieces.
CHAPTER XIX: IN THE LION’S DEN
To understand the rest of this episode, you must know something about the divorce laws of New York, and about divorce procedure. The code of the State, which was framed by a combination of Puritan bigotry with Roman Catholic obscurantism, requires infidelity legally proven. The defendant cannot confess, and neither party to the suit can testify against the other; moreover, if it appears that both have desired the divorce or consented to the divorce, there is “collusion” and the divorce is not granted. These laws are administered by judges who are almost invariably corrupt, many of them in addition being under the spell of Catholic superstition, considering that they have decreased the period of their sojourn in purgatory when they succeed in twisting the law or the evidence so as to balk some person’s desire to be free from marital disharmony.
Into this jungle of ravening beasts and poisonous serpents I now walked, unarmed and unprotected—having made the mistake of employing a lawyer who was a sensitive and honorable gentleman. The Court appointed a referee to hear the case, and before this referee I appeared with my counsel and my witnesses; also there appeared the counsel for the other party, as required by law, and a solemn farce was played. The referee had got the case as a morsel of graft from the infamous Tammany machine; whether he was malicious or merely ignorant, I do not know, but he was evidently possessed with curiosity concerning the notorious scandal, and questioned me concerning my attitude toward the matters in evidence—how I had regarded them and what I had done about them. My attorney objected that under the law I was not permitted to testify concerning my wife’s conduct, but the referee insisted that I should answer his questions, and for fear of angering him, and possibly exciting his suspicions, I answered.
Under the law it was provided that all this testimony should be secret, the property of the Court. My attorney and the attorney for the other party demanded of the referee and of the clerk of the Court that the law should be obeyed. But when the referee’s report was handed in, a full account of it and of the testimony was published in every newspaper in New York. When inquiry was made by my attorney, it developed that twenty-six different clerks had had access to those papers, and it was not possible to determine which one of the twenty-six had accepted a bribe from the newspapers. Suffice it to say that the whole obscene story was spread before the world. I say “obscene”—it was that of necessity, you understand; the New York State divorce law requires it to be that, literally. The law requires that the witnesses must have seen something tending to prove a physical act of infidelity; and if they shrink from going into detail, the referee compels them to go into detail—and then the details are served as delicious tidbits by the “yellow” journals.
I waited a month or two in suspense and shame, until at last the august judge handed down his decision. The referee had erred in questioning me as to the other party’s actions and my attitude thereto; therefore the referee’s recommendations were not accepted, and another referee must be appointed and the solemn farce must be gone through with a second time. I observed with bewildered interest that the erring referee was not compelled to return to me the money which the law had compelled me to turn over to him as his share of the “swag.” I must pay another referee and a new set of court costs, and must wait several months longer for my peace of soul and self-respect to be restored to me.
The second referee was appointed and the farce was played again. This time the referee would make no mistake, he would ask me no questions; he was a business-like gentleman, and put the job through in short order. He turned in his report, with the recommendation that my petition should be granted; and again the newspapers got the story—only now, of course, it was a stale story, the public was sick of the very name of me.
Again I waited in an agony of suspense, until a Roman Catholic judge handed down his august decision. It appeared that the evidence in the case was defective. The other party had been identified by means of photographs, and this was not admissible. Both attorneys in the case and the referee declared that there were innumerable precedents for photographs having been admitted, but the Roman Catholic judge said no. Also he said that there was some indication of “collusion”; I had behaved too humanely towards the other party in the domestic conflict. Apparently it was my legal duty to behave like Othello, or to do what the relatives of Heloise did to Abelard.
I understood, of course, what the decision meant; the Roman Catholic judge had got his opportunity to step upon the nose of a notorious Socialist, and he had taken it. My lawyer urged me to appeal the case, but I remembered a talk I had had with James B. Dill three or four years previously. Dill was the highest paid corporation-lawyer in America, having been paid a million dollars for organizing the Steel Trust. Before he died, he was judge of the highest court of New Jersey, and I had spent long evenings at his home listening to his anecdotes. I recalled one remark: “There are twenty-two judges of the Appellate Court in New York State, and only three of them are honest. To each of the other nineteen I can say, I know whose man you are; I know who paid you and just how he paid you. And not one of them would be able to deny my statements.” Reflecting on this, I decided that I would not spend any more of my hard-earned money in appealing—more especially as by so doing I stood to lose what little privacy the law had preserved to me; the law required that in the event of an appeal I must pay to have the evidence in the case printed, and made public property forever! I had received a letter from my friend Dr. Frederik van Eeden, the Dutch poet and novelist, assuring me that he lived in a civilized country, where divorce was granted upon admission of infidelity, without evidence being given. So I set out for Holland; and in establishing my residence I did not have to resort to any technicalities. I really intended to spend the rest of my life in Europe; it seemed to me that I could not bear the sight of America again.
My earning power had, of course, been entirely destroyed; no one would read my books, no one would publish what I wrote. As Mitchell Kennerley said to me: “If people can read about you for one cent, they are not going to pay a dollar and a half to do it.” Also, my health seemed permanently undermined; I did not think I was going to live, and I did not very much care. But I established my residence in Holland and obtained my divorce, quietly, and without scandal. I wish to pay tribute to the kindest and most friendly people I have ever met—the Dutch. When I came to them, sick with grief, they did not probe into my shame; they invited me to their drawing-rooms for discussions of literature and art, and with tact and sweetness they let me warm my shivering heart at their firesides. Their newspapers treated me as a man of letters—an entirely new experience to me. They sent men of culture and understanding to ask my opinions, and they published these opinions correctly and with dignity. When I filed my divorce-suit they published nothing. When the decree was granted, they published three or four lines about it in the columns given to court proceedings, a bare statement of the names and dates, as required by law. And even when I proposed to rid my home of fleas by means of cyanogen gas, they did not spread the fact on the front pages of their newspapers, making it a “comic relief” story for the vacuous-minded crowd.
There were many men in Holland, as in England and Germany and Italy and France, who hated and feared my Socialist ideas. I made no secret of my ideas; I spoke on public platforms abroad, as I had spoken at home. When reporters for the great Tory newspapers of England came to interview me, I told them of the war that was coming with Germany, and how bitterly England would repent her lack of education and modern efficiency, and her failure to feed and house her workers as human beings. These opinions were hateful to the British Tories, and they attacked me; but they did not attack the author of the opinions, by making him into a public scarecrow and publishing scandals about his private life. This, as my Dutch chemist would have said, is “a characteristically American procedure”!
CHAPTER XX: THE STORY OF A LYNCHING
The first American I visited in Europe was George D. Herron, then living in Florence, the home of his favorite poet, Dante. Dante had been exiled from Florence by the oligarchy which ruled that city, and in exactly the same way Herron had been exiled from America by America’s oligarchy, the capitalist press. I had known him for ten years, and had witnessed his martyrdom at first hand. The story is told in full in some pages of Love’s Pilgrimage, but I must sketch it here, where I am dealing with the subject of marriage and divorce, and the attitude of our Journalism thereto. As it happens, the story is timely, for Herron has again been brought into the public eye, and the capitalist press has dragged out the old skeleton and rattled its dry bones before the world.
George D. Herron had been a clergyman, a professor of Christian morals in a Middle Western college. He had been married as a boy and was wretchedly unhappy. I am not free to discuss that early marriage; suffice it to say that when he told me the story, the tears came into his eyes. He had become a Socialist, and had set out to preach the cause of the poor and oppressed from one end of America to the other. Among his converts was an elderly rich woman, Mrs. Rand, whose fortune came from railroad and lumber interests in the Middle West. And now Herron came to love the daughter of Mrs. Rand. Being a clergyman, he had no idea of divorcing his wife, and the discovery that he loved another woman only added to his misery. His health gave way under the strain, but he held out—until finally his wife brought suit for divorce, alleging desertion.
Herron had founded a Christian Socialist organization, and was one of the most popular radical orators in the country. He was a dangerous man to the “interests,” and here was the chance to destroy him. A perfect storm of obloquy and abuse overwhelmed him. He was a “free lover,” they declared, a proof of the claim that all Socialists believed and practised “free love.” The Rev. Newell Dwight Hillis refused to shake hands with him, turning his back upon him on a public platform: Newell Dwight Hillis, whose greed for money led him into a series of disgusting scandals, and forced him finally to bow his head with shame and confess his financial sins before his congregation! The Rev. Thomas Dixon wrote a novel, The One Woman, in which he portrayed Herron as a sort of human gorilla: Dixon, dealer in pulpit-slang, who has since turned to the movies as a means of glorifying race-hatred and militarism, and pouring out his venom upon all that is humane and generous in life.
I have many friends who were present at the marriage of George D. Herron and Carrie Rand. They were married by a Congregational clergyman, William Thurston Brown, and I have seen the marriage certificate. Yet all over this country, and in fact all over the world, the newspapers portrayed the ceremony as a “free love wedding,” no real marriage, but just a say-so to be terminated at pleasure. The most horrible tales were told, the most horrible pictures were published—of Herron, and of his first wife, and of his “soul mate” and his “soul mate’s” mother.
I saw that the strain of the thing was killing Herron, and persuaded him to go abroad to live and do his writing. Three or four years later old Mrs. Rand died, leaving a part of her money to found the Rand School; Herron and his wife came home to bury her, and again the storm broke out. He had purchased a farm at Metuchen, New Jersey, intending to live there; a reporter came, representing that the Cosmopolitan Magazine wished to publish a series of articles about the wives of distinguished American writers. On this pretext the reporter obtained a photograph of a painting which Herron had had made of his wife and baby, and a week later there appeared in the magazine section of the New York Sunday American a horrible scare story about the “free love colony” which Herron was founding in the midst of an exclusive residential suburb of New Jersey. There was a picture of the free love wife and the free love baby, and of Herron standing upon a ladder, tacking upon a wall his repudiation of the institution of marriage. The headlines ran:
ELEVEN MILLION DOLLARS TO PROMOTE THIS DOCTRINE
How the Vast Fortune of the Late Mrs. Rand, Who Gave Prof. Herron’s Deserted Wife $60,000 to Divorce Him, is Being Used in an Amazing Warfare on Marriage and Religion Under the Leadership of Herron and Mrs. Rand’s Daughter.
This story went all over the country, and recently when Herron was named by President Wilson as one of the delegates to confer with the Russian Soviets, the story was rehashed in our newspapers, and made the subject of indignant protest by religious bodies. Having visited this Metuchen home and seen the whole story in the making, I am in a position to state that the Metuchen “free love colony” was entirely a product of the obscene minds of the editors of the “Sunday Yellows.” What is the moral character of these “yellow” editors you may judge from the fact that, soon after this, one of the editors of the “Sunday World” was arrested by Anthony Comstock and sent to jail for a year or two, for having in his possession several thousand obscene photographs which he used in the corrupting of boys. In such minds the Metuchen story was born; and seventeen years later its foul carcass is exhumed by the Churchman, organ of “the Church of Good Society” in New York, and made the basis of a vicious sneer at President Wilson. I quote:
In dealing with Russian liberals, it may be necessary to select as mediators men who share their political ideas. It is not necessary to choose men who share their moral practices. We read that the Presbyterian Union of Newark has adopted resolutions protesting against the appointment of George D. Herron as a representative of the United States to confer with the Bolsheviks. The resolution condemns Herron as a man who has flagrantly violated the laws of God and man, and they call upon President Wilson to revoke his appointment. They go into past history and assert that Mr. Herron endeavored at one time to establish a free love colony at Metuchen, New Jersey.
Time wasted! We warn the Newark protestants. Mr. Herron’s appointment will not be revoked. What is the marriage vow among the makers of millenniums?
And lest you think this is merely odium theologicum , I give an example of the comment of the laity, from Harvey’s Weekly:
Why not make Herron the Turkish Mandatory? Herron’s matrimonial views are broad and comprehensive. His poultry-yard standard of morals might possibly be a little looser than the Turkish, but he would doubtless conform himself in theory and practice to the narrower Turkish matrimonial prejudices.
I wonder which is the more disagreeable phenomenon, sexual license or venal hypocrisy. It is a question I face when I read denunciations of the morals of radicals in capitalist newspapers. I have known men and women in a score of different worlds; I have talked with them and compared their sexual ethics, and I know that the newspaper people cannot afford to throw stones at the rest.
There are causes for this, of course. Their work is irregular and exhausting; they squeeze out the juices from their nerve-centers, they work under high pressure, in furious competition. Such men are apt to make immoderate use of tobacco and alcohol, and to take their pleasure where they find it. But this applies only to the rank and file in the newspaper world, to reporters and penny-a-liners; it does not apply to the big men at the top. These men have ease and security, and surely we might expect them to conform to the moral laws which they lay down for the rest of mankind!
I have in mind a certain editor. In this book where I am sparing no one, I should perhaps give his name; but I yield to human weakness, having been a guest at his home. Suffice it to say that this editor is one of America’s very greatest, one to whom the masses of Americans look every day for enlightenment. This man wrote and published a most atrocious editorial concerning Herron’s sexual morals. And what was his own sexual life at the time?
When The Jungle was published, this editor wrote to me that he had a friend who wished very much to meet me. I accepted, and went to dinner in a beautiful apartment in New York, luxuriously furnished, where I met a charming and cultured lady whom I will call Mrs. Smith. There were two lovely children, and there was Mr. Smith, a quiet, rather insignificant gentleman. I spent an enjoyable evening, and went away with no suspicion of anything unusual in the Smith family. But afterwards, when I mentioned the matter to others who knew this editor, I learned that the editor was the father of the children, and that Mr. Smith was maintained in luxury as a blind to cover the situation. I could hardly believe my ears; but I found that everybody who knew this editor intimately knew all about it, and that the editor made no secret of it among his friends. Later on, I came to know a certain brilliant and beautiful young suffrage leader, since deceased, who told me how she had exercised the privilege of the modern emancipated young woman, and had asked this editor to marry her. His answer was that he was very sorry, but he was not free, Mrs. Smith having given him to understand that if ever he left her, she would kill herself.
Here again we face the New York State law, forced upon the public by the Roman Catholic Church, making the grounds of divorce infidelity plus a scandal. Driven by the terror of scandal, men have been led by thousands and tens of thousands to make arrangements such as I have here described. Believing as I do that this divorce-law is an abomination, a product of vicious priest-craft, I hesitate before I blame these men; but no one need hesitate to blame them when, knowing what the law is, and what they themselves have been driven to, they publicly spit upon and trample the face of a modern prophet like George D. Herron.
And lest you think this case exceptional, I will give you another. There is a newspaper in New York, a pillar of capitalist respectability, the very corner-stone of the temple of bourgeois authority. This paper, of course, denounced Herron in unmeasured terms; recently it took up the attack again, in its solemn and ponderous manner rebuking the President for his lack of understanding of the moral sentiments of the American people. This great newspaper is owned and published by a Hebrew gentleman, intimately connected with the great financial interests of New York. He is one of the most respectable Hebrew gentlemen imaginable. And what are his sexual habits?
I know a lady, one of America’s popular novelists. She is a charming lady, but without a trace of that appearance and manner which in the world is called “fast”; on the contrary, she is one of the women you know to be straightforward and self-respecting, the kind you would choose for your sister. She came to New York, young and inexperienced, desirous of earning a living. Naturally, she thought first of this great publisher, whom she had known socially in her home city. She went to him and told him that she had made something of a success at writing, and she wanted to write for the great metropolitan paper. He answered that he would be delighted, and arrangements were made. They were alone in the office, and she stood by his desk to shake hands with him in parting, and he pulled her over and took her on his knee; whereupon she boxed his ears and walked out of the office, and never did any writing for the great metropolitan paper.
The above anecdote is, of course, hearsay so far as I am concerned. I was not in the publisher’s office, and I did not see him take the lady-novelist on his knee; but my wife and I knew this lady-novelist well, and she had no possible motive for telling us a falsehood. The story came up casually in the course of conversation, and was told spontaneously, and with humor; for the lady takes life cheerfully, and had got over being angry with the publisher- -satisfied, I suppose, with having boxed his ears so thoroughly. I wrote to her, to make sure I had got matters straight, and in reply she asked me not to use the story, even without her name. I quote:
You know, of course, that I should be glad to do, at once and freely, anything I could to be helpful in your affairs. I have thought it over and it stands about like this in my mind. I am living a life that has its own aims—a thing apart from public attack and defense. If I had determined to make public—after all these years—any offense ——- was guilty of toward me, my own feeling is clear that I should do it myself, openly and for reasons that seemed to me compelling. . . . . So leave me out of this matter, my dear Upton.
And so I confront a problem of conscience, or at any rate of etiquette. Have I the right to tell this story, even without giving names? I owe a certain loyalty to this friend; but then, I think of the great publisher, and the manifold falsehoods I have known him to feed to the public. I think of the prestige of such men, their solemn hypocrisy, their ponderous respectability. After weighing the matter, I am risking a friendship and telling the story. I hope that in the course of time the lady will realize my point of view, and forgive me.
A different kind of problem confronts me with another story, which I heard three or four years ago, just after it happened. I had this book in mind at the time, and I said to myself: “I’ll name that man, and take the consequences.” But meantime, alas, the man has died; and now I ask myself “Can I tell this story about a dead man, a man who cannot face me and compel me to take the consequences?” I think of the man’s life-long prostitution of truth, his infinite betrayal of the public interest, and I harden my heart, and write the story, naming him. But then I weaken, and ask advice. I ask women, and they say: “Name him!” I ask men, and they say: “You cannot tell such a story about a dead man!” Which is right?
Everything that the profit-system could do for one of its darlings had been done for this man. Millions of books, millions of magazinelets went out bearing his name; wealth, power, prominence, applause—all these things he had; his life was one long triumph—and one long treason to public welfare. And what was the man’s private life? What use did he make of his fame, and more especially of his wealth?
The story was told to me by a woman-writer—not the one I have just referred to, but as different from her as one woman can be from another: a vivid and dashing creature, especially constructed both in body and mind for the confounding of the male. This lady was standing on a corner of Fifth Avenue, waiting for the stage, when a man stepped up beside her, and said out of the corner of his mouth, “I’ll give you five dollars if you come with me.” The lady made no response, and again the voice said, “I’ll give you ten dollars if you come with me.” Again there was no response, and the voice said, “I’ll give you twenty-five dollars if you come with me.” The stage arrived, and the auction was interrupted. But it happened that evening that the lady was invited to a dinner-party, to meet a great literary celebrity, a darling of the profit-system—and behold, it was the man who had bid for her on the street! “Mr. —- and I have met before,” said the lady, icily; and, as she writes me, “this paralyzed him.”
I ask this lady if I may tell the story. She answers: “Go the limit!” So here, at least, my conscience is at ease!
CHAPTER XXI: JOURNALISM AND BURGLARY
I was obliged to return to America to give testimony concerning an automobile accident of which I had been a witness. I had been sitting in the rear seat of a friend’s car, which was proceeding at a very moderate rate of speed along a down-town street, when a fruit-peddler leaped out from behind an ice-wagon. He had a bunch of bananas in his hand and was looking up toward a woman in a window; he was not two feet ahead of the car when he sprang in front of it, and was struck before those in the car could move a finger. The account in the news column of the New York Times made clear that I had been merely a passenger, in another man’s car, yet the Times found space on its editorial page for a letter from some correspondent, sneering at me as a Socialist who rode down poor men in automobiles!
During my return to America I remarried. The ceremony took place in Virginia, at the home of relatives of my wife’s family, and I was interested to observe that the Times, which had pursued me so continually, printed a perfectly respectful account of the wedding, with no editorial sneers. I was not puzzled by this, for I observed that the Times had taken the trouble to telegraph to Mississippi, to make inquiries concerning the lady I was marrying, and the report from their correspondent stated that the bride’s father was “one of the wealthiest men in this section, and controls large banking interests.” How many, many times I have observed the great organ of American plutocracy thus awed into decency by wealth! When Frank Walsh, as chairman of the United States Commission on Industrial Relations, made a radical speech in New York, the Times telegraphed to Kansas City and learned that Walsh was a lawyer earning an income of fifty thousand dollars a year. It was comical to observe the struggle between its desire to lambast a man who had made a radical speech, and its cringing before a man who was earning fifty thousand dollars a year!
In the same way, I have observed the attitude of the New York newspapers toward my friend, J.G. Phelps Stokes, a Socialist who is reputed to be a millionaire, and who belongs to one of the oldest families in New York “society.”
So it makes no difference what he says or does, you never see a disrespectful word about him in a New York newspaper. On one occasion, I remember, he and his wife made Socialist speeches from a fire-escape in the tenement-district of New York—and even that was treated respectfully! Upton Sinclair, who is not reputed to be a millionaire, gave a perfectly decorous lecture on Socialism, at the request of his fellow passengers on an ocean-liner—and when he landed in New York he read in the Evening World that he had delivered a “tirade.” I might add that the above remarks are not to be taken as in any manner derogatory to Stokes, who is in no possible way to blame for the fact that the newspapers spare him the treatment they give to other American Socialists, including Mrs. Stokes.
At this time ten or twenty thousand silk-workers in Paterson, New Jersey, went on strike, affording the usual spectacle—a horde of ill-paid, half-starved wage slaves being bludgeoned into submission by policemen’s clubs, backed by propaganda of lying newspapers. The silk-mill owners of Paterson of course owned the city government, and were using the police-force to prevent meetings of the strikers; but it happened that the near-by village of Haledon had a Socialist mayor, and there was no way to keep the strikers from walking there for open air mass-meetings. There was clamor for the State troops to prevent such gatherings, and the newspapers were called on to make them into near-riots. My wife and I would go out to the place and attend a perfectly orderly gathering, addressed by such men as Ernest Poole and Hutchins Hapgood, and then we would come back to New York and buy a copy of the Evening Telegram and read all across the front page scare-headlines about riots, dynamite and assassination. I have before me a clipping from the New York World, of Monday, May 19, 1913. “Paterson’s Fiercest Fight Feared Today,” runs the headline.
On this same date my old friend the New York Times achieved a little masterpiece of subtle knavery. I quote:
UPTON SINCLAIR IS HEARD
After Mohl came another newcomer so far as Paterson is concerned—Upton Sinclair.
“I just simply could not stand it any longer,” said Sinclair, “and I let my books go and came here to congratulate you. Yours is the finest exhibition of solidarity ever seen in the Eastern States.”
Sinclair stated that the strikers had the police at their mercy, but added that perhaps they did not realize it.
This, please understand, was part of a campaign to make the general public regard the Paterson silk-workers as anarchists and desperadoes. “The strikers have the police at their mercy,” says Sinclair; and what conclusion does the reader draw from these words? Obviously, Sinclair is advising the strikers to grab up clubs and brick-bats and overwhelm the police. You would have drawn that conclusion, would you not? Perhaps maybe you are one of the readers of the Times, and did draw that conclusion! As it happens, when I read that item, I took the trouble to jot down what I actually did say, and to preserve the record along with the clipping. I quote:
You fellows go out on the picket-line and the police fall upon you with clubs, they ride you down with their horses, they raid your offices, and suppress your papers and throw your leaders into jail, and you think you are helpless. You don’t realize that you have the police at your mercy. All those policemen are appointed by the city government; they get their orders from the city government and every year or two you go to the ballot-box and say whether you like what they have been doing. In other words, you vote for Republican or Democratic politicians, instead of electing Socialists to office, and having a city government that will give you your lawful rights.
To get the full significance of the above, you must realize that this was an I. W. W. strike; I went out to a meeting conducted by Bill Haywood and Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and was permitted to preach a doctrine of political action which these leaders despised. I, who have all my life urged upon the workers of America the futility of the strike alone, and the necessity of political action, went out and said my say in the midst of a campaign of “direct action”; and see how much understanding I got from the great metropolitan newspapers for my defense of political methods! One year later, after the Colorado coal-strike, the little urchins in the village of Croton-on-Hudson where I lived used to follow me on the street and shout: “I won’t work!” I used to reflect that our great organs of publicity, the New York Times and World and Herald and Tribune and Sun, stood upon precisely the same level of intelligence as these little village urchins.
At this time the newspapers were trying to obtain from me a photograph of the lady who went with me to strike-meetings, in spite of the fact that her father was “one of the wealthiest men in this section, and controls large banking interests.” They didn’t get the photograph, so they were in desperate straits. A reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper—I have the clipping, but unfortunately not the name of the paper—went to Arden to look me up, and was told by my friend Donald Stephens that I was not there. The homes in Arden are scattered about through the woods, and life is informal; I had locked the doors of my house, but the windows were not fastened. I am not in a position to prove that the reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper burglarized my house and stole a picture of my wife. I cannot state positively that a course in house-breaking is a part of the training of newspaper reporters in the City of Brotherly Love. All I can state is the following set of facts:
- In my desk in the house there lay a kodak-picture of my wife and myself and my wife’s younger sister.
- This copy was the only one in existence, having been taken by my sister-in-law in an out-of-the-way place, and developed by a photographer who knew nothing about us.
- Upon my return to Arden, this picture was discovered to be missing from my desk.
- This missing picture was published in a Philadelphia newspaper.
CHAPTER XXII: A MILLIONAIRE AND AN AUTHOR
The thesis of this book is that our newspapers do not represent public interests, but private interests; they do not represent humanity, but property; they value a man, not because he is great, or good, or wise, or useful, but because he is wealthy, or of service to vested wealth. And suppose that you wished to make a test of this thesis, a test of the most rigid scientific character—what would you do? You would put up two men, one representing property, the other representing humanity. You would endeavor rigidly to exclude all other factors; you would find one man who represented property to the exclusion of humanity, and you would find another man who represented humanity to the exclusion of property. You would put these two men before the public, having them do the same thing, so far as humanly possible, and then you would keep a record of the newspaper results. These results would give you mathematically, in column-inches, the relative importance to each newspaper of the man of property and the man of humanity. Such an exact, scientific test I have now to record.
I introduce the two persons. First, the man of humanity: At the time the test was made, in December, 1913, he was thirty-five years of age; he was known everywhere throughout the United States, and was, with the possible exception of Jack London, the most widely known of living American writers throughout the world. At the time of the test he did not own more than a couple of hundred dollars.
Second, the man of property. He was at this time twenty-two years of age, and had done four things which had been widely heralded: First, he was born. Second, he decided to conduct some experiments in farming. Third, he decided to marry a young lady of his acquaintance. Fourth, he inherited sixty-five million dollars. Three of these things are not at all unusual; many a farmer’s boy has done them, and has not had the distinction of seeing the newspapers devote columns of space to them. But the other thing is quite unique; since the beginning of American history, no other person has ever inherited sixty-five million dollars. So it may be asserted beyond dispute that this young man’s reputation depended upon property, and nothing but property; he was the perfect specimen which the sociological scientist would require for his test—the man of property pur sang.
And now for the action of the two men. It appears that the New York Times, a great organ of world-capitalism, in its efforts to camouflage its true functions, had resorted to the ancient device of charity, used by the Christian Church ever since it sold out to the Emperor Constantine. Early in December of each year the Times publishes a list which it calls “One Hundred Neediest Cases,” and collects money for these hundred families in distress. The Times never goes into the question of the social system which produces these harrowing cases, nor does it allow anyone else to go into this question; what it does is to present the hundred victims of the system with enough money to preserve them until the following December, so that they may again enter into competition for mention in the list, and have their miseries exploited by the Times.
In addition to this, the Times publishes every Sunday an illustrated supplement of pictures to entertain its variety of readers; and it happened that on the Sunday when it published the “Hundred Neediest Cases” it published also a photograph of a “recreation building” which young Mr. Vincent Astor was erecting on his country estate at a cost of one million dollars. This building was for the use of Astor and his friends; it had no place for the public. It was devoted to tennis and swimming and gymnastics; it had no place for literature, music, art, science, or religion—it was a typical product of the private property regime. So the man who represented humanity sat himself down and wrote a “Christmas letter” to the millionaire, in substance asking him how he could enjoy his Christmas, how he could be content to play in a million-dollar “recreation-building,” when he had before him such positive evidence that millions of his fellow-beings were starving. This letter was picturesque, interesting and well-written; as news it was in every way “live.”
So came the first test. This “Christmas letter” to Vincent Astor was offered to every newspaper in New York City on the same date, addressed “City Editor,” special delivery. It was sent to both morning and afternoon papers. And how many published it? Just one—the New York Call—the Socialist paper. No other paper in New York, morning or afternoon, printed a line of it, or referred to it in any way. It was offered to every big news agency in the country. And how many handled it? Not one. Outside of New York it was published in the Appeal to Reason, and in one Chicago paper which happened to be edited by a personal friend of the author’s. So here you have the first verdict of the capitalist journalism of New York City; a letter written by a man of humanity represents a total news-value of precisely 0.
There the matter might have rested, the test might never have been completed, but for the fact that the millionaire disagreed with the judgment of his newspaper editors; he thought the letter of the author was important, and he answered it.
How this came to happen I have no idea. Maybe the millionaire’s conscience was touched; maybe he had ambition to be something else than a man of property pur sang. Maybe he himself wrote the answer; maybe some shrewd family lawyer wrote it; maybe his secretary or some other employe wrote it—all I know is that two or three weeks later the millionaire wrote to the author, and at the same time gave his letter to the newspapers.
The author’s letter had been, of course, an attack upon capitalism. The millionaire’s was a defense of it. And so came the second test. Every New York newspaper was offered an opportunity to publish the millionaire’s letter to the author. And how many availed themselves of the opportunity? Every one, absolutely every one! Every one published the letter, and published it entire! Most of them put it on the front page, with the millionaire’s picture; some of them added columns of interviews about it, and editorials discussing it. The New York newspapers’ idea of the news- value of a man of property was precisely one hundred per cent!
The above would have been sufficient for any sociological scientist; but, as it happened, the test was carried one stage farther yet. The author was not entirely overwhelmed by the evidence of his unimportance as compared with a millionaire; he was a Socialist, and Socialists are notoriously hard to squelch. He wrote a second letter to the millionaire, answering the millionaire’s arguments; and again he offered it to every paper and to every news agency in New York—the same ones that had spread out the millionaire’s arguments in full. And how many printed it? How many printed the whole of it? Just one—the Call, the Socialist paper. How many printed parts of it? And how large were these parts? Let us see.
The author’s first letter measured in newspaper columns sixty-three inches; the millionaire’s reply measured nineteen, and the author’s reply to that measured sixty-one. If it be objected that the author was claiming more than his fair share, it should be pointed out that the author was attacking an established institution, something one cannot do in a few sentences. On the other hand, the most foolish person can reply, “I don’t agree with you”—and claim the virtue of brevity. Also, be it noted that the question here is not what the author claimed , but what he got . Here is a table showing what he got, in column inches, from the leading morning papers of New York:
Let it be noted that the above takes no account of headlines, which were all big for the millionaire and small for the author; it does not include editorials, interviews and photographs, nor does it reckon the advantage of first- page position.
In order to make the significance of the figures quite clear, let them be reduced to percentages. Each paper had 124 author-inches offered to it, and 19 millionaire-inches. To begin with the Times: this paper printed all the millionaire inches—also a few extra which it hunted up for itself; it printed none at all of the author-inches. Hence we see that, to put it mathematically, the Times considers an author absolutely nothing in comparison with a millionaire. Exactly the same is true of the Herald, the Press, and the Tribune. The World printed 100 percent of possible millionaire-inches and less than 2 percent of possible author-inches, thus giving the millionaire more than fifty times the advantage. Similarly, the American favored him sixty to one. The Call placed the two on a par—that is to say, the Call printed the news .
I conclude the account of this little episode by quoting a passage from the published Memoirs of a wise old Chinese gentleman, Li-Hung-Chang, who happened to be a man of humanity as well as of property:
A poor man is ever at a disadvantage in matters of public concern. When he rises to speak, or writes a letter to his superiors, they ask: “Who is this fellow that offers advice?” And when it is known that he is without coin they spit their hands at him, and use his letters in the cooks’ fires. But if it be a man of wealth who would speak, or write, or denounce, even though he have the brain of a yearling dromedary, or a spine as crooked and unseemly, the whole city listens to his words and declares them wise.
CHAPTER XXIII: THE “HEART WIFE”
The next story has to do with the phenomenon known as “Hearst Journalism.” It is a most extraordinary story; in its sensational elements it discounts the most lurid detective yarn, it discounts anything which is published in the Hearst newspapers themselves. At first the reader may find it beyond belief; if so, let him bear in mind that the story was published in full in the New York Call for August 9, 1914, and that no one of the parties named brought a libel suit, nor made so much as a peep concerning the charges. I may fairly assert that this story of “Hearst Journalism” is one which Mr. Hearst and his editors themselves admit to be true.
William Randolph Hearst has been at various times a candidate for high office in America, and has been able to exert much influence on the course of the Democratic party—in New York, in Illinois, and even throughout the nation. What are the Hearst newspapers? How are they made? And what is the character of the men who make them? These questions seem to me of sufficient importance to be worth answering in detail.
In order to make matters clear from the outset, let me point out to the reader that, for once, I am not dealing with a grievance of my own. Throughout this whole affair my purpose was to get some money from a Hearst newspaper, but I was not trying to get this money for myself; I was trying to get it for a destitute and distracted woman. All parties concerned knew that and knew it beyond dispute. The wrong was done, not to me, but to a destitute and distracted woman, and so I can present to the reader a case in which he can not possibly attribute an ulterior motive to me.
The story began at Christmas, 1913. In the New York papers there appeared one day an account of the death of a lawyer named Couch, in the little town of Monticello, N. Y. This man was nearly 60 years old, a cripple and eccentric, who lived most of the time in his little office in the village, going once a week to the home upon the hill where lived his wife and family. The news of his death in the middle of the night was brought to a physician by a strange, terrified woman, who was afterwards missing, but next day was discovered by Mr. Couch’s widow and daughter, cowering in an inner portion of his office, which had been partitioned off to make a separate room.
Investigation was made, and an extraordinary set of circumstances disclosed. The man and woman had been lovers for fifteen years, and for the last three years the woman had spent her entire time in this walled-off room, never going outside, never even daring to go near the window in the daytime. This sacrifice she had made for the sake of the old man, because she had been necessary to his life, and there was no other way of keeping secret a situation which would have ruined him.
The story seemed to make a deep impression upon the public, at least if one could judge from the newspapers. There were long accounts from Monticello day by day. The woman was described as grief-stricken, terrified by her sudden confrontation with the world. She was taken to the county jail and kept there until after the dead man’s funeral. No charges were brought against her, but she remained in jail because she had nowhere else to go, and because her condition was so pitiful that the authorities delayed to turn her out. She was helpless, friendless, with but one idea, a longing for death. She was besieged by newspaper reporters, vaudeville impresarios and moving picture makers, to all of whom she denied herself, refusing to make capital of her grief. She was described as a person of refinement and education, and everything she said bore out this view of her character. She was, apparently, a woman of mature mind, who had deliberately sacrificed everything else in life in order to care for an unhappy old man whom she loved, and whom she could not marry because of the rigid New York divorce law.
One morning the papers stated that the relatives of this “hidden woman” refused to offer a home to her. My wife wrote to her, offering to help her, provided this could be done without any publicity; but time passed without a reply. My wife was only three or four weeks out of the hospital after an operation for an injury to the spine. We had made plans to spend the winter in Bermuda, to give her an opportunity to recuperate, and our steamer was to sail at midnight on Monday. On Sunday morning, while I was away from home, my wife was called on the phone by Miss Branch, who announced that she had left the Sullivan County jail, and was at the ferry in New York, with no idea what to do—except to leap off into the river. My wife told her to take a cab and come to our home, and sent word to me what she had done.
Not to drag out the story too much, I will say briefly that Miss Branch proved to be a woman of refinement, and also of remarkable mind. She has read widely and thought for herself, and I have in my possession a number of her earlier manuscripts which show, not merely that she can write, but that she has worked out for herself a point of view and an attitude to life. She was one of the most pitiful and tragic figures it has ever been our fate to encounter, and the twenty-four hours which we spent in trying to give her comfort and the strength to face life again will not soon be forgotten by either of us.
We interested some friends, Dr. and Mrs. James P. Warbasse, in the case, and they very generously offered to place Miss Branch in a sanitarium. Before she left she implored me to make a correction of certain misstatements about her which had appeared in the papers. She was deeply grieved because of the shame she had brought upon her brother and his family, and she thought their sufferings might be partly relieved if they and others read the truth about her character and motives.
At this time, it should be understood, Miss Branch was the newspaper mystery of the hour. She had vanished from Monticello, and on Monday morning the newspapers had nothing on the case but their own inventions. I sought the advice of a friend, J. O’Hara Cosgrave, a well known editor, who suggested that the story ought to be worth money. “As you say that Miss Branch is penniless, why not let one of the papers buy it and pay the money to her? The Evening Journal has been playing the story up on the front page every day. Sell it to them.”
I said, “You can’t sell a newspaper a tip without first telling them what the story is—and can you trust them?”
He answered, “I personally know Van Hamm, managing editor of the Evening Journal, and if you will make it a personal matter with him, you can trust him.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he replied.
I talked the matter over with my wife, who was much opposed to the suggestion, refusing to believe that any Hearst man could be trusted. They would betray me, and use my name, and we should be in for disagreeable publicity. Moreover, Miss Branch would never get the money, unless I got a contract in writing. I answered that there was no time to get it in writing. It was then about one o’clock in the afternoon, and the matter would have to be arranged over the phone at once, if it were to be of any use to an evening paper. So finally my wife consented to the attempt being made, upon the definite understanding that she was to stand beside me at the telephone and hear what I said, and that I was to repeat every word the party at the other end of the wire said, in such a way that both he and she would hear the repetition. In this way she would be a witness to the conversation.
And now, as everything depends upon the question of what was said, let me state in advance that this conversation was written down from the memory of both of us a few hours afterward, and that we are prepared, if necessary, to make affidavit that every word of it was spoken, not once, but several times; that the various points covered in it were repeated so frequently and explicitly that the party at the other end of the wire once or twice showed himself annoyed at the delays. The conversation was as follows:
“Is this Mr. Van Hamm, managing editor of the Evening Journal? Mr. Van Hamm, I have called you up because Jack Cosgrave has told me that you are a man who can be trusted. I wish to ask you if you will give me your word of honor to deal fairly with me in a certain matter. I have some information to offer you which will make a big story. I am offering to sell it for a price, and I wish it to be distinctly understood, in advance, beyond any possible question, that you may have this story if you are willing to pay the price. If you don’t want to pay the price, I have your word of honor that you will not in any manner whatever use any syllable of what I tell you.”
This was repeated and agreed to, and then I told him what I had. “I am not at liberty to tell you where Miss Branch is at present,” I said. “I am offering you a story, and a statement which she desires me to give out for her. The price for it is three hundred dollars for Miss Branch. I don’t want the money myself—I won’t even handle it. Is the price agreeable to you?”
The answer was, “Yes, I will send a man up at once.”
I said, “It is distinctly understood that you are to publish nothing whatever about this matter unless the sum of three hundred dollars is paid to Miss Branch?”
“Yes. Where is she, so that I can pay the money to her?”
“I will give you the name of a man who knows where she is. This man will take the money and will bring you her receipt. I wish to give you the name of this man in confidence, for he does not wish his name brought into the case in any way.”
The answer was: “Put the name of the man in a sealed envelope and give it to the reporter, who will give it to me. I will personally see that the money is sent to him, and then will forget his name.”
“Very well,” I replied, and added, “I have written a thousand-word article discussing the case. I will give you this article along with the rest of the information. But you must not print either this article or a single word about this matter unless you pay three hundred dollars to Miss Branch. You understand that distinctly?”
He replied, “I understand. A man will be up to see you in half an hour.”
Fifteen minutes after the conversation there came a telephone-call; a voice, sharp and determined, at the other end of the wire, “Is Miss Branch there?” My wife was answering the phone and she beckoned to me. We stared at each other, uncertain what to answer or what to think.
“Miss Branch?" said my wife. “No! Certainly Miss Branch is not here.”
“Then where is she?” came the next question, imperative and urgent.
“I do not know,” said my wife. “Who are you?”
“I have been sent by Sheriff Kinnie, of Sullivan County Jail, who has an important message to be delivered to Miss Branch at once.”
Said I (taking the phone): “Have you credentials from Sheriff Kinnie?”
“No,” was the reply, “I have not.”
“Then,” I said, “you cannot see Miss Branch.”
“But,” said the voice, “I must see her at once. It is really very important.”
“Come here and see me,” I said.
“No,” was the answer, “I cannot. Please tell me where Miss Branch is. It is a matter of the utmost urgency to Miss Branch herself.”
This went on for several minutes, and, finally, having made sure he could get nothing further, the man at the other end of the wire made an appointment to see me at 5:30 P.M.
As soon as I hung up the receiver my wife said: “That is a newspaper reporter. Some other paper knows about her.”
But how could this be? Miss Branch had assured us that she had not mentioned our names to any one, nor shown the letter we had written to her; that no one in Monticello had the remotest idea where she was going, not even the kind sheriff; that no one had boarded the train at her station. She had been most careful, because my wife in her letter had laid such stress upon her distaste for publicity.
Of course, if other papers had the story of her having come to us, then Miss Branch would not get the money from Mr. Van Hamm. I had sold an exclusive story, and it would be said that I had not delivered the goods. I at once telephoned to Mr. Van Hamm to tell him of this incident, but I was told that he was out, and I left word for him to call me up the minute he returned.
His reporter arrived, Mr. Thorpe by name. I will say for Mr. Thorpe that I think he tried to be decent all through this ugly matter. I detected in him before it was over the manner of a man who has been sent to do a job he does not like. I explained to him that I had just had a call from a man I suspected to be a reporter, and therefore I would not give him the story until I had had another talk with Mr. Van Hamm and explained the circumstances to him. So Mr. Thorpe sat for awhile in conversation with me. My wife came out and talked to him—much to my surprise, for she has a dread of reporters. Soon, however, I discovered that it was my wife who was doing the interviewing. She called me out of the room and said: “That telephone call was from the Journal office.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“From everything this young man says, and from his manner. I’ve tried to make him answer me, whether Mr. Van Hamm could have been responsible for that telephone call, and he evaded the question.”
“But,” I said, “what object could they have?”
“They may have been trying to probe you. They have believed that Miss Branch is still with us. This man is trying to find out right now, for he cranes his neck and peers every time I open a door.”
I did not think this could be, but I was more than ever determined to have another talk with Mr. Van Hamm. However, this gentleman continued to be mysteriously absent. I will sum up this aspect of the matter by saying that he continued to be “expected every few minutes” at his office and at his home until 12 o’clock that night. I made not less than twenty efforts to get him, but he would not even let me hear his voice.
As I still refused to give up my story, Mr. Thorpe was suddenly seized with a desire for cigarettes, and went out to purchase some. I am not in a position to say that he called up the office, and turned in what information he had been able to get in the course of our conversation. I will only say that such information appeared an hour or two later in the columns of the Evening Journal.
Mr. Thorpe returned, and still Mr. Van Hamm was mysteriously missing. At last I got tired of waiting, and I gave Mr. Thorpe the interview and the article, and also a letter addressed to Mr. Van Hamm, in which I explicitly repeated the specifications of my telephone conversation with him. I read it to Mr. Thorpe and my wife.
It was then time for the mysterious stranger to appear, but needless to say, he did not keep his appointment. I will conclude this aspect of the story by quoting the following letter from Sheriff Frank Kinnie, of Sullivan County, N.Y.
Your favor relative to Miss Branch received this morning and wish to state that the statement is a falsehood absolutely, as I had no idea whatever as to Miss Branch’s whereabouts, and if you meet Miss Branch she will tell you that no one here in her confidence knew where she was going. I trust a kind Providence will protect and care for her.
To continue: I had that evening to attend a reception given to the delegates of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, at the home of a friend of mine who conducts a boarding school for young ladies. Little dreaming what an avalanche I was to bring down upon the head of this unfortunate friend, I left word at the office that Mr. Van Hamm was to call me at this school at 8 o’clock that evening.
My wife and I then proceeded to pack our belongings for the steamer—the first opportunity we had had in all this excitement. The superintendent of the apartment-house came to us to ask if we could leave an hour earlier than we had intended, as there were two gentlemen who had rented it and wanted to move in immediately. My wife said: “Surely no one can move into an apartment in the state of disorder in which we are leaving this!”
“It seems strange,” was the reply, “but that is what they want to do. They do not want to wait to have it put in order. They are waiting, and they want to come in the minute you leave.”
If I had been dealing with Hearst newspapers for a sufficiently long time, I would have understood in advance the significance of this phenomenon. As it was, I simply pitied the two unfortunate young men, who would have to spend the night in the midst of the chaotic mass of torn manuscripts and scraps of letters and envelopes which littered the floor. Later on I was glad that I had married a lawyer’s daughter—when my wife informed me she had gone over this trash and burned every scrap of paper relating to Miss Branch and her affairs!
I went to the reception, and at about 8 o’clock in the evening the Journal called me up—”Mr. Williams” on the wire—to say that Mr. Van Hamm had considered my article and regretted to say that he could not use it. The information that I had offered him was not considered worth the sum of three hundred dollars. I asked what it was worth, and was told twenty-five dollars. I said, “That won’t do. I will offer it somewhere else.” I demanded the right to speak to Mr. Van Hamm himself on the subject, but was told that he was “out.” I was obliged to content myself with impressing upon “Mr. Williams” the fact that not a syllable that I had confided to Mr. Van Hamm was to be used by the Journal. “Mr. Williams” solemnly assured me that my demand would be complied with—and this in face of the fact that the last edition of the Evening Journal, containing the whole story, was then in the Journal wagons, being distributed over the city! I called up a friend of mine on the World to offer him the story, and the reader will need a vivid imagination to get an idea of my emotions when this friend exclaimed, “Why, that story has already been used by the Journal!”
“That is impossible!” I exclaimed.
He answered, “I have a copy of it upon my desk.”
It was not until I was going on board the steamer that I got a copy of the “final extra” of the New York Evening Journal, the issue of Monday, December 29, 1913. At the top of the front page, in red letters more than one-half inch high, appeared the caption:
“JOURNAL FINDS MISS BRANCH HERE”
with two index hands to point out this wonderful news to the reader. A good portion of the remainder of the front page was occupied by an article with these headings:
HEART-WIFE IS IN NEW YORK
Found Here by Journal.
“Miss Branch Traced to Well-Known Writer’s Home After Secret Flight.
Adelaide M. Branch, for three years the heart-wife of Melvin H. Couch, former District Attorney of Sullivan County, is today in New York City. She is secluded at the home of a well-known sociologist and writer who has interested himself in her case and has offered her a home, at least until she can make definite plans for the future.
Miss Branch was traced to her hiding place in this city by the Evening Journal. The former “love slave” of Couch told the sociologist that she wished to be absolutely quiet and undisturbed. So for the present it is not possible to give her address.
And so continued a long article, which contained practically everything of what I gave to Mr. Thorpe, sometimes even using the very phrases which I had used in the presence of my wife.
I will not trouble the reader with a description of the state of mind we were in when our steamer set out for Bermuda. I will simply give a brief summary of what else occurred in this incredible affair:
First, someone got, or pretended to get, from the hall-boy at the apartment where I had been staying, an elaborate and entirely fictitious account of how Miss Branch had arrived, and how she had swooned and my wife had caught her in her arms, and how some other people had come and carried her away in an automobile. This account was published in full.
Then the records of my telephone-calls were consulted, and every person whom I had called up in my last two days in the apartment was hounded. My poor mother was driven nearly to desperation. In our telephone-call list was found the name of Dr. Warbasse, who had taken Miss Branch away, and Dr. Warbasse later received a wireless message from Bermuda, as follows:
“Give Branch story to papers.”
Shortly afterward the doctor was called up by the Evening Journal, and was told that the Journal had received a wireless message from me, instructing them to call on him for information concerning Miss Branch. I quote from Dr. Warbasse’s letter to me:
I believed the only way they could have learned of my connection with the case was from you, and accordingly gave them a short statement of the facts, but withheld the location of Miss Branch. They published very distorted versions of what little I gave them. They were particularly solicitous for her whereabouts. A few days later I had another wireless from you, asking me to send you Branch’s address. By this time I had grown suspicious, and sent you my address instead. I am now wondering whether the wireless messages were from you or were newspaper fakery. If the latter is the case, it was well done, believe me, and does great credit to the unscrupulousness of the press.
Needless to say, I had sent no such message. What is more significant, I did not receive the message which Dr. Warbasse sent to me, giving me his address! Is the Evening Journal able to intercept cablegrams? I don’t know; but soon after my arrival in Bermuda I received a letter from my friend who conducts the school for young ladies, scolding me for the terrible trouble into which I had got her. The Journal, she said, had become convinced that Miss Branch was hidden in the school, and it was only by desperate efforts that she had kept this highly sensational rumor from going out to the world. I thought, of course, that I was to blame for my thoughtlessness in having given her telephone number to the Evening Journal on the eve of my departure from New York, and I wrote abjectly apologizing for this. What was my consternation to receive a letter assuring me that this was not what had angered her, but the fact that I had been so foolish as to send her a wireless message, instructing her to give the story of Miss Branch to the paper, and had wired the Journal to call upon her for the information!
Mr. Arthur Brisbane is the man whom I had always understood to be the editor in charge of the Evening Journal. I wrote him asking him to investigate this affair; and I sent a registered copy of the letter to Mr. Hearst, who, I assumed, would be jealous for the journalistic honor of his papers. I pointed out the fact that on the Monday afternoon in question every newspaper in New York had had the story that Miss Branch was going West to see a brother of hers. In all editions of the Evening Journal, except the final edition, the following statement had appeared:
Heart-wife flees to asylum. Miss Branch is in hiding in a sanitarium within ten miles of Monticello. As soon as she recovers her strength she will probably join her brother.
I said that I wished to know what Mr. Van Hamm had to say, as to how the Journal had got the information it published in its final edition. If it was an independent tip, who gave that tip? And if the telephone-call alleged to be from the Sheriff had come from any other paper than the Journal, why had not that paper used the story?
Mr. Brisbane replied that he was now in Chicago, and had no longer anything to do with the New York Evening Journal, but that the matter would undoubtedly be investigated by Mr. Hearst.
A friend of mine, an old newspaper man, wrote me à propos of this: “Don’t imagine for one minute that anything will be done about it; don’t imagine but that Van Hamm is Hearst. Hearst knows exactly what Van Hamm does, and if Van Hamm failed to do it, he would lose his job.” This sounded somewhat cynical, but it seemed to be borne out by Mr. Hearst’s course. He chose to veil himself in Olympian silence. I wrote him a second courteous letter, to the effect that unless I heard from him and received some explanation, I would be compelled to assume that he intended to make the actions of his subordinates his own. He has not replied to that letter, so I presume that I am justified in the assumption. And this man wishes to be United States Senator from New York!
Several years ago he desired to be Governor, and there resulted such a tempest of public wrath, such a chorus of exposure and denunciation, that he was overwhelmed; if he had not had a very tough skin he would have fled from political life forever. Unquestionably a deal of this denunciation came from vested interests which he had frightened by his radicalism; but, on the other hand, it betrayed a note of personal loathing that was unmistakable. I marvelled at it at the time; but now I think I understand it.
The story of Miss Branch is forgotten, but other stories are filling the Hearst papers day by day. Are they all got with the same disregard for every consideration of decency, for all the rules which control the dealings of civilized men with one another? Get clear the meaning of this story of mine—the reason for all this lying, sneaking, forging of cablegrams, bribing of hall-boys, violation of honor and good faith. Was it to get a story? No—the Journal had the story offered to it on a silver tray! The reason for all the knavery was to avoid the payment of three hundred dollars to a destitute and distracted woman—that, and that alone! And if such be Hearst’s attitude to his pocket-book, if such be the methods of his newspaper-machine where his pocket-book is concerned, there must be thousands and tens of thousands of people in New York—politicians, journalists, authors, businessmen—who have run into that machine as I did, and been knocked bruised and bloody into the ditch. When Mr. Hearst runs for office, all these men jump into the arena and get their revenge!
CHAPTER XXIV: THE MOURNING PICKETS
I had a book to write that winter, and my wife’s health to think about. We had got as far from the newspapers as we knew how—a little cottage in one of the remotest parts of the Bermuda Islands, with sand-dunes and coral-crags all about us, and a sweep of the Southern ocean in front. There we lived for several months, and thought we were safe. I never went anywhere, except to play tennis—so surely I ought to have been safe! But I wasn’t.
All at once my clipping-bureau began sending me articles from newspapers all over the United States. I was starting a ranch for the training of incorrigible boys in Nevada! First, I was in Chicago for an assortment of boys; I wanted the very wildest and most blood-thirsty that could be found; I had picked out several young criminals who had been given up by reformatories. Then, a little later, I was out in Nevada, starting this “Last Chance Ranch,” with a score or two of boys. And then one of the boys ran away; he complained that I fed him on vegetarian food, and he couldn’t stand it. As it happened, I had not been a vegetarian for a long time; also, as it happened, I was in Bermuda instead of Nevada; but what did that matter to the newspapers? Before long I found myself riding on horseback across the desert, chasing this runaway boy, John Fargo. I had been riding for three days and had nothing in my saddle- bags but peanuts and canned beans.
And there I was left. To this day I don’t know what happened to me; whether I caught “John Fargo,” or what become of my “Last Chance Ranch.” Is there a phantom Upton Sinclair, still chasing “John Fargo” over the Nevada desert, and living on peanuts and canned beans?
It may have been, of course, that there was some one impersonating me. A friend of mine, a school-teacher, told me the other day that one of her pupils had assured her quite solemnly that he knew me well; I was a cripple, and went about in a wheel-chair. Also, I was told by a waiter in a Los Angeles hotel that a bald-headed man had reserved a table in my name, and given an elaborate dinner, and that the hotel staff had thought they were dining me. I am wondering what would have happened in the newspapers if that bald-headed man had drunk too much champagne, and had thrown a bottle through one of the dining-room mirrors?
I came back to America, and made an investigation of the Colorado coal-strike, and so began one of the most sensational episodes of my life. It is a long story, but I shall tell it in full, because it is not a personal story, but a story of eleven thousand miners with their wives and children, living in slavery in lonely mountain fortresses, making a desperate fight for the rights of human beings, and crushed back into their slave-pens by all the agencies of capitalist repression.
I had been to Colorado, and knew intimately the conditions. Now the strike was on, and the miners and their families living in tent-colonies had been raided, beaten, shot up by gun-men. Finally a couple of machine-guns had been turned loose on them, their tent-colony at Ludlow had been burned, and three women and fourteen children had been suffocated to death. I sat in Carnegie Hall, New York City, amid an audience of three thousand people, and listened to an account of these conditions by eye-witnesses; next morning I opened the newspapers, and found an account in the New York Call, a Socialist paper, and two inches in the New York World—and not a line in any other New York paper!
I talked over the problem with my wife, and we agreed that something must be done to break this conspiracy of silence. I had trustworthy information to the effect that young Rockefeller was in charge of what was going on in Colorado, though he was vigorously denying it at this time, and continued to deny it until the Walsh commission published his letters and telegrams to his representatives in Denver. Evidently, therefore, Mr. Rockefeller was the shining mark at which we must aim. It happened that one of the speakers at the Carnegie Hall meeting had been Mrs. Laura G. Cannon, whose husband was an organizer for the United Mine Workers, and had been thrown into jail by the militia and kept there without warrant or charge for a considerable time. So we called on Mrs. Cannon to go with us to the offices of Mr. Rockefeller.
We were received by a polite secretary, to whom we delivered a carefully phrased letter, asking Mr. Rockefeller to meet Mrs. Cannon, and hear at first hand what she had personally witnessed of the strike. We were invited to come back an hour later for our reply, and we came, and were informed that Mr. Rockefeller would not see us. So we presented a second letter, prepared in advance, to the effect that if he persisted in his refusal to see us, we should consider ourselves obligated to indict him for murder before the bar of public opinion. To this letter the polite secretary informed us, not quite so politely, there was “no answer.”
What was to be done now? I had learned by experience that it would be necessary to do something sensational. An indignation meeting in Carnegie Hall, attended by three thousand people, was not enough. At first I thought that I would go to young Mr. Rockefeller’s office and watch for him in the hall, and give him a horse-whipping. But this would have been hard on me, because I am constitutionally opposed to violence, and I did not think Mr. Rockefeller worth such a sacrifice of my feelings. What I wanted was something that would be picturesque and dramatic, but would not involve violence; and finally I hit on the idea of inviting a group of people to put bands of crepe around their arms, and to walk up and down in front of 26 Broadway in dead silence, to symbolize our grief for the dead women and children of Ludlow. I called a group of radicals to discuss the project; also I called the newspaper reporters.
Picketing, except in labor strikes, was a new thing at that time, though the suffragists have since made it familiar. The novelty of the thing, plus the fact that it was being done by a group of well-known people, furnished that element of sensation which is necessary if radical news is to be forced into the papers. A dozen reporters attended our meeting at the Liberal Club, and next morning the newspapers reported the proceedings in full.
So at ten o’clock, when I repaired to 26 Broadway, I found a great crowd of curious people who had read of the matter; also, a number of reporters and camera-men. The reporters swarmed about me and besought me for interviews, but according to agreement I refused to speak a word, and began simply to walk up and down on the sidewalk. I was joined by three ladies who had been present at the meeting of the night before, one of them Elizabeth Freeman, a well-known suffragette. A number of others had promised to come, but apparently had thought better of it in the cold light of the morning after. However, the deficit was made up by a lady, a stranger to us all, who had read about the matter that morning, and had hastily made herself a white flag with a bleeding heart, and now stood on the steps of 26 Broadway, shrieking my name at the top of her voice. It had been agreed that the “mourning pickets” were all to preserve silence, and to make no demonstration except the band of crepe agreed upon. But alas, we had no control over the actions of this strange lady!
Of course there were a number of policemen on hand, and very soon they informed me that I must stop walking up and down. I explained politely that I had made inquiry and ascertained that I was breaking no law in walking on the sidewalk in silence; therefore I didn’t intend to stop. So I was placed under arrest, and likewise the four ladies. We were taken to the station-house, where I found myself confronting the sergeant at the desk, and surrounded by a dozen reporters with note-books. The sergeant was considerate, and let me tell the entire story of the Colorado coal-strike, and what I thought about it; the pencils of the reporters flew, and a couple of hours later, when the first edition of the afternoon newspapers made their appearance on the street, every one of them had three or four columns of what I had said. Such a little thing, you see! You just have to get yourself arrested, and instantly the concrete-walls turn into news-channels!
There is one detail to be recorded about this particular action of the news-channels. The United Press, which is a liberal organization, sent out a perfectly truthful account of what had happened. The Associated Press, which is a reactionary organization, sent out a false account, stating that my wife had been arrested. My wife, knowing how this report would shock her family and friends in the South, sent a special delivery letter to the Associated Press calling their attention to the error, but the Associated Press did not correct the error, nor did it reply to this letter. My wife’s mother, an old-fashioned Southern lady, took the first train out of Mississippi, to rescue her child from jail and from disgrace; but by the time the good lady reached New York, she was so ill with grief and shame that if her child had really been in jail she could have rendered but little assistance. All she could do was to inform her that even though she was not in jail, her father had disinherited her after reading his morning paper. My wife was informed by lawyers that she was in position to collect large damages from the Associated Press, and from every newspaper which had printed the false report. Some thirty suits were filed, but my wife’s health did not permit her to go on with them.
We were taken to the Tombs prison, where the ladies sang the Marseillaise, and I wrote a poem entitled “The Marseillaise in the Tombs,” and again found it possible to have my poetry published in the New York newspapers! The magistrate who tried us was an agreeable little gentleman, who allowed us to talk without limit—the talk all being taken down by the reporters. The charge against us read “using threatening, abusive and insulting behavior.” The witnesses were the policemen, who testified that my conduct had been “that of a perfect gentleman.” Nevertheless we were found guilty, and fined three dollars, and refused to pay the fine, and went back to the Tombs.
The newspapers tore me to pieces for my “clownish conduct,” but I managed to keep cheerful, because I saw that they were publishing the news about the Colorado coal-strike, which before they had banned from their columns. The New York World, for example, published a sneering editorial entitled, “Pink-tea Martyrdom.” “No genuine desire to effect a reform actuates them, but only morbid craving for notoriety.” But at the same time the World sent a special correspondent to the coal-fields, and during the entire time of our demonstration and for a couple of weeks thereafter they published every day from half a column to a column of news about the strike.
I spent two days and part of a third in the Tombs. Every day the reporters came to see me, and I gave interviews and wrote special articles—all the news about Colorado I could get hold of. And every day there was a crowd of ten thousand people in front of Twenty-six Broadway, and young Rockefeller fled to his home in the country, and “Standard Oil,” for the first time in its history, issued public statements in defense of its crimes.
My wife had taken up the demonstration after my arrest, and I was amused to observe that the police did not arrest her, nor did the newspapers ridicule her. Was it because she was a woman? No, for I have seen the police beat and club women doing picket-duty—working-women, you understand. I have seen the newspapers lie about working-women on picket- duty; in the course of this Colorado campaign I saw them print the vilest and most cowardly slanders about the wives of some strikers who went to Washington to make appeal to President Wilson. No, it was not because my wife was a woman; it was because she was a “lady.” It was because in the files of the New York newspapers there reposed a clipping recording the fact that her father was “one of the wealthiest men in this section and controls large banking interests.”
Please pardon these personalities, for they are essential to the thesis of this book—that American journalism is a class institution, serving the rich and spurning the poor. It happens that M.C.S. is conspicuously and inescapably what is called a “lady”; she not merely looks the part, she acts it and speaks it in those subtle details that count most. All her young ladyhood she spent as what is known in the South as a “belle”; incidentally, of course, as an ungodly little snob. She has got over that; but in case of an emergency like our Broadway affair, she naturally used every weapon she had. Against the New York reporters and the New York police department she used the weapon of snobbery—and it worked.
In the South, you see, a “lady” takes for granted the slave-psychology in those she regards as her “social inferiors.” Not merely does she expect immediate obedience from all members of the colored race; she feels the same way about policemen in uniform—it would never occur to her to think of a policeman as anything but a servant, prepared to behave as such. I assured her that she might not find this the case with the husky sons of St. Patrick who lord it over the New York crowds. But M.C.S. answered that she would see.
Far be it from me to know to what extent she did these things deliberately; my advice in such matters is not sought, and I am allowed to see the results only. What I saw in this case—or rather learned about later—was that M.C.S. arrived in front of 26 Broadway an hour late, clad in supple and exquisite white broadcloth, military cape and all; and that on sight of this costume the New York City police department collapsed.
For two weeks the “lady” from the far South marshalled the demonstration, walking side by side with eminent poets from California, and half-starved Russian Jews from the East side slums, and gigantic lumber-jacks from the Oregon forests. If those Russian Jews and Oregon lumber-jacks had tried such a stunt on Broadway by themselves, they would have had their scalps split open in the first five minutes. But the lady in the white military cape was there—never speaking, but looking firmly ahead; and so for two weeks the New York police department devoted itself to keeping everybody else off the sidewalks in front of 26 Broadway, so that our “free silence” advocates might have room to walk up and down undisturbed. They even had mounted policemen to clear lanes in the street, so that the cars might get through; and when some one hired thugs to try to pick quarrels with us and cause a disturbance, the police actually drove the thugs away. I feel quite certain that this was the first time in New York City’s history that thugs employed by a great corporation to terrorize strike- pickets had met with opposition from the police.
And lest you think that M.C.S. is still a snob, and got a sense of triumph from all this, I ought to add the humiliating truth—that each day after going through with her ordeal, she would come home at night and cry! She would talk quietly and firmly to the reporters who came to our apartment; but after they had gone, she would be in a nervous fever of rage, because we had had to do such a “stunt,” in order to get the truth into the rotten newspapers.
Ladies in the South are, of course, not accustomed to having their husbands in jail; so on the third day M.C.S. collected all our most respectable-looking “mourners,” Leonard Abbott, George Sterling, Frank Shay and Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Walker, and put them on duty. Then she betook herself to the Criminal Courts Building, where she caused much embarrassment to several gentlemen in high station. The District-Attorney told her what to do, and helped her to make out the necessary papers; then she set out to find the judge. But the Criminal Courts Building is confusing to strangers; there is a central balcony, and all four sides of it look exactly alike, and M.C.S. got lost. She stopped a gentleman coming out of a courtroom, and asked where she could find Justice So-and-so. “He is in room seventeen,” was the answer. “But I can’t find room seventeen,” said M.C.S. “Please show me.” “What do you wish with justice So-and-so?" inquired the gentleman, politely.
“Why,” said M.C.S., “some imbecile of a judge has sent my husband to jail.” “Madam,” said the gentleman—still politely, “I am the judge.”
She found Justice So-and-so. His court was in session and he could not be interrupted. But in the South, you understand, anything from a court to a fire-engine will stop to pick up a lady’s handkerchief. And moreover, the father of M. C. S. is a judge, so she knows about them. She walked down the aisle and addressed his honor with her quietest smile, and— the court proceedings halted while the necessary papers were signed, and a Socialist muck-raker was released from jail.
The reason for this step was our desire to test in the higher courts the question whether a man whose conduct had been “that of a perfect gentleman” could properly be found guilty of “using threatening, abusive and insulting behavior.” In order to appeal the case it was necessary to pay the fine under protest, so I paid one dollar, and came out on the last day—to behold the crowd of ten thousand people, and the mounted policemen, and the moving-picture operators in the windows of nearby office-buildings. And so, day after day, we were enabled to give information about the Colorado coal-strike to a group of reporters for the New York papers!
Several of these reporters were men of conscience. One, Isaac Russell of the Times, became our friend, and day after day he would tell us of his struggles in the Times office, and how nearly every word favorable to myself or to the strikers was blue-penciled from his story. So during this Broadway demonstration, and the affair in Tarrytown which followed it, we lived, as it were, on the inside of the Times office, and watched the process of strangling the news. We have seen the tears come into Russell’s eyes as he told about what was done. And on top of it all, Mr. Adolph Ochs gave a banquet to the Times staff, to celebrate some anniversary of the paper, and got up and made a speech to them—a speech to Isaac Russell!—telling what a wonderful institution he had made out of the Times, and how it stood consecrated to the public welfare and the service of the truth!
P. S.—Isaac Russell reads the above, and corrects one serious error. He writes in emphatic capitals:
“WE REPORTERS PAID FOR THAT DINNER!"
CHAPTER XXV: THE CASE OF THE “A.P.”
It must be understood that at this time the Colorado coal- strike had been going on for six or seven months. Most of the tent-colonies had been broken up, and the miners were being slowly starved into submission. To one who comes into close touch with such a situation and realizes its human meanings, it becomes an intolerable nightmare, a slow murder committed in a buried dungeon. My mail was full of letters from the miners and their leaders, and I went out to Colorado to see what else could be done to reach the consciences of the American people. I arrived in Denver at a time when the first public fury over the Ludlow massacre had spent itself, and silence had once more been clamped down upon the newspapers. I spoke at a mass meeting in the State capitol, attended by one or two thousand people, and when I called on the audience to pledge itself never to permit the prostituted State militia to go back into the coal districts, I think every person in the legislative chamber raised his hand and took the pledge. Yet not a line about my speech was published in any Denver newspaper next morning, and needless to say, not a line was sent out by the Associated Press.
The Associated Press was playing here precisely the same part it had played with the “condemned meat industry;” that is, it was a concrete wall. I have now to tell about a thorough test of this leading agency of capitalist repression. I consider the incident the most important which this book contains, and therefore I shall tell it in detail. By far the greater part of the news which the American people absorb about the outside world comes through the Associated Press, and the news they get is, of course, the raw material of their thought. If the news is colored or doctored, then public opinion is betrayed and the national life is corrupted at its source. There is no more important question to be considered by the American people than the question, Is the Associated Press fair? Does it transmit the news?
Some time previous to the Colorado coal-strike I had attended a dinner of the Socialist Press Club, at which the question of dishonest newspapers was debated, and one of the speakers was Mr. Fabian Franklin, then editor of the Evening Post, an amiable old gentleman who quite naively referred to the Associated Press as he would have referred to the Holy Trinity. He told of some radical friend of his who had pointed out that the Associated Press had circulated the news of a defeat of the Initiative and Referendum in Oregon, and subsequently, when the Initiative and Referendum had been victorious, had failed to report the victory. “Just think of it!” said this amiable old gentleman. “My radical friend actually believed that the Associated Press would have some motive in suppressing news about the success of the Initiative and Referendum in Oregon!”
I was called upon to answer this argument. I quote from an account of the discussion in the New York Call:
Sinclair was saying that when the fusion of capitalism beat Seidel (Socialist) in Milwaukee, the wires were full of it, but when Duncan (Socialist) beat a fusion in Butte, the press was as silent as the tomb. Franklin said that it was merely that Butte had no news value, while Milwaukee, “Schlitz beer—everybody wants to know about Milwaukee.”
Incidentally I might mention in passing that this amiable old gentleman, Mr. Fabian Franklin, who thinks that the Associated Press would be incapable of suppressing news about a triumph of the Initiative and Referendum, and that it would naturally send out political news about Milwaukee because Schlitz beer is made in Milwaukee, has just recently been selected by a group of reactionaries to conduct a weekly organ of safety and sanity, The Review. The reader will be able from the above anecdote to form an idea of the intellectual status of Mr. Franklin, and the likelihood of his having anything worth while to say to the American people in this greatest crisis of history!
Shortly afterwards came the case of the Masses, which published a cartoon representing the president of the Associated Press as pouring a bottle labeled “Poison” into a reservoir entitled “Public Opinion.” The Associated Press caused the arrest of Max Eastman and Art Young on a charge of criminal libel. They knew that by starting such a proceeding they would gain an opportunity of propaganda, and of this they hastened to make use. They issued an elaborate statement attacking the Masses and defending their own attitude toward the news, which statement was published in practically every paper in New York. I remember particularly that our organ of civic virtue, the New York Evening Post, published it in full. It included this sort of “dope”:
If these young men had investigated before they spoke, they would never have said what they did; for if there is a clean thing in the United States it is the Associated Press. The personnel of the service is made up as a whole of newspaper men of the finest type; throughout the profession employment in its service is regarded as an evidence of character and reliability. No general policy of suppression or distortion could be carried on without the knowledge and indeed the active connivance of these men, stationed at strategic points all over the world. Aside from that, the Associated Press has the active competition of several other aggressive press associations and thousands of special correspondents, and any laxity or deliberate failure on its part would be exposed instantly to its members, who would be quick to resent and punish any such procedure. These members, some nine hundred in number, represent every shade of political and economic opinion, and it is absurd to suppose that a general policy of distortion or suppression could be carried on without immediate exposure.
The editors of the Masses, of course, proceeded to collect evidence, and the Associated Press must have realized very quickly that they were in for serious trouble. They caused a subservient district attorney to bring another indictment, charging libel against the individual who had been portrayed in the cartoon: the purpose of the change being that they hoped to exclude from the trial all evidence against the Associated Press as an organization, and to force the Masses to prove that this one individual had had personal knowledge of each instance of news suppression and perversion.
Gilbert E. Roe, who was preparing the case for the Masses, asked me to tell him of my experiences with the Associated Press, and in talking the matter over he explained what would be required to constitute legal evidence of the suppression of news. I had no such legal evidence in the case of the “condemned meat industry,” because I had not kept copies of my letters to the Associated Press, and I had not kept the clippings of what they actually did send out on the story. I promised Mr. Roe that the next time I went to the bat with the “A. P.,” I would take pains to get proper evidence; and now in Denver I came suddenly upon my opportunity. I got real legal evidence, and the Associated Press knows that I got it, and I have been told that because of this they will never again dare to bring radicals into court, or to defend the thesis that they handle the news impartially. In my challenge I deliberately repeated the words for use of which the Masses editors were indicted, as follows:
I now, over my own signature and as a deliberate challenge, charge that the Associated Press has poisoned the news of the Colorado situation at its source. Will the owners and managers of the Associated Press take up this challenge and make an attempt to send me to prison? I am waiting, gentlemen, for your answer.
This was published May 30, 1914, and I am still waiting. I made every effort, both public and private, to get this answer. I besieged the Associated Press and also the Associated Press newspapers, but no answer could be had, so I think I may fairly say that the Associated Press admitted its guilt in this case. The story, first published in the Appeal to Reason, was written within a few hours of the events narrated, and gave all the documents. With the addition of a few explanations, made necessary by the lapse of time, the story is given unchanged in the next two chapters. It is a long story, but it will repay study, for there are few narratives of recent events which take you quite so far into the “inside,” or reveal quite so clearly how Politics, Journalism, and Big Business work hand in hand for the hoodwinking of the public and the plundering of labor. I urge the reader to follow the narrative carefully, for every detail is necessary to the proper comprehension of the plot.
CHAPTER XXVI: A GOVERNOR AND HIS LIE
The crux of the struggle in Denver during these critical months was the State militia. This militia had been called out and sent to the strike-field because of violence deliberately and systematically committed by the armed thugs of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. There were one or two thousand of these thugs in the field, and they had beaten up the strikers and their wives, and turned machine-guns upon their tent-colonies. The militia had come, supposedly to restore law and order, but the militia authorities had proceeded to recruit new companies from among these detectives and thugs. This was systematically denied by the newspapers, not merely in Colorado, but all over the country; later on, however, the State legislature forced the production of the roster of the militia, and it appeared that of one single company, newly recruited, one hundred and nineteen members out of one hundred and twenty-two had been employes of the strike-breaking agencies, and had continued on the pay-rolls of the coal-companies while serving in the State militia! They had been armed by the State, clothed in the uniform of the State, covered by the flag of the State—and turned loose to commit the very crimes they were supposed to be preventing! The culmination of this perversion of government had been the Ludlow Massacre, which drove the miners to frenzy. There had been a miniature revolution in Colorado; armed working-men had taken possession of the coal-country, and the helpless State government had appealed to the Federal authorities to send in Federal troops.
The Federal troops had come, and the miners had loyally obeyed them. From the hour that the first regulars appeared, no shot was fired in the whole region. The Federal authorities preserved law and order, and meantime the State legislature was called to deal with the situation. This State legislature was composed of hand-picked machine politicians, and all its orders were given from the offices of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. Senator Van Tilborg, machine-leader, personally declared to me his opinion that all the State needed was “three hundred men who could shoot straight and quick.” The State authorities meant to find these three hundred men; they passed a bill appropriating a million dollars for military purposes, and another bill providing for the disarming of all people in the State who were not in the service of the corporations.
The strike at this time had continued for seven months, and the strikers were in their tent-colonies, sullenly awaiting developments. The program of the corporations was to strengthen the State militia, then have it take charge and maintain itself by machine-guns. The attitude of the general public to this proposition may be gathered from the mass- meeting in the State capitol, where one or two thousand people raised their hands and pledged themselves that they would never permit the prostituted militia to go back to the mines.
So stood the situation on Saturday, May 16, 1914, the day the State legislature was scheduled to adjourn. President Wilson, who had sent in the Federal troops reluctantly, was waiting in Washington to see what measures the State authorities would take to put an end to the prevailing civil war. By Saturday morning he had come to realize that no adequate measures were being taken, and he sent from Washington a telegram to Governor Ammons of Colorado:
Am disturbed to hear of the probability of the adjournment of your legislature, and feel bound to remind you that my constitutional obligations with regard to the maintenance of order in Colorado are not to be indefinitely continued by the inaction of the State legislature. The Federal forces are there only until the State of Colorado has time and opportunity to resume complete sovereignty and control in the matter. I cannot conceive that the State is willing to forego her sovereignty, or to throw herself entirely upon the government of the United States, and I am quite clear that she has no constitutional right to do so when it is within the power of her legislature to take effective action.
And now begins a story of political crookedness, the like of which had never come under my personal observation. I had been in Denver four days, and had opportunity to meet a score of people who knew the situation intimately, and who were able to put me on the “inside.” So I can invite you into the Governor’s private office at eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, when the above telegram from President Wilson arrived. First, let me describe this Governor, as I wrote about him in the Denver Express:
I went yesterday afternoon to see your Governor. I wish to be very careful what I say of him. He is apparently a kindly man; in intellectual caliber fitted for the duties of a Sunday-School superintendent in a small village. He is one of the most pitiful figures it has ever been my fate to encounter. He pleaded with me that he was a ranchman, a workingman, that he was ignorant about such matters as mines. When I pointed out to him that, according to government figures, there were twelve times as many miners killed and injured by accidents in the southern Colorado fields as elsewhere, his only answer was that he had heard some vague statement to the effect that conditions were different in other places. He pleaded tearfully that he had brought upon himself the hatred of everyone, he admitted that he was utterly bewildered, and had no idea what to do in this crisis. His every word made evident his utter ignorance of the economic forces which have produced this frightful situation. He cried out for some solution; yet, every time that I sought to suggest a solution, and to pin him down to a “yes” or a “no” upon a certain course of action, he lost control of himself and cried out that I was trying to make him “express an opinion.” He, the Governor of the State, had no business to have opinions about such a dispute!
It is no accident, of course, that a man of this type comes to be governor of a State like Colorado. The corporations deliberately select such men because they wish to be let alone, and they prefer men who are too weak to interfere with them, even if they wish to interfere. So now at eleven o’clock on Saturday morning this poor pitiful Governor sends for his advisors—the leaders of the hand-picked machine majority in the State legislature. What is to be done? If the President’s telegram is sent to the legislature, it may refuse to adjourn, and insist upon considering the President’s demand. Therefore, at all hazards, the telegram must be suppressed. Also, it must be sent to the coal-operators in the city, in order that they may consult and tell the Governor what reply to make to the President. All the newspaper men in Denver knew the names of the two men who took the message about to the operators. It was considered by the operators for three or four hours, and a reply drafted and sent; and meantime desperate efforts were made by the machine leaders to obtain the adjournment of the legislature. The reply drafted by the operators and sent by the Governor was as follows:
Hon. Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, Washington:
I regret exceedingly that you have been misinformed. The legislature has just passed an act, which I have approved, providing for a bond issue of one million dollars for the purpose of paying the indebtedness which has been incurred and which may be incurred in suppressing insurrection and defending the State. As soon as these bonds can be issued, these funds will be available and this State can and will control the situation. This is the only constitutional method of raising funds in immediate future. In addition to this act the legislature has enacted a law permitting the Governor to close saloons in time of disorder, and also a law prohibiting the carrying and disposition of firearms in time of disorder. Moreover, a committee on mediation on the present strike has been provided for and appointed.
Now the heart of our story is this last sentence in the Governor’s telegram: this “committee on mediation on the present strike.” If such a committee had been appointed, the legislature might fairly claim to have done its best to settle the strife. But had such a committee been appointed? It had not. The coal-operators, confused by the President’s sudden action, had caused their poor Governor to telegraph the President a lie; and now all their agencies of repression were brought to bear to keep the truth, not merely from the President, but from the whole country.
First of all, it must be kept from the State legislature itself! A senator tried to have the President’s telegram and the Governor’s answer read in the senate, but by parliamentary juggling this was prevented. All debate was forbidden; but a Democratic woman senator, Helen Ring Robinson, succeeded in getting in a few words of protest, under the guise of an “explanation” of her vote. Senator Robinson read the last sentence of the Governor’s answer: “Moreover a committee on mediation on the present strike has been provided for and appointed.” Said Senator Robinson: “I know of no such committee which has been appointed by this assembly.”
Lieutenant-Governor Fitzgarald replied that the resolution providing for the “strike investigating committee” provided for mediation.
“But,” protested Senator Robinson, “I can’t find a sentence in that resolution that mentions `mediation.’ I can’t see a word on `mediation’ in the resolutions.”
“Whereupon” (I am quoting the account from the Rocky Mountain News of May 17th), “Senator A. N. Parrish, conservative Republican, objected that the motion was not debatable. Further discussion was shut off, the motion to read the President’s telegram was laid on the table, and the senate adjourned.”
Now on that critical Saturday evening it happened that I was a guest at the home of the late Chief Justice Steele of Colorado, and there I met Senator Robinson. She asked me if I could not do something to make this matter clear to the country. Could I, for example, find out if the Associated Press had gotten the point straight? With the Senator sitting by my side I called the Associated Press on the ’phone and spoke with Mr. A. C. Rowsey, its night-editor in charge in Denver. I told Mr. Rowsey that I was in consultation with an opposition Senator, and that my attention had been called to this point, which I endeavored to explain.
Mr. Rowsey laughed good naturedly at my effort to enlighten his great institution. He informed me that they had trained men up at the capitol watching every point of the procedure, and that they had got the story quite correct. I endeavored to make the precise point about the phrase “mediation”; but not having any copy of the proceedings before me, and being really unable to believe that Senator Robinson could be correct in attributing such an open falsehood to the Governor of the State, I permitted Mr. Rowsey to back me down, and hung up the receiver feeling that I had made a fool of myself.
But later that evening I went to the office of the Rocky Mountain News, where I was able to see a copy of the official record in the case, the House Journal of the proceedings of May 15, 1914. The measure was contained on pages 7, 8, and 9, and on page 47 there was an amendment. I read the bill and amendment, line by line, and I did not find in it the word “mediation.” The measure provided as follows:
Resolved, That a joint committee of six members, three selected by the senate and three by the house, said members to be selected by the body of each house shall be appointed and directed to confer and advise with the Governor and other executive officers of the State to the end that the legislative department may render all assistance in its power to the executive department in the enforcement of law and the maintenance of order, and to consider ways and means of restoring and maintaining peace and good order throughout the State; and to investigate and make report at the next session of the legislature upon the following matters and subjects:
The bill then goes on to outline an elaborate series of matters for investigation—whether the coal companies have obeyed the laws; what wages they have paid; the terms of the mining leases; the employment of gunmen; what efforts have been made to settle the strike, etc. The amendment provides for further inquiry into the names of strike leaders, their nationality, etc., and the causes of violence. These subjects were, of course, enough to occupy a committee for many months. There was nowhere in the bill anything suggested about settling the present strike. On the contrary, the express task of the committee was said to be “to generally investigate all matters connected with said strike; that remedial legislation may be enacted at the next General Assembly which will tend to prevent a recurrence of insurrection and public disorder.”
Now, do not think that I am juggling words over the question of the precise meaning of the above bill. The distinction between the bill which had actually been passed, and the bill which the Governor told President Wilson had been passed, was vital and fundamental. Here was a desperate struggle, the class-war in literal truth, involving the two greatest forces in modern society. The whole State was torn apart over it, and if anybody were going to “mediate” and “settle” it, the whole State wished to know it, and must have known it. At the time that this investigation bill was passed, it was an investigation bill and nothing else, and this was understood by everyone who had anything to do with it. The measure was regarded as of so little importance that the Rocky Mountain News of the day after its passage did not even refer to it. It was one more “committee to investigate,” and the State was sick of such. By actual count there had been more than sixty such committees appointed already—one of them a committee from Congress, which had taken testimony filling ten volumes! It was perfectly understood by everyone that the purpose of this new legislative committee was to collect a lot of facts prejudicial to the strikers. Its members were all machine politicians of the very worst type. The idea of such a committee attempting to “mediate,” or to “settle the strike,” would have been regarded as a joke by the whole State; but no one had any such idea. It was not until Governor Ammons and his advisors found themselves “in a hole,” that they hit upon the scheme of calling this a “committee on mediation.”
Also, let us get clear the purpose of this trickery. The purpose was to keep the President of the United States from intervening to force a compromise, as he was threatening to do. The legislature was to be adjourned, and the President was to find himself in a position where he would have to keep the Federal troops in the field and do the work of repression which the prostituted State militia of Colorado could no longer do. Such was the plan—and I might add that it was carried out completely.
Next morning, by consulting with other members of the legislature, and with several lawyers in Denver, I made quite certain of the facts. Also I made certain that the Associated Press had sent out no hint of these facts. The Associated Press had sent merely the President’s telegram and the Governor’s answer. Presumably, therefore, the President had swallowed the Governor’s lie. Beyond question the country had swallowed it. It seemed to me that here was an occasion for an honest man to make his voice heard; so I sent a telegram to President Wilson, as follows:
President Woodrow Wilson, Washington, D. C.:
As one in position to observe from inside the events in this capital, I respectfully call your attention to the lack of fairness of Governor Ammons in withholding your telegram from the legislature for four hours while efforts were made to adjourn. All newspaper men know that during that time your telegram was in the hands of all coal-operators in this city, and they know the men who took it to them. Furthermore, they know that Governor Ammons’ telegram to you contains a falsehood. The word “mediation” did not appear in the measure referred to, which provides for investigation only. There has been a ten-volume investigation already. Governor Ammons declared to me personally that he means to return the militia to the strike-fields. Twenty independent investigators, reporters, lawyers, relief-workers assure me result will be civil war on a scale never before known in American labor dispute. Miners by thousands pledged to die rather than submit to more government by gunmen.
I took this telegram on Sunday evening to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News. He said, “It is a splendid telegram; it covers the case.” I said, “Will you publish it?" He answered, “I will.” I said, “Will the Associated Press get it from the News?" He answered, “It will.” It might be well to finish this part of the matter by stating that on the next evening I had a conversation with Mr. Rowsey, in charge of the Associated Press, as follows: “Did you get my telegram from the ‘News’?” “We did.” “You did not send it out, I believe?” “We did not.”
The Rocky Mountain News had been for many years a hide-bound corporation newspaper, but at this moment the owner of the paper had, so I was told, some kind of a personal quarrel with the coal operators. At any rate, he had placed in charge a young Chicago newspaper man, Wm. L. Chenery, with orders to publish the truth. That the News was not favoring me personally will be clearly seen from the fact that on Tuesday morning it published a ferocious attack upon me by Gov. Ammons, and refused to publish a word of what I offered in reply. Nevertheless, on Monday morning the News published a two-column editorial headed: “To the Patriots of Colorado.” Says the News: “Not one word about mediation is contained in the entire resolution. The committee is given no power to mediate. They may investigate, examine and report, and that is all.” And elsewhere the editorial says: “A committee on mediation has not been provided for; and none has been appointed. Think of the inutterable weakness of such conduct! Think of its stupidity!”
Such was the voice of unprejudiced opinion in the city of Denver on the subject of the Governor’s telegram. And what did the country hear about the controversy? Not a word! The Associated Press had all facts. It came to the News office and got everything the News had; and it sent out not one word! On the contrary, the Associated Press did its best to persuade the country that the President was pleased with Ammons’ reply. It sent out the following:
Washington, May 16.—President Wilson expressed satisfaction with the situation after he received Governor Ammons’ reply late tonight. It was said by officials in close touch with the President that Wilson was greatly pleased with what had been done after he had been informed by Governor Ammons of the work of the Colorado legislature, and that he hoped the State would assume control of the situation in the near future so the Federal troops might be withdrawn.
That this was an Associated Press invention, made to help out the poor Governor, was made clear the next morning by the News, whose own correspondent wired the following:
Washington, May 17.—At the White House it was stated that nothing had been given out which would justify the statement printed in some of the morning papers that the President is entirely satisfied with the telegram received yesterday from Governor Ammons.
I was by this time thoroughly wrought up over the situation, determined that the country should somehow hear the truth. I besieged the offices of the Denver newspapers; as a result the Denver Post, on Monday afternoon, published on its front page, with a heading in large red letters, an interview with Governor Ammons, in which that worthy denounced me as an “itinerant investigator,” also as a “prevaricator.” The Governor’s defense on the point at issue was this:
In regard to Sinclair’s declaration that the word “mediation” did not appear in the resolution appointing a committee to investigate the strike, Ammons explained:
“Probably that particular word does not occur, but a reading of the resolution will show that it gives the legislative committee power ‘to assist in settling the strike.’ If that isn’t mediation I’d like to know the true meaning of the word.”
I felt pretty sick when I read that interview; I thought the Governor must “have” me for sure! With sinking heart I went and procured a copy of the House Journal, to see if I could possibly have overlooked such a phrase as “to assist in settling the strike.” I read over line by line the three pages of the bill, and the one page of amendment; and, behold, there was no such phrase: “to assist in settling the strike.” There was nothing in any way remotely suggesting it! On the contrary, there was the explicit statement of the purposes of the committee “to generally investigate all matters connected with said strike; that remedial legislation may be enacted AT THE NEXT GENERAL ASSEMBLY which will tend to prevent A RECURRENCE OF INSURRECTION AND PUBLIC DISORDER.”
The Governor had lied again!
So then I wrote the Governor a letter. I said:
You have relied upon the fact that the man in the street has not access to the volume of the House Journal, and will accept your statements upon their face. This, of course, puts me at a cruel disadvantage, for you are a prominent official and I am only an “itinerant investigator.” But I propose, if possible, to compel you to face this issue. I will name two friends as a committee to represent me to settle this question at issue. I request you to name two friends. I request you to point out to them in the measure in question the word “mediation” or the phrase “to assist in settling the strike.” Your two friends will then bring it to my two friends, who, seeing the phrase in print in the House Journal, will be obliged to admit that I am wrong. You have objected to my presence in the State, upon the ground that I am meddling in the affairs of the people of Colorado. Very well, sir, I hereby offer you a simple way to rid the State of my presence. I hereby agree that if your two friends can point out to my two friends the word or phrase in question, I will quit the borders of your State within twenty-four hours and never return to it. Upon your acceptance of this proposition, I shall name my two friends.
This letter was mailed to the Governor on Monday night; also copies were mailed to the newspapers. At ten o’clock Tuesday morning, while dictating my article for the Appeal to Reason, I called up Mr. F.G. Bonfils, editor in charge and one of the owners of the Denver Post. The following conversation occurred:
“Good morning, Mr. Bonfils; this is Upton Sinclair. Did you receive the copy of the letter which I mailed to Governor Ammons last night?”
“May I ask if you intend to publish it?”
“I do not.”
“May I ask what is your reason for refusing?”
“The reason is that things have been stirred up enough, we think. The people in this city want peace.”
“Does it seem to you that this is fair journalism?”
“Now, listen, my boy, don’t try to argue with me; you have had plenty of room to spread your ideas in our paper.”
“You are entirely mistaken, Mr. Bonfils. You have not reported a single speech that I made in this town. You did not even print my telegram to President Wilson. But you print the Governor’s answer to it.”
“Well, now, we don’t want to stir up this question any further. We think this State is very much in need of peace. We are not looking for trouble. If we printed your answer to the Governor, we should have to print the Governor’s answer to you. And so it would go on indefinitely, and we don’t want people calling each other names in our paper.”
“If that is the case, why did you print the Governor’s attack upon me?”
“Now, listen, kid, don’t get excited.”
“I was never less excited in my life, Mr. Bonfils. I am simply asking politely for an explanation.”
“Well, now, we don’t care to argue this question with you.”
“You have called me a liar in your paper, and refuse me an opportunity to defend myself? Is that correct?”
“Yes; it’s correct.”
“Well, then I simply wish to tell you this one further thing. I am at present in a stenographer’s office dictating an account of this conversation for a publication which has a circulation of five hundred thousand—”
“I don’t care if it has a circulation of five hundred million.”
“Then you are willing for this conversation to be reported as expressing the attitude of the Post?”
“Say, Bill, we have been attacked so often by fellows like you, and we have got so prosperous on it, that we don’t care anything about it.”
“Very well, then; good morning.”
The above conversation was recorded in the following way. The stenographer sat by my side at the telephone, and took down every word that I said. Immediately afterwards this was read off to me, and I filled in Mr. Bonfils’ answers. As it happens that I have a good memory for words, I can state that the above is for practical purposes a stenographic record of the conversation. And later on I went out and bought an early edition of the Post, and found the man had “carried over” the Governor’s attack, a reprint from the day before! And then, walking down the street, I came to the building of the Post, and looked up and saw—oh, masterpiece of humor!—an inscription graven all the way across the stone front of the building:
JUSTICE, WHEN EXPELLED FROM OTHER HABITATIONS, MAKE THIS THY DWELLING-PLACE.
CHAPTER XXVII: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AT THE BAR
Let us return to Monday evening, and to our main theme, the Associated Press. I saw here my long-awaited chance to put this organization on record. I believed, and still believe, that this was a perfect case of news-suppression. Here was the closest approach yet made to social revolution in America; here was the class-war, naked and undisguised—on the one side the lives of thirty or forty thousand wage-slaves, on the other side a hundred million dollars of invested capital, controlling the government of an entire state, and using this control to suppress every legal and constitutional right of American citizens, and to drive them to armed revolt. To this conspiracy the Associated Press had lent itself; it was being used, precisely as the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, precisely as the puppets of the State government. The directors and managers of the Associated Press were as directly responsible for the subsequent starvation of these thousands of Colorado mine-slaves as if they had taken them and strangled them with their naked fingers. If it had been such individual crimes of strangling, all society would have agreed on the need of publicity. I have made it my task in life to force the same kind of publicity for the economic crimes of predatory social classes. I considered now that the time for action had come, and as my final test of the “A.P.” I prepared a second telegram to President Wilson, as follows:
President Woodrow Wilson, Washington, D. C.:
In interview tonight, Governor Ammons brands me as prevaricator for my statement to you that commission of mediation was not provided. He now admits the word “mediation” does not appear, but insists that the phrase “to assist in settling the strike” is equivalent. No such phrase occurs. I urgently request you to get the full text of this resolution and realize what it means that the Governor of this State is wilfully and deliberately endeavoring to deceive you and the public in this crisis.
Wishing to make quite certain in this vital matter, I took the trouble to write out my plan of action, and took it to a personal friend, a leading newspaper editor in Denver. He said, “Don’t do it.” I asked, “Why not?" The answer was, “It will make you so many powerful enemies that you will be unable to do anything more to send out news.” I answered that I had never been able to do anything with the Associated Press—it was always and invariably closed to what I had to say, and only mentioned me when it had something considered discreditable, such as my being sent to jail. My friend answered, “Well, if you can stand being hated and suppressed for the balance of your life, go ahead.”
I could stand that. So I took the volume of the House Journal and a copy of my telegram to President Wilson, and went down to the office of the Associated Press in the Ernest & Cranmer Building, and saw Mr. A.C. Rowsey, with whom I had talked over the phone the night before. He was very pleasant and friendly; and I wish to state that the attitude manifested by the Associated Press in this test case was in no way due to any personal difficulty or ill feeling. Mr. Rowsey showed himself a gracious host, and I never had a more pleasant interview with anyone.
I showed him the House Journal, and he read the four pages with interest. He read my telegram to the President, and then stated that they would refuse to carry it, as they had refused to carry the one they had got from the News on the previous day. His explanation was that it was the policy of the Associated Press “to avoid controversy.” If they once got started they would never know where to stop.
I said, “But Mr. Rowsey, this controversy is the most important item of news on the Colorado situation tonight. I have here put before you indisputable documentary evidence that Governor Ammons has lied to President Wilson; and surely the public would want to know that fact. Surely the public has at least a right to know of the charge, and to make up its own mind as to its truth or falsity.” Mr. Rowsey’s answer was, “Our wire from Colorado is very much crowded these days, and this controversy does not seem to us to be news.” I said, “Very well, Mr. Rowsey; will you now permit me to hand to you this letter, which I have drafted to serve as a record of the circumstances.”
He took the letter and read as follows:
Denver, Colo., May 18, 1914.
CORRESPONDENT ASSOCIATED PRESS,
Yesterday I sent President Wilson a telegram, which I believed and still believe was of vital public importance. A copy of this telegram was put into your hands last night by the Rocky Mountain News and was refused by you. I now offer you a second telegram, bearing upon this subject. At the same time I offer for your inspection a copy of the House Journal in order that you may verify the truth of the statements contained in my telegram to President Wilson. I shall first, in a personal interview, politely request you to send this telegram over your wires. If you refuse to do so, I shall—in order to put you upon record—place this letter in your hands and request you to sign the statement below. If you refuse to sign it, I shall understand that you refuse to send out this telegram over your wires, and I shall proceed to send it to the papers myself, and I shall subsequently take steps to make these circumstances known to the public.
MR. UPTON SINCLAIR, City:
Dear Sir: The undersigned, correspondent of the Associated Press in Denver, agrees to send your telegram to President Wilson over its wires tonight.
Mr. Rowsey read this letter and handed it back to me, with the smiling remark: “I see you are getting a good story.” I thanked him, and left. I went down-stairs to the telegraph-office and sent a copy of my telegram to President Wilson to a selection of newspapers all over the country. They were as follows: New York Times, World, Herald, Sun and Call; Chicago Examiner and Tribune; Philadelphia North American and Press; Baltimore Sun; Washington Times; Boston Herald and Journal; Topeka Journal; Kansas City Star; Milwaukee Journal; Atlanta Georgian; New Orleans Times-Democrat; Omaha News; Pittsburg Post.
Now, I submit that here is a definite test of the service of the Associated Press. Is it sending out all the material which its papers want? Is it suppressing anything which its papers would be glad to publish if they could get it? Let the reader observe that these newspapers are not merely radical and progressive ones; they include some of the staunchest stand-pat papers in the country, the New York Times and Herald, for example. They are all save two or three of them Associated Press papers. To make the test automatic I sent the telegrams “collect.” The editors had the right to read the message, and if they did not want it, to refuse to pay for it, having it sent back to me for collection. Out of the twenty papers, how many took this step? Only five! The other fifteen took the story that the Associated Press refused to send out. This is a remarkable showing, considering the fact that I sent the telegram late in the evening, and too late for most of the Eastern papers. It should be pointed out that a newspaper editor is far less disposed to print a dispatch which comes from an unauthorized person. My charge was a startling one, and an editor would naturally doubt it. He would say, “If it is true, why doesn’t the Associated Press send it?” Mr. Rowsey, in Denver, had the House Journal before him; but the city editors of newspapers all over the country did not have this advantage, and would naturally be disposed to rely upon Mr. Rowsey.
It might be worth while to add that the claims made in my two telegrams to President Wilson were fully vindicated by subsequent events. The committee of six machine legislators, appointed to collect material discreditable to the strikers and their leaders, proceeded to vindicate the Governor and redeem his reputation by going through a pretense of “mediation”; but the public paid so little attention to the farce that it petered out in two or three days. The strike lasted for another seven months, and all that time the Federal troops remained in the field—the very thing which President Wilson had declared himself determined to avoid, and which the coal-operators had been determined to force upon him!
CHAPTER XXVIII: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AND ITS NEWSPAPERS
I am giving a great deal of space in a small book to this one test of the Associated Press. I think that the subject is an important one, and that the documents in the case should be available to students. In the present chapter I give the reaction of the press of America to this particular test. If the reader is not interested in such details, he may skip this chapter.
I have talked over this case with many lawyers, and shown them the documents, and asked: “Is there any legal flaw in them?” They have never been able to point out one. Also I have talked the case over with journalists—some of the most eminent of capitalist journalists, as I shall presently narrate, and have asked them to point out a flaw. They have pointed out what they think is a flaw—that in presenting to the Associated Press my telegram to President Wilson, I was asking the Associated Press to give publicity to my name and personality, and the Associated Press might have been justified in refusing the request.
I answer that there were many ways in which the “A. P.” could have handled this matter without mentioning my name: a fact which I plainly pointed out to Mr. Rowsey. The first time I spoke to him—over the telephone—I was speaking, not for myself, but for Senator Robinson. She, a duly elected representative of the people of Colorado, speaking in their legislature, had nailed the Governor’s lie, and it was Mr. Rowsey’s unquestionable duty to report her words. It was only when I realized how completely the “A. P.” was in the hands of the coal-operators that I “butted in” on the matter at all. And when my telegram was refused by Mr. Rowsey, I was careful to point out to him that there were other ways he might handle this news. He might give the story as coming from Senator Robinson; he might send extracts from the editorial of the Rocky Mountain News; he might send a dispatch saying, “It is generally reported in Denver,” or “Protests are being made in Denver.” All this I made clear, and he in return made clear why he did not do so. Anyone who had been present at our long and partly humorous interview would have perceived that this was no error in judgment of an individual employe of the “A. P.,” but a definite policy of the great machine. Mr. Rowsey went so far as to say to me that he was a Socialist, in sympathy with my point of view, and that he personally would have been willing to send out a straight story.
In exactly the same way, when I took this story to various newspapers and magazines, I tried to suppress my own personality. I said to the editors: “If you are not willing to discuss the grievance of Upton Sinclair, then make an investigation of your own. Send a representative to Denver and interview Senator Robinson and write about the efforts of a progressive woman senator for fair play in this strike. Take the telegrams which passed between the President and the Governor of Colorado, take the pretenses of the fake mediation commission and the false reports of the Associated Press about it, and write the story without mentioning my name.” But all such suggestions were in vain. There was no capitalist magazine or newspaper in the United States that would take up the conduct of the Associated Press in the Colorado strike.
In one of its published statements in the New York Evening Post, the Associated Press had explained its stern attitude toward the editors of the Masses:
The Associated Press is not prosecuting the case in any vengeful spirit, but is fighting for a public vindication. For several years the association has sat silent under accusations of this kind, reflecting upon the integrity of the service and the personal honor of its responsible officers, because the charges were made either on the floor of Congress, where no redress is possible, or by persons who were careful or lucky in avoiding the legal limitations of civil or criminal libel. In several cases the persons making the charges retracted them absolutely. At last they have a case involving libel per se, and they purpose to avail themselves of the opportunity to present to the public the facts regarding the service.
This, you perceive, is dignified and impressive; dignity and impressiveness are virtues permissible to great capitalist institutions. But now make note: my challenge to the Associated Press, published in the Appeal to Reason, repeated the identical words for which the editors of the Masses had been arrested; and I sent a copy to all the leading officers of the Associated Press; I afterwards saw a letter, signed by Melville E. Stone, general manager of the Associated Press, acknowledging that he had seen it. Here surely was a charge “involving libel per se,” and one which I had taken pains to make as emphatic, as unconditional, as damaging as possible. It was a public challenge, appearing on the front page of a newspaper whose circulation for that week was five hundred and forty-eight thousand and forty. Yet the Associated Press did not take up the challenge; it swallowed the insult.
Not only that, but every newspaper having the Associated Press service did the same; some nine hundred newspapers throughout the United States sat in silence and let this challenge pass unanswered. I had the Appeal to Reason send a marked copy of this issue to every one of the nine hundred Associated Press papers, and I wrote to my clipping-bureau, asking them to watch especially for mention of the matter. This clipping-bureau is the best in the country, and seldom misses anything of importance. It could not find me a single mention of my challenge to the Associated Press.
I next selected a list of forty of the leading papers of the country, including the twenty to which I had sent the telegram from Denver. I sent them a marked copy of the article, with a letter addressed to the managing editor, pointing out what my challenge meant—that I had publicly indicted the source from which this paper got the news which it gave to the public. Would the paper defend the integrity of its news? Would it force the Associated Press to explain this incident. Three papers replied to my letter. I shall deal with them a little later. The other thirty-seven papers left my letter unanswered. And let it be noted that this included all the papers which make the greatest pose of dignity and honor, such as the Boston Evening Transcript, the Springfield Republican, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, the Atlanta Constitution. Also, I tried the magazines. One week after the publication of my challenge to the Associated Press there had appeared in Collier’s Weekly a leading editorial entitled “In Justice to the A. P.”:
The officers and members of the Associated Press have been kept busy lately repelling attacks upon that organization. In so far as they are defending themselves from the charge of wilful distortion of the news, we sympathize with them. Six or seven years ago we printed a series of articles which dealt with the general subject of “tainted news,” and from time to time since then we have pointed out examples of this insidious practice. During this time not less than a score of persons have come to us with alleged examples of tampering with the news on the part of the Associated Press. All of these cases we looked into with care and pains, and many of the same were investigated by other publications and persons. We have never found a case that justified us in publishing the details or in making any charge of wilful distortion against the Associated Press.
I wrote now to Collier’s Weekly. They had investigated a score of cases, here was one more. Would they agree to investigate this, and to publish the facts? To this challenge Collier’s Weekly made no response. Collier’s Weekly did not investigate, and it never published a line about the matter. Then I wrote to the editors of the Outlook, the extremely pious instrument of the “clerical camouflage.” In its issue of May 30, 1914, the Outlook had published two articles dealing with the Associated Press. I now wrote and invited it to take up this case, and the Outlook did not reply. Also I wrote The Independent, which was once a liberal paper, and it too refused any publicity.
To return to the three newspapers which answered my letter: Mr. Frederick S. Forbes, acting managing editor of the Philadelphia North American, replied that his paper had “frequently had occasion to criticize the news distributing agencies of the country,” and would investigate my story. That was the last I ever heard from the matter. When I wrote to remind the Philadelphia North American, they did not answer. In the course of a year I wrote several times, but they did not answer.
And then the New York World. The World had published a challenge, defying anyone to point out where it had failed to print important news. I now took this case of the Associated Press to the World, and the World answered that having published my telegram to the President from Denver, the World had published the news! The fact that the World had got this telegram from me instead of from the Associated Press—that was not news! The fact that I had published a challenge, deliberately repeating the words of the Masses editors, and that the Associated Press and all its newspapers had passed my challenge by—that was not news, in the judgment of the World!
The third paper which replied to me was the New York Evening Post; the only one which took up the matter in what I considered the proper spirit. Mr. John P. Gavit, managing editor of the Evening Post, wrote as follows:
Your letter of recent date, together with the exhibit embodied in the first page of the Appeal to Reason for May 30th, is hereby acknowledged. I have undertaken an investigation of the matter which will take considerable time and I am writing now only to prevent your having the mistaken impression that your communication is to be ignored. I attach for your information copy of a self-explanatory letter which I have addressed to Mr. Melville E. Stone, General Manager of The Associated Press.
Dear Mr. Stone:
I hand you herewith copy of the letter which we have received from Mr. Upton Sinclair, together with a page from the Appeal to Reason published at Girard, Kansas, under date of May 30th, 1914. I have been out of town, which fact will explain my delay in taking this matter up with you.
I am perfectly aware of Mr. Sinclair’s reputation among newspaper men as an insatiable hunter of personal publicity; but it seems to me that his telegram to President Wilson, making specific allegations in connection with a matter of the utmost public consequence at a critical time, ought to have been transmitted by the Associated Press men at Denver. Of course, it is perfectly absurd for any Associated Press man to say that it is the policy of the Associated Press “to avoid controversy”; that theory of the service is long out of date, and two-thirds of its news reports relate to controversies in one way or another. I have not examined the reports of the matters to which Mr. Sinclair refers, but on its face his article certainly creates a prima facie of suppression of important facts regarding the situation at Denver. At the time to which he refers, I realize that the Denver correspondent was in a very difficult position in all this business, but in this case I think he made a palpable mistake.
It is evidently necessary under the circumstances that the Evening Post should deal with this subject, and I shall be glad to have at your early convenience any statement which you will be willing to have published over your signature. I personally believe that this should include some explanation from the Denver correspondent as to his reason for refusing to mention Sinclair’s telegram to the President; though, of course, that is a matter entirely within your discretion.
Yours very truly,
JOHN P. GAVIT,
The above letter was perfectly satisfactory to me. It did not trouble me what either Mr. Gavit or Mr. Stone thought about my reputation among newspaper men. All that I was concerned about, all that I have ever been concerned about, was that the truth about social injustice should be made public. Mr. Gavit sent me a copy of Mr. Stone’s reply, promising to make an immediate investigation of the matter and report. I felt so sure of the outcome that I ventured to make an announcement in the Appeal, June 20, 1914, to the effect that the “A. P.” was to be “smoked out,” it was to be compelled to answer my charges.
But alas for my hopes of fair play, my faith in the organ of arm-chair respectability! Time passed, and I wrote to Mr. Gavit, again reminding him of his promises, and in reply he asked me to call to see him. I called, and found myself up against the concrete wall. Mr. Gavit was as polite as I could have requested; all that he failed in was action. He would not tell me the result of the investigation which Mr. Stone had made, or had promised to make. He would not tell me anything, except that the case was a subtle and difficult one to judge, and that he could not see his way to take it up. I quoted to him his letter to Mr. Stone, “It is evidently necessary under the circumstances that the Evening Post should deal with this subject”; Mr. Gavit was uncomfortable and embarrassed, but he would not make good his words, nor would he publish in the Evening Post the facts about my challenge to the Associated Press. He never published a line about it, and on the basis of the facts above stated, I believe that I can claim to have proven positively that the New York Evening Post is not what it pretends to be, a newspaper serving the public interest.
I make the same claim concerning the New York Times. The Times did not answer my letter, it did not pay any attention to me; but it happens that I read the Times, and know some of its editors, so I went after it again and again. I will quote from the last of my letters, so that the reader may see how desperately I tried to get something done:
New York City, June 15, 1914.
EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Some time ago I wrote you a letter with regard to charges I had made against the Associated Press. I asked you to consider these charges and lay them before your readers, and give them an opportunity to decide of their truth. Not hearing from you, I wrote a second time, to ask you to do me the courtesy to let me know your intentions in the matter. Still not hearing from you, I assume that it is your intention to treat my communication with contempt. I want to call your attention to the fact that in writing to you I am making a test of the sense of honor of your publication. I am putting you on record, and I shall find means to make your attitude known to the public. You are an Associated Press newspaper, and your honor is definitely bound up with that of the organization which serves you. You sell Associated Press news to the public. If the Associated Press news is false news, you are selling false news to the public, and you are refusing the public any opportunity to judge a most serious, a carefully documented charge that this news is false. It is true that you published my telegram to the President in one edition of your paper. But it is also true that you published it only because I sent it to you. The Associated Press did not send it to you. And I cannot always be in Colorado, and cannot always make it my business to supply you with antidotes to the poison which you are getting from the Associated Press. Only today, for example, you are, through the agency of the Associated Press, responsible for suppressing an important piece of news from Colorado: that is to say, the fact that Judge Lindsey has issued a statement defending himself, and especially the women who went with him, against the charges which have been made against them by the “interests” in Colorado. The New York World gave that letter a column, from its special correspondent. The New York Call, having the Laffan Service, also had some account of the letter. You, having the Associated Press service, have not a word about it. And this is a vital and most important piece of news.
I then went on to tell about the “Evening Post” and its promise to investigate. I said:
The Times is involved in the matter in exactly the same way, and to exactly the same extent as the Evening Post. The Times published the officially inspired defense of the Associated Press in exactly the same way as the Evening Post. I believe that it is up to you to explain the reasons for your silence in this matter. I believe that if you maintain silence, I shall be justified in declaring to all the world that you have shown yourself in this matter a newspaper without a high sense of honor, and false to the motto which you carry, “All the News that’s Fit to Print.” I assure you that I shall make this charge against you on many occasions in future. You may think that the five hundred thousand a week circulation of the Appeal to Reason is a factor which you can afford to neglect, but I believe that in the course of time you will realize that you were mistaken in permitting me to place you on record in this matter.
So ends the story of my test of the Associated Press and its newspapers. In the second part of this book, which deals with causes, I shall return to the subject, and show exactly why these things happen: Why the New York Times is without honor where the Associated Press is concerned, and just how many thousands of dollars it would have cost the New York Evening Post if its managing editor had carried out his bold promise to me.
CHAPTER XXIX: THE SCANDAL-BUREAU
There is one other incident which must be told before I finish with the subject of Denver, its criminal government and prostitute newspapers. I had been in Denver before, also I had read Ben Lindsey’s The Beast; so I knew, before I arrived, what I might expect to encounter. Standing in the Pennsylvania station, bidding my wife farewell, I said: “Let me give you this warning; whatever you read about me, don’t worry. If there is any scandal, pay no attention to it, for that is the way they fight in Denver.”
And when I reached my destination, I had cause to be glad of my forethought. John Reed, who had just come up from the coal-country, told me of the vile slanders which had been invented and circulated concerning the women of the coalfields who had been active in defense of their cause. The scandal-mongers had not even spared a poor, half-crazed Italian woman, whose three babies had been burned to death in the holocaust at Ludlow! Louis Tikas, a young Greek idealist, a graduate of the University of Athens, who had been trying to uplift his people and had been foully murdered by corporation thugs, they blackguarded as a “brothel hanger-on” before his corpse was under ground! John Reed himself they had got involved with a charming young widow in Denver; he had met her twice at dinner-parties! (In passing, to show you how far Colorado had progressed toward civil war, I might mention that this lady, upon learning what had been done to the strikers, sent to the East and purchased two machine-guns and hid them in her cellar, ready to be shipped to the strike-field for use by the strikers in case the militia attempted to return.)
Every Socialist and magazine-writer, even every writer for conservative publications, was taken in hand upon his arrival in Denver, and fitted out with a scandal. So far as I know, the only one who escaped was Harvey O’Higgins—and this because he took the precaution to bring his wife along. I had not brought my wife; also I was a “divorced man,” and an easy victim. There was a young Jewish girl, a probation officer in Judge Lindsey’s court, whom I was so indiscreet as to treat to a sandwich in a dairy lunch-room; that was sufficient for the scandal-bureau, which had to hustle in these crowded days. I recollect a funny scene in the home of James Randolph Walker, where several of these “affinities” learned for the first time to whom they had been assigned. We had a merry time over it; but meanwhile, at the meetings of the Law and Order League, and other places where the ladies of “good society” in Denver gathered to abuse the strikers, all these scandals were solemnly taken for granted, and quoted as evidence of the depravity of “foreign agitators” and the radicals who abetted them!
For myself, let me explain that during my three weeks in Denver I kept two stenographers busy all day; I wrote a score of articles, I sent hundreds of telegrams and letters—working under terrific pressure, hardly taking time to eat. My wife was back in New York, risking her frail health in the midst of public uproar, and with reason to fear that she might be assaulted by thugs at any moment. Every thought I had to spare was for her, all my loyalty was for her; yet “good society” in Denver was imagining me involved in a dirty intrigue! In several intrigues—such a Bluebeard I am! I had been in the city perhaps a week, when a young lady came to me and spoke as follows:
“Mr. Sinclair, I represent the Denver Post. We have a rumor concerning you about which I wish to ask you.”
“What is it?”
“We understand that you are about to move from your hotel.”
“I have no such intention. Who told you that?”
“Well, I hope you will not take offense; I will tell you the report, just as it was given to me.”
“Very well, go ahead.”
I am sorry I cannot remember the exact words of the rigmarole; it was five years ago, and I have had more important things to remember. Suffice it to say that it was a new scandal—not the Jewish probation-officer; I had uttered a mysterious and portentous sentence, expressive of my guilty fear; if my wife were to learn why I had left the hotel, “it would be all over.” I looked the young lady, from the Denver Post in the eye and answered: “Standing in the Pennsylvania station, bidding my wife farewell, I said to her: ‘Let me give you one warning; whatever you may read about me, don’t worry. If there is any scandal, pay no attention to it, for that is the way they fight in Denver.’ ” And so the young lady from the Denver Post went away, and did not publish that awful “rumor.”
There are people who live upright and straightforward lives, and concerning whom no breath of scandal is ever whispered; such people are apt to think that all anyone has to do to avoid scandal is to lead upright and straightforward lives as they do. They see some man who keeps dubious company, and is given to “smart” conversation; concerning such a man an evil report is readily believed; and they conclude that if any man is a victim of scandal, he must be such a man as that. But how if a scandal were deliberately started, concerning a person who had done nothing whatever to deserve it? My wife tells of a woman in her home town who would destroy the reputation of a young girl by the lifting of an eyebrow, the gesture of a fan in a ballroom. She would do this, sometimes from pure malice, sometimes from jealousy for her daughter. You can understand that among sophisticated people such practices might become a subtle art; and how if it were to occur to great “interests,” threatened in their power, to hire such arts? Let me assure you that this thing is done all over the United States; it is done all over the world, where there is privilege defending itself against social protest.
There was a certain labor leader in America, who was winning a great strike. It was sought to bribe him in vain, and finally a woman was sent after him, a woman experienced in seduction, and she lured this man into a hotel room, and at one o’clock in the morning the door was broken down, and the labor leader was confronted with a newspaper story, ready to be put on the press in a few minutes. This man had a wife and children, and had to choose between them and the strike; he called off the strike, and the union went to pieces. This anecdote was told to me, not by a Socialist, not by a labor agitator, but by a well-known United States official, a prominent Catholic.
I cite this to show the lengths to which Big Business will go in order to have its way. In San Francisco they raised a million dollar fund, and with the help of their newspapers set to work deliberately to railroad five perfectly innocent labor-men to the gallows. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, the great Woolen Trust planted dynamite in the homes of strikebreakers, and with the help of their newspapers sought to fasten this crime upon the union; only by an accident were these conspirators exposed, and all but the rich one brought to justice. Do you think that “interests” which would undertake such elaborate plots would stop at inventing and circulating scandal about their enemies?
Most certainly they did this in Denver. I was assured by Judge Lindsey, and by James Randolph Walker, at that time chairman of Denver’s reform organization, that the corporations of that city had a regular bureau for such work. The head of it was a woman doctor, provided with a large subsidy, numerous agents, and a regular card catalogue of her victims. When someone was to be ruined, she would invent a story which fitted as far as possible with the victim’s character and habits; and then some scheme would be devised to enable the newspapers to print the story without danger of libel suits.
There are a hundred ways by which this can be done; watch Town Topics in New York, or Town Talk and the Wasp in San Francisco, and you will see. The victim will be asked if there is dissension between him and his wife; when he denies it, there will be an item to the effect that he denies it—the item being so worded as to cause people to smile knowingly. I know a radical whose wife nearly died of appendicitis; while she was still bed-ridden, she was taken to a sanatorium by her mother and her family physician, a man old enough to be her grandfather. The day after she left, her husband was called upon to “deny” a report that his wife “had eloped with a Jew.”
Or perhaps maybe a report will be brought to the man that somebody else has made charges against him; he is naturally indignant, and when he is asked if he will bring a libel suit, he answers that he will think about it; so the newspaper has a story that the man is thinking about bringing a libel suit. Or someone will be hired to slander him to his face, and when he knocks the slanderer down, the newspaper will have a story of a public disturbance, so worded as to put the victim in the wrong, and at the same time to make known the slander.
In extreme cases they will go as far as they did with Judge Lindsey—hiring perjured affidavits, and getting up a fake reform organization to give them authority. Lindsey, you understand, has made his life-work the founding of a children’s court, which shall work by love and not by terror. Love of children—ah, yes, all scandal-bureaus know what that means! So they had a collection of affidavits accusing Lindsey of sodomy. They brought the charges while he was in the East; a reporter went to the Denver hotel where his young bride was staying, and when she refused to see the reporter, or to hear the charges against her husband, the reporter stood in the hallway and shouted the charges to her through the transom, and then went away and wrote up an interview!
Or perhaps the Scandal-Bureau will maintain for its foul purposes a special publication which is libel-proof; one of those “fly-by-night” sheets, whose editor-in-charge is an office-boy, and whose worldly possessions are a telephone address and three pieces of furniture. This was a part of their scheme in Denver. The publication was called—oh, most delicious allurement!—Polly Pry! I don’t know if it is still published, but I saw copies of it during the coal-strike, and it was full of the cruelest libels concerning everybody who stood for the strikers.
I remember one full-page story about “Mother Jones,” a white-haired old woman of eighty-two years, who was being held in jail without warrant or charge for several months, because she persisted in coming back to the strike-field every time she was deported. And what do you think they said about “Mother Jones”? In her early years she had been the keeper of a house of prostitution! They went into the most elaborate detail about it; they gave the names of people who knew about it, they gave the address of the house—and then they had their “kept” congressman, a man by the name of Kindel, to read this number of Polly Pry into the Congressional Record! So, of course, it was “privileged”; all the “kept” newspapers all over the state of Colorado and elsewhere might quote the story without danger of punishment! They might quote it, not from Polly Pry, but from the Congressional Record!!
I took the trouble to ask “Mother Jones” about this story. It appears that in those early days she was a sewing woman; she earned a precarious living, and felt herself justified in working for anyone who would pay her. She did some sewing for a girl of the streets, and this girl died of tuberculosis, and the Catholic church refused her a burial service, and “Mother Jones” wrote to a newspaper to protest against this action—her first appearance in public life, her first utterance of radicalism. And this had been remembered all these years, it was brought up against her in one labor struggle after another; only they made her the “madame” of the house where the poor girl of the streets had lived!
We who sympathize with the cause of labor grow used to such things, and do not care for ourselves. What hurts us is this—that in a time of crisis, when the need of labor is so great, our influence with the public is destroyed by these slanderers. The average law-abiding and credulous citizen has no remotest idea of the existence of such machinery for influencing his mind. He takes the truth of these stories for granted and concludes that a cause which is represented by such advocates can have no claim upon him. While I was in Denver, the “Law and Order League” held several meetings in the parlors of the great hotels. I offered to address these ladies, and I know that if I had been permitted to do so, I could have opened the eyes of some of them. But the league voted against it, and I have no doubt that this vote was because of the Scandal Bureau and its work. Instead of hearing me, the league heard a clergyman, the Rev. Pingree, who declared that if he could have his way he would blow up all the strikers’ homes with dynamite! After that I always referred to this organization as the “Law and Murder League.”
But the crowning achievement of the Scandal-Bureau was still to come. In the effort to induce President Wilson to intervene in the strike, I had evolved what I thought was a wonderful idea—that Judge Lindsey and his wife should escort three of the miners’ wives to Washington to tell their story to the President. It took days and nights of diplomacy, for Lindsey had an election campaign ahead of him, and his wife was in delicate health; but the emergency was extreme, and at last “our little Ben,” as the children called him, made up his mind to the sacrifice. The party set out, and spoke at large meetings in Chicago and New York, and interviewed the President in Washington, and afforded the Associated Press another opportunity to display its complete subservience to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.
And meantime, in Denver, the newspapers were pouring out an incessant stream of invective upon Lindsey. The Scandal-Bureau revived the old yarn, that he was “the insane son of insane parents.” (I knew his mother, an excellent old lady, as sane as I am.) On every stage of this journey Lindsey was accompanied by his young wife, to whom he had been married only a few months; nevertheless, it was plainly stated in the Colorado papers, and generally believed by Denver “society,” that the three strikers’ wives constituted part of a harem. If only you could have seen them—three pathetic, bedraggled poor women, two of them in deep mourning! And when Mrs. Lindsey, owing to the strain of the journey, suffered a miscarriage, and had to be carried from the train to a hospital in Chicago, several Colorado newspapers reported that this was owing to mistreatment by her husband! At a meeting of the Denver Real Estate Exchange, it was proposed to appoint a committee to “spit on Lindsey’s shoes” when he returned; and this was the kind of news that was thought worth forwarding out of Denver!
I write to Judge Lindsey, so that you may have these incredible incidents upon his authority, not upon mine. He confirms every statement I have made. He tells of a woman detective, employed by the Scandal-Bureau—
The Lewis woman circulated the story that my wife came out of a house of prostitution, and that her mother was a “madame”; and the corporations paid the woman for it. There is no doubt about this, and it can be proved.
Judge Lindsey goes on to narrate the extraordinary circumstances under which these proofs became available. One of the members of the State legislature, a man named Howland, was caught receiving a bribe in the legislature. He had introduced a “strike bill” against the Tobacco Trust, and a messenger-boy had handed him an envelope of money said to be from an agent of the Tobacco Trust. In order to save this man Howland, the head of the Scandal-Bureau, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Bates, came forward and testified before the legislative committee that she had sent this money to Howland in order to pay detectives to “get Lindsey.” Says Lindsey in his letter to me:
Mind you, she testified to her part in the infamy, and was backed up by some of our rich citizens, feeling that she was quite safe from prosecution—as she was. But Howland was found guilty of perjury in this case, having sworn that the money came for an entirely different purpose. Because of the general belief of the legislators that the whole thing was part of a frame-up against me, and the fear that it would lead to the truth being told about the fight against me, they came to a compromise in the case against Howland, which was merely to expel him from the legislature for perjury. He never was tried for perjury or conspiracy to ruin me and my court work, as was undoubtedly his plan.
And how stands the matter today? Let Lindsey tell it in his own words:
During the war I was absolutely outlawed from every opportunity to be of any patriotic service here by the privilege and special interest crowd who control all patriotism, especially in the food and other administrations. When I returned from France I was permitted to speak for the Liberty Loan, but the chairman of the meeting told me that one of Boss Evans’ old tools had threatened to “read him out of the Republican party” for daring to let me take part in that patriotic celebration. Fourteen bills for the protection of women and children were killed in the last legislature through the open statement of certain members of the legislature who were tools of the Interests that: “If Lindsey has anything to do with it, swat it.” All this you will understand is my heritage of hate because of the part my wife and I took in that strike, and against big crooks generally when they have time and again tried to rob our city. Since “The Beast and the Jungle” stories, and my part in the Colorado coal-strike, it has been almost impossible for me to speak before such assemblies as High Schools, Woman’s Clubs, Mothers’ Congresses and the like. As one woman said to me frankly, “Mrs. So-and-so’s husband is a big contributor to our club, and if we permitted you to appear on the program she would be highly indignant and withdraw her support.” I am sure you will understand just exactly what the influence is, and how insidiously it works.
As I read the page-proofs of this book, the great coal strike comes, and the miners in the Southern Colorado field are out again, and Federal troops are guarding the mines. But this time it is not necessary for the Scandal Bureau and the Associated Press to muzzle the strikers and their sympathizers. This time the job has been done by the Federal court injunction.
CHAPTER XXX: THE CONCRETE WALL
I returned to New York, and at a meeting in Berkeley Hall I told the story of conditions in Colorado. I did not get myself arrested, however, so the New York newspapers printed only a few words of what I said, and the Associated Press sent out nothing. It was again the concrete wall, impenetrable, insurmountable: on one side I, with my facts about the outrages upon the miners; and on the other side the public—as far out of reach as if it had been in the moon.
The greatest atrocity of the strike was the fact, previously set forth, that the state militia in the coal-fields had been recruited from strike-breakers and Baldwin-Felts gunmen. The facts had been refused, even to the state legislature; until finally the legislature appointed a committee to wait upon the militia general and not leave his office until they got the roster of the guard. So it was disclosed that in Company A of the state guard there had been one hundred and twenty-two members, and all but three of them coal-company employes, receiving the pay of coal- companies while they wore the uniform and carried the flag of the state!
It was an incredible prostitution of government; and what did the newspapers do with the story? What did the Associated Press do with it? I was unable to find the story in a single newspaper, outside of Denver. I brought the full-page story clipped from the Rocky Mountain News to New York with me, and tried the big New York dailies, and could not get one of them to publish it.
The Chicago Tribune had published in full a letter of mine to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., setting forth these facts in detail. Also the Tribune had published a very fair and just editorial, headed: “All the Truth,” from which I quote:
Facts are charged by Mr. Sinclair—and others, it must be said—which, if true, are a disgrace to the men responsible and to the community in which they existed. To ascertain the truth and to deal with the situation are duties which must be performed. . . . . Let us have the facts about this terrible industrial tragedy, and all the facts. Let us know the guilty and all the guilty.
Three days later the Chicago Tribune took up my definite charges concerning the guard. It said:
If, as he asserts, the Adjutant General’s report shows any such abuse of the guard, the situation calls for prompt rebuke and effective action, if such action is possible under our laws..... We suggest the National Guard take cognizance of the above allegations of Sinclair, and if they are substantiated by the Adjutant General of Colorado that the guard publicly protest against the abuse.
Five days after that the Chicago Tribune published a letter from P.A. Wieting of Denver, as follows:
Referring to your editorial “Abusing the Guard,” in your issue of June 5. If Upton Sinclair said that the official records of Adjutant General Chase showed that an overwhelming majority of the Colorado militia were mine guards and other employes of the coal companies, he deliberately lied. Mr. Chase’s records showed nothing of the sort, and could not; for the statement is absolutely false and absurd. The National Guard of Colorado is made up like in other states, of young business and professional men, students, farmer boys and the like, and includes the sons of many of our best families.
It is surprising that a paper of the standing of the Tribune should accept offhand such a preposterous charge against a great state made by a professional muckraker. If you still entertain the slightest belief in Sinclair’s foolish charge, any banker, any reputable business man, any college president in Colorado will tell you, as I do, that the man who made the statement quoted lied and knew that he lied.
Now here was a direct issue of fact. If P.A. Wieting were a real person, living in Denver, Colorado, and if he read a morning newspaper, he must have read the Rocky Mountain News, because that was the only morning newspaper published in Denver. And on the entire front page of the Rocky Mountain News had been published the roster of Company A of the Colorado state militia, as given to the press by a committee of the state legislature, also a report of this committee of the legislature, giving all the facts as to these members of Company A, the capacity in which one hundred and nineteen out of one hundred and twenty-two of them were employed by the coal-operators or the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, and the wages they were paid by these concerns. The evidence was as complete and as authoritative as it was possible for evidence to be; and therefore, when P.A. Wieting wrote this letter to the Chicago Tribune, deliberately accusing me of deliberate lying, he was deliberately lying himself.
I thought, of course, that the Tribune, having taken a brave stand and called for the truth, really wanted the truth, and would push the controversy to the end. Therefore I sent to the Tribune by registered mail a copy of the Rocky Mountain News, containing the facts, and I looked to see this full-page report transferred to a page of the Chicago Tribune. Or I looked to have the Tribune have some representative in Denver look up the facts, as it might so easily have done. Instead of that, I saw not one line about the matter. What strings had been pulled in the Tribune office, I don’t happen to know. All I know is that I wrote several times, protesting, and that no attention was paid to my letters. Now, while I am preparing this book, I write to the Tribune, lest by any chance the Tribune published something in some edition which I missed, and which my clipping bureau missed; but the Tribune leaves my letter unanswered!
Also I write to Denver to find out about P.A. Wieting—if he is a real person. I find that he is assistant cashier of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co., Mr. Rockefeller’s concern which broke the strike!
All this time, you must understand, the “kept” writers on the other side of the concrete wall were having their will with the public. Arthur Brisbane, for example, whose editorial against the strikers was submitted to Mr. Rockefeller by Mr. Rockefeller’s press agent as a proof of the press agent’s skill! And Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora— you will find a special chapter in this book devoted to the “Fra,” and in it you may read how he sought to sell out the Colorado strikers. And the Rev. Newell Dwight Hillis, a clerical gentleman whom we have seen spurning George D. Herron in public, and apologizing in tears before his congregation because his greed for money had led him into a mess of lawsuits. This clerical gentleman preached a sermon, in which he referred to our Broadway “pickets” as “a lot of silly people,” and incidentally told some score of lies about the strikers. Somebody, name unknown, was circulating this sermon in expensive pamphlet form by the hundreds of thousands of copies; so George Creel wrote to Hillis—but in vain. If you are near a library, look up Creel’s “Open Letter” in Harper’s Weekly, May 29, 1915, and see how many lies a greedy preacher can pack into one sermon. I also wrote to the reverend gentleman, and succeeded in getting a reply from him. I quote my final letter, which covers the case, I think:
REV. NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS,
Brooklyn, New York.
My Dear Sir:
I have your letter and note that you are going West to Colorado, and that if you can find any errors in your sermon you will correct them. I would say that definite and specific errors are pointed out in George Creel’s letters; errors that you would not have to go to Colorado to find out about. They are proven in the sworn testimony given before the Congressional Investigation Committee and before the hearings of the Commission on Industrial Relations. While you can, of course, not recollect who gave you this or that detail of information, you must certainly know from what source you took the definite false statements of figures and facts to which Mr. Creel calls your attention. Moreover, the most important questions in both Mr. Creel’s letter and mine, you have entirely ignored. I wish to ask you, before you go West, will you answer the following specific questions?
Who is circulating and paying for the expensive pamphlet form of your sermon?
Second, did this party obtain your permission to circulate it in this form?
Third, did you receive any payment for permitting this circulation?
Fourth, if, after investigation of Mr. Creel’s points in Colorado you find that you were wrong and he was right, will you compel the party who is circulating this pamphlet to give to your corrections the same amount of circulation?
I have, of course no right to insist that you should answer any of these questions. I will merely say that by failing to answer them, and answer them promptly and explicitly, you will leave your name open to exceedingly grave suspicions.
This letter remained unanswered; yet such utter lack of concern about his good name has not injured the pastor of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, with the great organs of capitalist opinion! Only recently McClure’s Magazine has selected him for its prize anti-Bolshevik liar. Please make a mental note of him, for reference when we come to the anti-Bolshevik liars and their lies.
It was still our hope that President Wilson could be persuaded to interfere in the strike and force the Rockefellers to some compromise. It being the way of public officials to move only in response to public clamor, we were driven to keep on butting our heads against the concrete wall. Our “mourning picket” demonstration had gathered about us a group of young radicals, who could not endure to see the effort die down and the strangling of the strike completed. Every day one would come to us with some new idea. One group wished to go up to Rockefeller’s home on Madison Avenue, and walk up and down in front of it. We objected to this, because we were not attacking Mr. Rockefeller personally, we were attacking his business policy, and his office seemed the proper place. Nevertheless, one boy ventured up on Madison Avenue, and was promptly arrested and sent to jail for sixty days.
There was another group which wished to visit Tarrytown, where young Rockefeller had retired to the seclusion of his country home, with a high iron fence all around it, and iron gates, and a score or two of armed guards patrolling day and night. This group tried to hold a street meeting in the village of Tarrytown, and were arrested. So I was driven into a campaign on behalf of free speech. I have told in Chapter XII of my experience with the Tarrytown News; I have now to tell of my experience with the New York Herald. It is one of the few of my newspaper adventures from the contemplation of which I derive satisfaction.
I had several sessions with the board of trustees of the village of Tarrytown. They were courteous, and permitted me to argue the issue of free speech—which I did courteously.
I brought to them a charming letter from Georg Brandes, then a visitor in New York. They held a public session, addressed by Leonard Abbott, Theodore Schroeder, and myself, and in the course of my talk I pointed out that the result of repression of free speech was violence. In England where the radicals were allowed to gather in Hyde Park and say what they chose, crimes of political violence were practically unknown. On the other hand, in America, where it was customary for the police to arrest radicals and club and jail them, such crimes were common. Only the other day the newspapers had told of the assassination of the chief of police of Seattle, where the I.W.W. had been prevented from speaking.
There were a dozen newspaper reporters present at this hearing, and accounts of it appeared in the New York papers next morning. The Herald stated that I had threatened the trustees of Tarrytown with violence in case they refused my request. I quote from the Herald’s narrative:
Suddenly Frank R. Pierson, president of the village, leaped to his feet and said:
“We shall not be intimidated by-threats. We will hear no more of this kind of argument. For one, I was willing to listen to what these people had to say and to hear them fairly and honestly, but when they come here with threats of death, of assassination and of mob rule, I will not hear them further.”
Now, concerning this account there is only one thing to be said: it was absolute fiction. I have never met a more agreeable gentleman than Mr. Pierson, president of the Tarrytown village board; he voted my way on every occasion, and from first to last we never exchanged a word that was not cordial. On reading this account I at once went to see him and ascertained that both he and the other trustees considered the report to be false and inexcusable. I then sent a letter to the Herald informing them that they had libeled me, and threatening them with a suit. They sent a reporter to see me, and I explained to this reporter the basis of my complaint, and next morning the Herald published my letter of complaint, together with an article reiterating its statement, and quoting three of the trustees as supporting its statement. I quote the Herald reporter’s words:
I saw Frank R. Pierson, president of the village, and asked his opinion of the correctness of the account published in the Herald. Mr. Pierson carefully read the article and then said:
“Mr. Sinclair certainly made the remarks attributed to him in the Herald, if I heard aright, and I did jump up and declare that we should not be intimidated by threats. Mr. Sinclair may not have intended to make a threat, but the inference was plain. The Herald did not misquote either Mr. Sinclair or me.”
And concerning the above interview also there is only one thing to be said; it was absolute fiction. I went to see Mr. Pierson again, and he assured me that he had given no such interview, and would appear in court and testify accordingly. Another of the trustees wrote me that the Herald interview with him was a “fake,” and so I put the matter into the hands of my attorneys, and a libel-suit was filed against the New York Herald. It dragged for a year or two, and I came to California and dismissed the matter from my mind. When the time came for the suit to come to trial, I was unwilling to take the trip to New York, and asked my lawyers to have the matter dropped. You may imagine my consternation when I received a letter from them, telling me that they had been negotiating with the attorneys for the Herald, and had succeeded in settling the case upon the basis of a payment of twenty-five hundred dollars damages! Never, if I live to be as old as Methuselah, shall I spend money that will bring me more satisfaction than that twenty-five hundred dollars!
Throughout these Tarrytown adventures, which lasted several weeks, each newspaper had one reporter who followed the story day by day, and two or three of these men became friendly to me. Isaac Russell, reporter for the Times, invited me to lunch in a restaurant in Tarrytown, with a couple of other men. I explained that I was ill and not eating anything, but would sit and chat with them. As they were finishing, there came in the reporter for the World, who, as it happened, had been drunk during most of the time. Next morning there appeared in the World a particularly nasty account of the day’s events, in which it was described how I had come to Tarrytown with four women in my train, had had lunch with several reporters, and had permitted them to pay the bill. I took the trouble to go down to the office of the World and see Mr. Frank Cobb, managing editor; explaining to him that I had come alone to Tarrytown, had spoken to no woman in Tarrytown, and had eaten no lunch in Tarrytown. Mr. Cobb admitted that I had a grievance, and by way of recompense allowed me to dictate a column interview about the meaning of the free speech fight in Tarrytown; incidentally he took the drunken reporter off the assignment. From the other reporters I got the “inside” story of what had happened, and it throws an amusing light upon newspaper ethics. The drunken reporter had lost out in the contest with me, not because he had been drunk, nor because he had lied about a radical, but because he had implied in his article that a reporter was a social inferior! Was not a reporter privileged to invite an author to lunch, and to pay for the lunch if he saw fit?
Well, that’s about as much of The Brass Check as Slate can fit on a single webpage. For the rest, including Sinclair’s thoughts on how to improve the newspaper business (it involves unions, another thing the new owners of L.A. Weekly have avoided by acquiring the paper in a way that didn’t include its extant union contracts), check out the Internet Archive. Alternatively, wait until you read it in the pages of L.A. Weekly.
Correction, Dec. 6, 2017: This article originally misspelled Mark Ruffalo’s last name.