If so lamentable an occurrence as
the death of the late president can be productive of a good result,
it may justly be claimed, should the present wave of popular indignation
and disgust have the effect of curbing the licenae [sic] of certain
newspapers, and teaching moderation and decency to those whose idea
of journalism is that it is a legitimate vehicle for sensational
lying, vulgar abuse and ridicule of those in authority. The birth
and growth of the sentiment against yellow journalism is said to
owe its origin to the fact that the wretched assassin, Czolgosz,
and his associates were inspired and encouraged to their work by
the caricatures and utterances of newspapers too well known to be
named, and whose Sunday editions, bulky with emptiness, or worse
than vacuous, and flaming with ghastly travesties of humourous illustration,
are a weekly affront to intelligence and good taste.
It is to the flaunting indecency of
these papers that the anarchists owe their inspiration—not to the
hysterical screams of Emma Goldman or Lucy Parsons, or the ravings
of nihilist sheets printed surreptitiously in saloon garrets and
circulated from hand to hand. Free speech and a free press are fundamental
principles of a government like ours; but freedom may easily degenerate
into license. A libertinism which permits a paper, with no object
except to make it sell, to publish day after day, vile and humiliating
insults to the head of the nation until he comes to be regarded,
by a creature like Czolgosz, as a noxious beast to be destroyed
like a wolf or tiger—such a libertinism has ceased to be freedom.
A writer who would boldly show up a Marat, a Bonaparte, a Nero,
for what he is, is performing a service to his fellowmen, and is
worthy of honor. One who would wilfully [sic] asperse with lies
the character of a good and conscientious ruler for the sole purpose
of lining his own pockets is no better than the anarchist whose
half-crazy brain is fired by his mendacity.
Kipling prays for mercy on a nation
which, drunk with power, has loosed wild tongues which hold not
God in awe. Our nation is drunk with power, wealth, prosperity,
irreverence, license. We hold nothing in awe. The press of America
is in the front rank of a headlong race growing daily madder and
more reckless in its rush to some unnamable but inevitable catastrophe.
It is time for us to halt, to reorganize our vast political body
on some plan in accordance with its growth. Czolgosz is a law unto
himself. Editor Hearst and Editor Pulitzer are laws unto themselves.
J. P! Morgan [sic], the strikers of the North and East, the lynching
mobs of the South and West, are all laws unto themselves. Every
citizen of the United States is practically a law unto himself;
and whether his government is good or evil depends on his own individuality.
Reverence for constituted authority is the life of a society or
a nation. This the American people seem to be forgetting. The press
is the standard bearer in our tumultuous onrushing civilization;
and it must be taught to point the way to the heights of safety
[i]nstead of leading to the abyss of chaos.