Sunday, April 03, 2011

Nothing New: "intellectual prostitutes"

John Swinton, who worked at The New York Times and The New York Sun and in various writing gigs from the 1860s to the eve of the 20th century, reminds us that it’s always been about selling copies, that this business of news is just that. Swinton, on a night of drinking with his colleagues in 1880, was asked to make a toast to the “independent press.” He stood up and famously answered: “There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”


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