Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Yellow Journalism”
Date of publication: 2 October 1901
Volume number: 50
Issue number: 1283
|“Yellow Journalism.” Puck 2 Oct. 1901 v50n1283: [no pagination].|
|yellow journalism; yellow journalism (role in the assassination); society (criticism).|
Tin that school of journalism which is supposed to have been largely instrumental in provoking the murder of President McKinley indulged, not long before the assassination, in a strain of prophecy:
“It may be near, it may be far, but in a not remote Winter the American peasant will walk by a window of the White House . . . . . . A white, fat hand will toss its answer out the window:
“‘A Trust can do no wrong,’
“Then . . . . . . there will be an awful, bloody quarrel between the Commander-in-Chief and the peasant.”
Well, the quarrel over which this yellow journalist so long watered his mouth at last took place. The “peasant,” under pretense of grasping the “white, fat hand” in friendship, shot down the Commander-in-Chief. It wasn’t, of course, as much of a quarrel as the yellow journalist was plainly ambitious to incite, but it was the nearest thing to it that could occur in this country. Not ten thousand yellow journals of the capacity for mischief which this one has displayed could precipitate anything more. In a republic so admirably governed as this the revolution which they ever boastingly anticipate is impossible. The most they can do, try as they will, is to bring about, at long intervals, the murder of a President.
As to the effectual remedy for this evil we shall in all probability discover it to be nothing more—nor less—than improvement of the public taste. Anarchy can not be suppressed any more than the school-boy’s belief that arithmetic is all a mistake; nor can yellow journalism be legally repressed without violating the rights of the other kind. Occasionally a school-boy will smash his slate in the belief that he will thus be rid of his problem; and occasionally the yellow newspaper becomes impossible; but in both cases existing statutes will be found adequate. It is certain that any abridgment of the right of free speech would do more harm than good. Until the public taste in journalism is corrected additional laws would be useless. When it is corrected they will be needless.
While the reform can not come in a day, this latest manifestation of the evils of yellow journalism should do much to forward it. A too-tolerant public encouraged such vilification of the late President as undoubtedly instigated his murder. Nor should his death have been necessary to prove the wickedness of that abuse which decent but unthinking citizens daily paid for. The purveyors of yellow journalism do business to make money. They found it profitable to rank the President of the United States a little lower than any scoundrel heretofore discovered. The public paid for it. The public was responsible when the chief offender described him as “an abject, weak, futile, incompetent poltroon,” and declared him to be “the most despised and hated creature in the hemisphere. His name is hooted, his figure burned in effigy.” The public was the real offender when it paid to read of a man with McKinley’s war-record that “He plays the coward and shivers white-faced at the foot-fall of approaching war,” and that “He makes an international cur of his country.” It was by the public’s permission that their President was daily accused of being in the pay of the Trusts, of planning a mammoth issue of bonds to be negotiated in Wall Street for the profit of himself and “his Wall Street Cabinet.” It was this defective public taste that made it safe to describe him as “a tyrant reddening his hands in the blood of the poor.” When the public ceases to pay for the commission of these offences they will no more be committed.
And if the average man is not fastidious enough to shun such papers on their merits, let him henceforth shun them as a matter of duty,—so long as he does not consider the killing of Presidents to be praiseworthy. And to make clearer the case against them let him, above all, note how basely this school of journalism panders to him. Let him contrast the tone of the chief yellow before and after the crime. Had there been one shred of honest conviction in its abuse of the President it would have had to attest its sincerity after his death. Instead of this it has printed eulogies of the man and President as offensively maudlin as its former abuse was indecent. This pitiful exposure of a spirit so craven, whining out the last vulgarities of cowardice, ought of itself to reconcile the average reader to forswearing it henceforth.
While we have chosen to cite examples from one newspaper, it must not be inferred that there are not others almost equally vicious. Some of these are pretentiously respectable and would express horror at any classification that ranked them with the yellows; and yet they have been as unjust and quite as forgetful of the decencies in their criticism of a man whom history will write down as notable for his integrity and his wisdom. These journals as well as the frankly yellow ones have yet to learn, among other amenities of criticism, that a President of the United States has been chosen by the whole people, and that a certain degree of respect must invariably be shown him in order to show a proper respect for the people themselves. Until they do learn this they should receive the treatment that ladies and gentlemen accord to creatures who can not in their conversation refrain from oaths and obscenity. They will not learn their lesson until their patrons have first learned and applied it.