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Full text of "Liberty and the news"

LIBERTY AND 
THE NEWS 



WALTER LIPPMANN 



LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY- 0T 

SAN DIEGO 






LIBERTY AND THE NEWS 



BY WALTER LIPPMANN 

THE POEMS OF PAUL MARIETT. 
Edited with an Introduction. 

A PREFACE TO POLITICS. 
DRIFT AND MASTERY. 
THE STAKES OF DIPLOMACY. 

THE POLITICAL SCENE: An Essay 
on the Victory of 1918. 



LIBERTY and the NEWS 





NEW YORK 

HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE 
1920 



COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY 
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY 

COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY 
HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE, INC. 



In writing this tract I have dared 
to believe that many things were pos- 
sible because of the personal example 
offered to all who practice journalism 
by Mr. C. P. Scott, for over forty-five 
years editor-in-chief of the Manchester 
Guardian. In the light of his career it 
cannot seem absurd or remote to think 
of freedom and truth in relation to the 
news. 

Two of the essays in this volume, "What 
Modern Liberty Means" and "Liberty 
and the News" were published originally 
in the Atlantic Monthly. I wish to thank 
Mr. Ellery Sedgwick for the encourag- 
ment he gave me while writing them, 
and for permission to reprint them in 
this volume. 

W. L. 

New York City. 
January i, 1920. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

JOURNALISM AND THE HIGHER LAW . . 3 
WHAT MODERN LIBERTY MEANS ... 19 
LIBERTY AND THE NEWS ...... 69 



vii 



LIBERTY AND THE NEWS 



JOURNALISM AND THE 
HIGHER LAW 

VOLUME i, Number i, of the first 
American newspaper was pub- 
lished in Boston on September 25, 1690. 
It was called Publick Occurrences. The 
second issue did not appear because the 
Governor and Council suppressed it. 
They found that Benjamin Harris, the 
editor, had printed "reflections of a very 
high nature." * Even to-day some of his 
reflections seem very high indeed. In 
his prospectus he had written: 

"That something may be done toward the 
Curing, or at least the Charming of that 
Spirit of Lying, which prevails amongst us, 
wherefore nothing shall be entered, but what 

1 "History of American Journalism," James Melvin 
Lee, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1917, p. 10. 



Liberty and the News 

we have reason to believe is true, repairing 
to the best fountains for our Information. 
And when there appears any material mis- 
take in anything that is collected, it shall be 
corrected in the next. Moreover, the Pub- 
lisher of these Occurrences is willing to en- 
gage, that whereas, there are many False 
Reports, maliciously made, and spread 
among us, if any well-minded person will be 
at the pains to trace any such false Report, 
so far as to find out and Convict the First 
Raiser of it, he will in this Paper (unless 
just Advice be given to the contrary) ex- 
pose the Name of such Person, as A ma- 
licious Raiser of a false Report. It is sup- 
pos'd that none will dislike this Proposal, 
but such as intend to be guilty of so villainous 
a Crime." 

Everywhere to-day men are conscious 
that somehow they must deal with ques- 
tions more intricate than any that church 
or school had prepared them to under- 
stand. Increasingly they know that they 
cannot understand them if the facts are 
4 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

not quickly and steadily available. In- 
creasingly they are baffled because the 
facts are not available; and they are won- 
dering whether government by consent 
can survive in a time when the manu- 
facture of consent is an unregulated pri- 
vate enterprise. For in an exact sense 
the present crisis of western democracy 
is a crisis in journalism. 

I do not agree with those who think 
that the sole cause is corruption. There 
is plenty of corruption, to be sure, 
moneyed control, caste pressure, finan- 
cial and social bribery, ribbons, dinner 
parties, clubs, petty politics. The specu- 
lators in Russian rubles who lied on the 
Paris Bourse about the capture of Petro- 
grad are not the only example of their 
species. And yet corruption does not ex- 
plain the condition of modern journal- 
ism. 

Mr. Franklin P. Adams wrote re- 
5 



Liberty and the News 

cently: "Now there is much pettiness 
and almost incredible stupidity and ig- 
norance in the so-called free press; but 
it is the pettiness, etc., common to the 
so-called human race a pettiness found 
in musicians, steamfitters, landlords, 
poets, and waiters. And when Miss 
Lowell [who had made the usual aris- 
tocratic complaint] speaks of the incur- 
able desire in all American newspapers 
to make fun of everything in season and 
out, we quarrel again. There is an in- 
curable desire in American newspapers 
to take things much more seriously than 
they deserve. Does Miss Lowell read 
the ponderous news from Washington? 
Does she read the society news? Does 
she, we wonder, read the newspapers?" 

Mr. Adams does read them, and when 

he writes that the newspapers take things 

much more seriously than they deserve, 

he has, as the mayor's wife remarked to 

6 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

the queen, said a mouthful. Since the 
war, especially, editors have come to be- 
lieve that their highest duty is not to re- 
port but to instruct, not to print news but 
to save civilization, not to publish what 
Benjamin Harris calls "the Circum- 
stances of Publique Affairs, both abroad 
and at home," but to keep the nation on 
the straight and narrow path. Like the 
Kings of England, they have elected 
themselves Defenders of the Faith. "For 
five years," says Mr. Cobb of the New 
York World, "there has been no free 
play of public opinion in the world. 
Confronted by the inexorable necessities 
of war, governments conscripted public 
opinion. . . . They goose-stepped it. 
They taught it to stand at attention and 
salute. ... It sometimes seems that after 
the armistice was signed, millions of 
Americans must have taken a vow that 
they would never again do any thinking 
7 



Liberty and the News 

for themselves. They were willing to 
die for their country, but not willing to 
think for it." That minority, which is 
proudly prepared to think for it, and 
not only prepared, but cocksure that it 
alone knows how to think for it, has 
adopted the theory that the public should 
know what is good for it. 

The work of reporters has thus be- 
come confused with the work of preach- 
ers, revivalists, prophets and agitators. 
The current theory of American news- 
paperdom is that an abstraction like the 
truth and a grace like fairness must be 
sacrificed whenever anyone thinks the 
necessities of civilization require the sac- 
rifice. To Archbishop Whately's dictum 
that it matters greatly whether you put 
truth in the first place or the second, the 
candid expounder of modern journalism 
would reply that he put truth second to 
what he conceived to be the national in- 
8 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

terest. Judged simply by their product, 
men like Mr. Ochs or Viscount North- 
cliffe believe that their respective na- 
tions will perish and civilization decay 
unless their idea of what is patriotic is 
permitted to temper the curiosity of their 
readers. 

They believe that edification is more 
important than veracity. They believe 
it profoundly, violently, relentlessly. 
They preen themselves upon it. To pa- 
triotism, as they define it from day to 
day, all other considerations must yield. 
That is their pride. And yet what is 
this but one more among myriad ex- 
amples of the doctrine that the end justi- 
fies the means. A more insidiously mis- 
leading rule of conduct was, I believe, 
never devised among men. It was a 
plausible rule as long as men believed 
that an omniscient and benevolent Provi- 
dence taught them what end to seek. 
9 




Liberty and the News 

But now that men are critically aware 
of how their purposes are special to their 
age, their locality, their interests, and 
their limited knowledge, it is blazing ar- 
rogance to sacrifice hard-won standards 
of credibility to some special purpose. It 
is nothing but the doctrine that I want 
what I want when I want it. Its monu- 
ments are the Inquisition and the inva- 
sion of Belgium. It is the reason given 
for almost every act of unreason, the law 
invoked whenever lawlessness justifies it- 
self. At bottom it is nothing but the 
anarchical nature of man imperiously 
hacking its way through. 

Just as the most poisonous form of 
disorder is the mob incited from high 
places, the most immoral act the immo- 
rality of a government, so the most de- 
structive form of untruth is sophistry 
and propaganda by those whose profes- 
sion it is to report the news. The news 
10 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

columns are common carriers. When 
those who control them arrogate to them- 
selves the right to determine by their 
own consciences what shall be reported 
and for what purpose, democracy is un- 
workable. Public opinion is blockaded. 
For when a people can no longer confi- 
dently repair 'to the best fountains for 
their information,' then anyone's guess 
and anyone's rumor, each man's hope and 
each man's whim becomes the basis of 
government. All that the sharpest critics 
of democracy have alleged is true, if 
there is no steady supply of trustworthy 
and relevant news. Incompetence and 
aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, 
panic and ultimate disaster, must come 
to any people which is denied an assured 
access to the facts. No one can manage 
anything on pap. Neither can a people. 
Statesmen may devise policies; they 
will end in futility, as so many have re- 
ii 



Liberty and the News 

cently ended, if the propagandists and 
censors can put a painted screen where 
there should be a window to the world. 
Few episodes in recent history are more 
poignant than that of the British Prime 
Minister, sitting at the breakfast table 
with that morning's paper before him 
protesting that he cannot do the sensible 
thing in regard to Russia because a pow- 
erful newspaper proprietor has drugged 
the public. That incident is a photo- 
graph of the supreme danger which con- 
fronts popular government. All other 
dangers are contingent upon it, for the 
news is the chief source of the opinion 
by which government now proceeds. So 
long as there is interposed between the 
ordinary citizen and the facts a news or- 
ganization determining by entirely pri- 
vate and unexamined standards, no mat- 
ter how lofty, what he shall know, and 
hence what he shall believe, no one will 

12 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

be able to say that the substance of 
democratic government is secure. The 
theory of our constitution, says Mr. Jus- 
tice Holmes, is that truth is the only 
ground upon which men's wishes safely 
can be carried out. 1 In so far as those 
who purvey the news make of their own 
beliefs a higher law than truth, they are 
attacking the foundations of our consti- 
tutional system. There can be no higher 
law in journalism than to tell the truth 
and shame the devil. 

That I have few illusions as to the 
difficulty of truthful reporting anyone 
can see who reads these pages. If truth- 
fulness were simply a matter of sincerity 
the future would be rather simple. But 
the modern news problem is not solely a 
question of the newspaperman's morals. 
It is, as I have tried to show in what fol- 

1 Supreme Court of the United States, No. 316, October 
term, 1919, Jacob Abrams et al., Plaintiffs in Error vs. 
the United States. 

13 



Liberty and the News 

lows, the intricate result of a civiliza- 
tion too extensive for any man's personal 
observation. As the problem is mani- 
fold, so must be the remedy. There is 
no panacea. But however puzzling the 
matter may be, there are some things 
that anyone may assert about it, and as- 
sert without fear of contradiction. They 
are that there is a problem of the news 
which is of absolutely basic importance 
to the survival of popular government, 
and that the importance of that problem 
is not vividly realized nor sufficiently 
considered. 

In a few generations it will seem lu- 
dicrous to historians that a people pro- 
fessing government by the will of the 
people should have made no serious ef- 
fort to guarantee the news without which 
a governing opinion cannot exist. "Is it 
possible," they will ask, "that at the be- 
ginning of the Twentieth Century na- 
4 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

tions calling themselves democracies 
were content to act on what happened to 
drift across their doorsteps; that apart 
from a few sporadic exposures and out- 
cries they made no plans to bring these 
common carriers under social control; 
that they provided no genuine training 
schools for the men upon whose sagacity 
they were dependent; above all that their 
political scientists went on year after 
year writing and lecturing about govern- 
ment without producing one, one single, 
significant study of the process of public 
opinion?" And then they will recall the 
centuries in which the Church enjoyed 
immunity from criticism, and perhaps 
they will insist that the news structure of 
secular society was not seriously exam- 
ined for analogous reasons. 

When they search into the personal 
records they will find that among jour- 
nalists, as among the clergy, institution- 
15 



Liberty and the News 

alism had induced the usual prudence. I 
have made no criticism in this book 
which is not the shoptalk of reporters 
and editors. But only rarely do news- 
papermen take the general public into 
their confidence. They will have to 
sooner or later. It is not enough for 
them to struggle against great odds, as 
many of them are doing, wearing out 
their souls to do a particular assignment 
well. The philosophy of the work itself 
needs to be discussed ; the news about the 
news needs to be told. For the news 
about the government of the news struc- 
ture touches the center of all modern 
government. 

They need not be much concerned if 
leathery-minded individuals ask What 
is Truth of all who plead for the effort 
of truth in modern journalism. Jesting 
Pilate asked the same question, and he 
also would not stay for an answer. No 
16 



Journalism and the Higher Law 

doubt an organon of news reporting must 
wait upon the development of psychol- 
ogy and political science. But resistance 
to the inertias of the profession, heresy 
to the institution, and the willingness to 
be fired rather than write what you do 
not believe, these wait on nothing but 
personal courage. And without the as- 
sistance which they will bring from 
within the profession itself, democracy 
through it will deal with the problem 
somehow, will deal with it badly. 

The essays which follow are an at- 
tempt to describe the character of the 
problem, and to indicate headings un- 
der which it may be found useful to look 
for remedies. 




WHAT MODERN LIBERTY 

MEANS 

FROM our recent experience it is 
clear that the traditional liberties 
of speech and opinion rest on no solid 
foundation. At a time when the world 
needs above all other things the activity 
of generous imaginations and the crea- 
tive leadership of planning and inventive 
minds, our thinking is shriveled with 
panic. Time and energy that should go 
to building and restoring are instead con- 
sumed in warding off the pin-pricks of 
prejudice and fighting a guerilla war 
against misunderstanding and intoler- 
ance. For suppression is felt, not simply 
by the scattered individuals who are ac- 
tually suppressed. It reaches back into 
the steadiest minds, creating tension 
19 



Liberty and the News 

everywhere; and the tension of fear pro- 
duces sterility. Men cease to say what 
they think; and when they cease to say 
it, they soon cease to think it. They 
think in reference to their critics and not 
in reference to the facts. For when 
thought becomes socially hazardous, men 
spend more time wondering about the 
hazard than they do in cultivating their 
thought. Yet nothing is more certain 
than that mere bold resistance will not 
permanently liberate men's minds. The 
problem is not only greater than that, but 
different, and the time is ripe for recon- 
sideration. We have learned that many 
of the hard-won rights of man are ut- 
terly insecure. It may be that we can- 
not make them secure simply by imitat- 
ing the earlier champions of liberty. 

Something important about the human 
character was exposed by Plato when, 
with the spectacle of Socrates's death be- 
20 



What Modern Liberty Means 

fore him, he founded Utopia on a cen- 
sorship stricter than any which exists on 
this heavily censored planet. His intol- 
erance seems strange. But it is really the 
logical expression of an impulse that 
most of us have not the candor to recog- 
nize. It was the service of Plato to 
formulate the dispositions of men in the 
shape of ideals, and the surest things we 
can learn from him are not what we 
ought to do, but what we are inclined 
to do. We are peculiarly inclined to 
suppress whatever impugns the security 
of that to which we have given our al- 
legiance. If our loyalty is turned to what 
exists, intolerance begins at its frontiers; 
if it is turned, as Plato's was, to Utopia, 
we shall find Utopia defended with in- 
tolerance. 

There are, so far as I can discover, no 
absolutists of liberty; I can recall no 
doctrine of liberty, which, under the acid 

21 



Liberty and the News 

test, does not become contingent upon 
some other ideal. The goal is never lib- 
erty, but liberty for something or other. 
For liberty is a condition under which 
activity takes place, and men's interests 
attach themselves primarily to their ac- 
tivities and what is necessary to fulfill 
them, not to the abstract requirements 
of any activity that might be conceived. 

And yet controversialists rarely take 
this into account. The battle is fought 
with banners on which are inscribed ab- 
solute and universal ideals. They are 
not absolute and universal in fact. No 
man has ever thought out an absolute or 
a universal ideal in politics, for the sim- 
ple reason that nobody knows enough, 
or can know enough, to do it. But we 
all use absolutes, because an ideal which 
seems to exist apart from time, space, 
and circumstance has a prestige that no 
candid avowal of special purpose can 
22 



What Modern Liberty Means 

ever have. Looked at from one point of 
view universals are part of the fighting 
apparatus in men. What they desire 
enormously they easily come to call 
God's will, or their nation's purpose. 
Looked at genetically, these idealizations 
are probably born in that spiritual rev- 
erie where all men live most of the time. 
In reverie there is neither time, space, 
nor particular reference, and hope is om- 
nipotent. This omnipotence, which is 
denied to them in action, nevertheless il- 
luminates activity with a sense of utter 
and irresistible value. 

The classic doctrine of liberty consists 
of absolutes. It consists of them except 
at the critical points where the author 
has come into contact with objective diffi- 
culties. Then he introduces into the ar- 
gument, somewhat furtively, a reserva- 
tion which liquidates its universal mean- 
ing and reduces the exalted plea for 
23 



Liberty and the News 

liberty in general to a special argument 
for the success of a special purpose. 

There are at the present time, for in- 
stance, no more fervent champions of 
liberty than the western sympathizers 
with the Russian Soviet government. 
Why is it that they are indignant when 
Mr. Burleson suppresses a newspaper and 
complacent when Lenin does? And, 
vice versa, why is it that the anti-Bol- 
shevist forces in the world are in favor 
of restricting constitutional liberty as a 
preliminary to establishing genuine lib- 
erty in Russia? Clearly the argument 
about liberty has little actual relation to 
the existence of it. It is the purpose of 
the social conflict, not the freedom of 
opinion, that lies close to the heart of the 
partisans. The word liberty is a weapon 
and an advertisement, but certainly not 
an ideal which transcends all special 
aims. 

24 



What Modern Liberty Means 

If there were any man who believed 
in liberty apart from particular pur- 
poses, that man would be a hermit con- 
templating all existence with a hopeful 
and neutral eye. For him, in the last 
analysis, there could be nothing worth 
resisting, nothing particularly worth at- 
taining, nothing particularly worth de- 
fending, not even the right of hermits 
to contemplate existence with a cold and 
neutral eye. He would be loyal simply 
to the possibilities of the human spirit, 
even to those possibilities which most 
seriously impair its variety and its health. 
No such man has yet counted much in 
the history of politics. For what every 
theorist of liberty has meant is that cer- 
tain types of behavior and classes of 
opinion hitherto regulated should be 
somewhat differently regulated in the 
future. What each seems to say is that 
opinion and action should be free; that 
25 



Liberty and the News 

liberty is the highest and most sacred 
interest of life. But somewhere each of 
them inserts a weasel clause to the ef- 
fect that "of course" the freedom granted 
shall not be employed too destructively. 
It is this clause which checks exuberance 
and reminds us that, in spite of appear- 
ances, we are listening to finite men 
pleading a special cause. 

Among the English classics none are 
more representative than Milton's Areo- 
pagitica and the essay On Liberty by 
John Stuart Mill. Of living men Mr. 
Bertrand Russell is perhaps the most 
outstanding advocate of liberty. The 
three together are a formidable set of wit- 
nesses. Yet nothing is easier than to 
draw texts from each which can be cited 
either as an argument for absolute lib- 
erty or as an excuse for as much repres- 
sion as seems desirable at the moment. 
Says Milton: 

26 



What Modern Liberty Means 

Yet if all cannot be of one mind, as who 
looks they should be? this doubtles is more 
wholsome, more prudent, and more Chris- 
tian that many be tolerated, rather than all 
compell' d. 

So much for the generalization. Now 
for the qualification which follows im- 
mediately upon it. 

I mean not tolerated Popery, and open 
superstition, which as it extirpats all re- 
ligions and civill supremacies, so itself should 
be extirpat, provided first that all charitable 
and compassionat means be used to win and 
regain the weak and misled: that also which 
is impious or evil absolutely either against 
faith or maners no law can possibly permit, 
that intends not to unlaw it self: but those 
neighboring differences, or rather indiffer- 
ences, are what I speak of, whether in some 
point of doctrine or of discipline, which 
though they may be many, yet need not in- 
terrupt the unity of spirit, if we could but 
find among us the bond of peace. 
27 



Liberty and the News 

With this as a text one could set up 
an inquisition. Yet it occurs in the nob- 
lest plea for liberty that exists in the 
English language. The critical point in 
Milton's thought is revealed by the word 
"indifferences." The area of opinion 
which he wished to free comprised the 
"neighboring differences" of certain 
Protestant sects, and only these where 
they were truly ineffective in manners 
and morals. Milton, in short, had come 
to the conclusion that certain conflicts 
of doctrine were sufficiently insignificant 
to be tolerated. The conclusion de- 
pended far less upon his notion of the 
value of liberty than upon his conception 
of God and human nature and the Eng- 
land of his time. He urged indifference 
to things that were becoming indifferent. 

If we substitute the word indifference 
for the word liberty, we shall come much 
closer to the real intention that lies be- 
28 



What Modern Liberty Means 

hind the classic argument. Liberty is to 
be permitted where differences are of no 
great moment. It is this definition which 
has generally guided practice. In times 
when men feel themselves secure, heresy 
is cultivated as the spice of life. During 
a war liberty disappears as the commu- 
nity feels itself menaced. When revolu- 
tion seems to be contagious, heresy-hunt- 
ing is a respectable occupation. In other 
words, when men are not afraid, they 
are not afraid of ideas; when they are 
much afraid, they are afraid of anything 
that seems, or can even be made to ap- 
pear, seditious. That is why nine-tenths 
of the effort to live and let live consists 
in proving that the thing we wish to have 
tolerated is really a matter of indiffer- 
ence. 

In Mill this truth reveals itself still 

more clearly. Though his argument is 
29 



Liberty and the News 

surer and completer than Milton's, the 
qualification is also surer and completer. 

Such being the reasons which make it im- 
perative that human beings should be free to 
form opinions, and to express their opinions 
without reserve ; and such the baneful conse- 
quences to the intellectual and through that 
to the moral nature of man, unless this lib" 
erty is either conceded or asserted in spite 
of prohibition, let us next examine whether 
the same reasons do not require that men 
should be free to act upon their opinions, to 
carry these out in their lives, without hin- 
drance, either moral or physical, from their 
fellow men, so long as it is at their own risk 
and peril. This last proviso is of course in- 
dispensable. No one pretends that actions 
should be as free as opinions. On the con- 
trary, even opinions lose their immunity when 
the circumstances in which they are expressed 
are such as to constitute their expression a 
positive instigation to some mischievous act. 

"At their own risk and peril." In 
other words, at the risk of eternal dam- 
nation. The premise from which Mill 
30 



What Modern Liberty Means 

argued was that many opinions then un- 
der the ban of society were of no interest 
to society, and ought therefore not to be 
interfered with. The orthodoxy with 
which he was at war was chiefly theo- 
cratic. It assumed that a man's opin- 
ions on cosmic affairs might endanger his 
personal salvation and make him a dan- 
gerous member of society. Mill did not 
believe in the theological view, did not 
fear damnation, and was convinced that 
morality did not depend upon the re- 
ligious sanction. In fact, he was con- 
vinced that a more reasoned morality 
could be formed by laying aside theolog- 
ical assumptions. "But no one pretends 
that actions should be as free as opin- 
ions." The plain truth is that Mill did 
not believe that much action would re- 
sult from the toleration of those opinions 
in which he was most interested. 

Political heresy occupied the fringe of 



Liberty and the News 

his attention, and he uttered only the 
most casual comments. So incidental 
are they, so little do they impinge on his 
mind, that the arguments of this staunch 
apostle of liberty can be used honestly, 
and in fact are used, to justify the bulk 
of the suppressions which have recently 
occurred. "Even opinions lose their im- 
munity, when the circumstances in which 
they are expressed are such as to consti- 
tute their expression a positive instiga- 
tion to some mischievious act." Clearly 
there is no escape here for Debs or Hay- 
wood or obstructors of Liberty Loans. 
The argument used is exactly the one 
employed in sustaining the conviction of 
Debs. 

In corroboration Mill's single concrete 
instance may be cited: "An opinion that 
corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or 
that private property is robbery, ought 
to be unmolested when simply circulated 
32 



What Modern Liberty Means 

through the press, but may justly incur 
punishment when delivered orally to an 
excited mob assembled before the house 
of a corn dealer, or when handed about 
among the same mob in the form of a 
placard." 

Clearly Mill's theory of liberty wore 
a different complexion when he consid- 
ered opinions which might directly affect 
social order. Where the stimulus of 
opinion upon action was effective he 
could say with entire complacency, "The 
liberty of the individual must be thus far 
limited; he must not make himself a 
nuisance to other people." Because Mill 
believed this, it is entirely just to infer 
that the distinction drawn between a 
speech or placard and publication in the 
press would soon have broken down for 
Mill had he lived at a time when the 
press really circulated and the art of 
33 



Liberty and the News 

type-display had made a newspaper 
strangely like a placard. 

On first acquaintance no man would 
seem to go further than Mr. Bertrand 
Russell in loyalty to what he calls "the 
unfettered development of all the in- 
stincts that build up life and fill it with 
mental delights." He calls these in- 
stincts "creative"; and against them he 
sets off the "possessive impulses." These, 
he says, should be restricted by "a pub- 
lic authority, a repository of practically 
irresistible force whose function should 
be primarily to repress the private use 
of force." Where Milton said no "tol- 
erated Popery," Mr. Russell says, no tol- 
erated "possessive impulses." Surely he 
is open to the criticism that, like every 
authoritarian who has preceded him, he 
is interested in the unfettered develop- 
ment of only that which seems good to 
him. Those who think that "enlightened 
34 



What Modern Liberty Means 

selfishness" produces social harmony will 
tolerate more of the possessive impulses, 
and will be inclined to put certain of 
Mr. Russell's creative impulses under 
lock and key. 

The moral is, not that Milton, Mill, 
and Bertrand Russell are inconsistent, or 
that liberty is to be obtained by arguing 
for it without qualifications. The im- 
pulse to what we call liberty is as strong 
in these three men as it is ever likely to 
be in our society. The moral is of an- 
other kind. It is that the traditional 
core of liberty, namely, the notion of in- 
difference, is too feeble and unreal a doc- 
trine to protect the purpose of liberty, 
which is the furnishing of a healthy en- 
vironment in which human judgment 
and inquiry can most successfully organ- 
ize human life. Too feeble, because in 
time of stress nothing is easier than to 
insist, and by insistence to convince, that 
35 



Liberty and the News 

tolerated indifference is no longer toler- 
able because it has ceased to be indif- 
ferent. 

It is clear that in a society where pub- 
lic opinion has become decisive, noth- 
ing that counts in the formation of it 
can really be a matter of indifference. 
When I say "can be," I am speaking 
literally. What men believed about the 
constitution of heaven became a matter 
of indifference when heaven disappeared 
in metaphysics; but what they believe 
about property, government, conscrip- 
tion, taxation, the origins of the late war, 
or the origins of the Franco-Prussian 
War, or the distribution of Latin culture 
in the vicinity of copper mines, consti- 
tutes the difference between life and 
death, prosperity and misfortune, and it 
will never on this earth be tolerated as 
indifferent, or not interfered with, no 
matter how many noble arguments are 

36 



What Modern Liberty Means 

made for liberty, or how many martyrs 
give their lives for it. If widespread 
tolerance of opposing views is to be 
achieved in modern society, it will not 
be simply by fighting the Debs' cases 
through the courts, and certainly not by 
threatening to upset those courts if they 
do not yield to the agitation. The task 
is fundamentally of another order, re- 
quiring other methods and other theories. 
The world about which each man is 
supposed to have opinions has become 
so complicated as to defy his powers of 
understanding. What he knows of events 
that matter enormously to him, the pur- 
poses of governments, the aspirations of 
peoples, the struggle of classes, he knows 
at second, third, or fourth hand. He 
cannot go and see for himself. Even the 
things that are near to him have become 
too involved for his judgment. I know 
of no man, even among those who devote 
37 



Liberty and the News 

all of their time to watching public af- 
fairs, who can even pretend to keep 
track, at the same time, of his city gov- 
ernment, his state government, Congress, 
the departments, the industrial situation, 
and the rest of the world. What men 
who make the study of politics a voca- 
tion cannot do, the man who has an hour 
a day for newspapers and talk cannot 
possibly hope to do. He must seize 
catchwords and headlines or nothing. 

This vast elaboration of the subject- 
matter of politics is the root of the whole 
problem. News comes from a distance; 
it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable 
confusion; it deals with matters that are 
not easily understood; it arrives and is 
assimilated by busy and tired people who 
must take what is given to them. Any 
lawyer with a sense of evidence knows 
how unreliable such information must 
necessarily be. 

38 



What Modern Liberty Means 

The taking of testimony in a trial is 
hedged about with a thousand precau- 
tions derived from long experience of 
the fallibility of the witness and the 
prejudices of the jury. We call this, and 
rightly, a fundamental phase of human 
liberty. But in public affairs the stake 
is infinitely greater. It involves the lives 
of millions, and the fortune of every- 
body. The jury is the whole community, 
not even the qualified voters alone. The 
jury is everybody who creates public 
sentiment chattering gossips, unscrupu- 
lous liars, congenital liars, feeble-mind- 
ed people, prostitute minds, corrupting 
agents. To this jury any testimony is 
submitted, is submitted in any form, by 
any anonymous person, with no test of 
reliability, no test of credibility, and no 
penalty for perjury. If I lie in a lawsuit 
involving the fate of my neighbor's cow, 
I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million 
39 



Liberty and the News 

readers in a matter involving war and 
peace, I can lie my head off, and, if I 
choose the right series of lies, be entirely 
irresponsible. Nobody will punish me if 
I lie about Japan, for example. I can 
announce that every Japanese valet is a 
reservist, and every Japanese art store a 
mobilization center. I am immune. 
And if there should be hostilities with 
Japan, the more I lied the more popular 
I should be. If I asserted that the Jap- 
anese secretly drank the blood of chil- 
dren, that Japanese women were un- 
chaste, that the Japanese were really not 
a branch of the human race after all, I 
guarantee that most of the newspapers 
would print it eagerly, and that I could 
get a hearing in churches all over the 
country. And all this for the simple 
reason that the public, when it is de- 
pendent on testimony and protected by 
no rules of evidence, can act only on the 
40 



What Modern Liberty Means 

excitement of its pugnacities and its 
hopes. 

The mechanism of the news-supply 
has developed without plan, and there is 
no one point in it at which one can fix 
the responsibility for truth. The fact is 
that the subdivision of labor is now ac- 
companied by the subdivision of the 
news-organization. At one end of it is 
the eye-witness, at the other, the reader. 
Between the two is a vast, expensive 
transmitting and editing apparatus. This 
machine works marvelously well at times, 
particularly in the rapidity with which 
it can report the score of a game or a 
transatlantic flight, or the death of a 
monarch, or the result of an election. 
But where the issue is complex, as for 

example in the matter of the success of 



a policy, or the social conditions among 
a foreign people, that is to say, where 
the real answer is neither yes or no, but 



Liberty and the News 

subtle, and a matter of balanced evi- 
dence, the subdivision of the labor in- 
volved in the report causes no end of 
derangement, misunderstanding, and 
even misrepresentation. 

Thus the number of eye-witnesses cap- 
able of honest statement is inadequate 
and accidental. Yet the reporter mak- 
ing up -his news is dependent upon the 
eye-witnesses. They may be actors in the 
event. Then they can hardly be expected 
to have perspective. Who, for example, 
if he put aside his own likes and dislikes 
would trust a Bolshevik's account of 
what exists in Soviet Russia or an exiled 
Russian prince's story of what exists in 
Siberia? Sitting just across the frontier, 
say in Stockholm, how is a reporter to 
write dependable news when his wit- 
nesses consist of emigres or Bolshevist 
agents ? 

At the Peace Conference, news was 
42 



What Modern Liberty Means 

given out by the agents of the conferees 
and the rest leaked through those who 
were clamoring at the doors of the Con- 
ference. Now the reporter, if he is to 
earn his living, must nurse his personal 
contacts with the eye-witnesses and privi- 
leged informants. If he is openly hos- 
tile to those in authority, he will cease 
to be a reporter unless there is an op- 
position party in the inner circle who can 
feed him news. Failing that, he will 
know precious little of what is going on. 
Most people seem to believe that, when 
they meet a war correspondent or a spe- 
cial writer from the Peace Conference, 
they have seen a man who has seen the 
things he wrote about. Far from it 
Nobody, for example, saw this war. 
Neither the men in the trenches nor the 
commanding, general. The men saw 
their trenches, their billets, sometimes 
they saw an enemy trench, but nobody, 
43 



Liberty and the News 

unless it be the aviators, saw a battle. 
What the correspondents saw, occasion- 
ally, was the terrain over which a battle 
had been fought; but what they reported 
day by day was what they were told at 
press headquarters, and of that only what 
they were allowed to tell. 

At the Peace Conference the reporters 
were allowed to meet periodically the 
four least important members of the 
Commission, men who themselves had 
considerable difficulty in keeping track 
of things, as any reporter who was pres- 
ent will testify. This was supplemented 
by spasmodic personal interviews with 
the commissioners, their secretaries, their 
secretaries' secretaries, other newspaper 
men, and confidential representatives of 
the President, who stood between him 
and the impertinences of curiosity. This 
and the French press, than which there 
is nothing more censored and inspired, a 
44 



What Modern Liberty Means 

local English trade-journal of the ex- 
patriates, the gossip of the Crillon lobby, 
the Majestic, and the other official ho- 
tels, constituted the source of the news 
upon which American editors and the 
American people have had to base one 
of the most difficult judgments of their 
history. I should perhaps add that there 
were a few correspondents occupying 
privileged positions with foreign govern- 
ments. They wore ribbons in their but- 
ton-holes to prove it. They were in 
many ways the most useful correspond- 
ents because they always revealed to the 
trained reader just what it was that their 
governments wished America to believe. 
The news accumulated by the reporter 
from his witnesses has to be selected, if 
for no other reason than that the cable 
facilities are limited. At the cable office 
several varieties of censorship intervene. 
The legal censorship in Europe is po- 
45 



Liberty and the News 

litical as well as military, and both 
words are elastic. It has been applied, 
not only to the substance of the news, but 
to the mode of presentation, and even to 
the character of the type and the position 
on the page. But the real censorship 
on the wires is the cost of transmission. 
This in itself is enough to limit any ex- 
pensive competition or any significant in- 
dependence. The big Continental news 
agencies are subsidized. Censorship 
operates also through congestion and the 
resultant need of a system of priority. 
Congestion makes possible good and bad 
service, and undesirable messages are not 
infrequently served badly. 

When the report does reach the edi- 
tor, another series of interventions oc- 
curs. The editor is a man who may 
know all about something, but he can 
hardly be expected to know all about 
everything. Yet he has to decide the 



What Modern Liberty Means 

question which is of more importance 
than any other in the formation of opin- 
ions, the' question where attention is to 
be directed. In a newspaper the heads 
are the foci of attention, the odd cor- 
ners the fringe; and whether one aspect 
of the news or another appears in the 
center or at the periphery makes all the 
difference in the world. The news of 
the day as it reaches the newspaper of- 
fice is an incredible medley of fact, prop- 
aganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes, 
and fears, and the task of selecting and 
ordering that news is one of the truly 
sacred and priestly offices in a democ- 
racy. For the newspaper is in all literal- 
ness the bible of democracy, the book 
out of which a people determines its con- 
duct. It is the only serious book most 
people read. It is the only book they 
read every day. Now the power to de- 
termine each day what shall seem impor- 
47 



Liberty and the News 

tant and what shall be neglected is a 
power unlike any that has been exercised 
since the Pope lost his hold on the secu- 
lar mind. 

The ordering is not done by one man, 
but by a host of men, who are on the 
whole curiously unanimous in their se- 
lection and in their emphasis. Once you 
know the party and social affiliations of 
a newspaper, you can predict with con- 
siderable certainty the perspective in 
which the news will be displayed. This 
perspective is by no means altogether 
deliberate. Though the editor is ever so 
much more sophisticated than all but a 
minority of his readers, his own sense of 
relative importance is determined by 
rather standardized constellations of 
ideas. He very soon comes to believe 
that his habitual emphasis is the only 
possible one. 

Why the editor is possessed by a par- 



What Modern Liberty Means 

ticular set of ideas is a difficult question 
in social psychology, of which no ade- 
quate analysis has been made. But we 
shall not be far wrong if we say that he 
deals with the news in reference to the 
prevailing mores of his social group. 
These mores are of course in a large 
measure the product of what previous 
newspapers have said; and experience 
shows that, in order to break out of this 
circle, it has been necessary at various 
times to create new forms of journalism, 
such as the national monthly, the criti- 
cal weekly, the circular, the paid adver- 
tisements of ideas, in order to change the 
emphasis which had become obsolete and 
habit-ridden. 

Into this extremely refractory, and I 
think increasingly disserviceable mech- 
anism, there has been thrown, especially 
since the outbreak of war, another mon- 
key-wrench propaganda. The word, of 
49 



Liberty and the News 

course, covers a multitude of sins and a 
few virtues. The virtues can be easily 
separated out, and given another name, 
either advertisement or advocacy. Thus, 
if the National Council of Belgravia 
wishes to publish a magazine out of its 
own funds, under its own imprint, advo- 
cating the annexation of Thrums, no one 
will object. But if, in support of that 
advocacy, it gives to the press stories that 
are lies about the atrocities committed 
in Thrums ; or, worse still, if those stories 
seem to come from Geneva, or Amster- 
dam, not from the press-service of the 
National Council of Belgravia, then Bel- 
gravia is conducting propaganda. If, 
after arousing a certain amount of inter- 
est in itself, Belgravia then invites a 
carefully selected correspondent, or per- 
haps a labor leader, to its capital, puts 
him up at the best hotel, rides him 
around in limousines, fawns on him at 



What Modern Liberty Means 

banquets, lunches with him very confi- 
dentially, and then puts him through a 
conducted tour so that he shall see just 
what will create the desired impression, 
then again Belgravia is conducting prop- 
aganda. Or if Belgravia happens to 
possess the greatest trombone-player in 
the world, and if she sends him over to 
charm the wives of influential husbands, 
Belgravia is, in a less objectionable way, 
perhaps, committing propaganda, and 
making fools of the husbands. 

Now, the plain fact is that out of the 
troubled areas of the world the public 
receives practically nothing that is not 
propaganda. Lenin and his enemies con- 
trol all the news there is of Russia, and 
no court of law would accept any of the 
testimony as valid in a suit to determine 
the possession of a donkey. I am writ- 
ing many months after the Armistice. 
The Senate is at this moment engaged 



Liberty and the News 

in debating the question whether it will 
guarantee the frontiers of Poland; but 
what we learn of Poland we learn from 
the Polish Government and the Jewish 
Committee. Judgment on the vexed is- 
sues of Europe is simply out of the ques- 
tion for the average American; and the 
more cocksure he is, the more certainly 
is he the victim of some propaganda. 

These instances are drawn from for- 
eign affairs, but the difficulty at home, 
although less flagrant, is nevertheless 
real. Theodore Roosevelt, and Leonard 
Wood after him, have told us to think 
nationally. It is not easy. It is easy 
to parrot what those people say who live 
in a few big cities and who have consti- 
tuted themselves the only true and au- 
thentic voice of America. But beyond 
that it is difficult. I live in New York 
and I have not the vaguest idea what 
Brooklyn is interested in. It is possible, 
52 



What Modern Liberty Means 

with effort, much more effort than most 
people can afford to give, for me to know 
what a few organized bodies like the 
Non-Partisan League, the National Se- 
curity League, the American Federation 
of Labor, and the Republican National 
Committee are up to; but what the un- 
organized workers, and the unorganized 
farmers, the shopkeepers, the local bank- 
ers and boards of trade are thinking and^ 
feeling, no one has any means of know- 
ing, except perhaps in a vague way 
at election time. To think nationally 
means, at least, to take into account the 
major interests and needs and desires of 
this continental population; and for that 
each man would need a staff of secre- 
taries, traveling agents, and a very ex- 
pensive press-clipping bureau. 

We do not think nationally because 
the facts that count are not systemati- 
cally reported and presented in a form 
53 



Liberty and the News 

we can digest. Our most abysmal igno- 
rance occurs where we deal with the im- 
migrant. If we read his press at all, it 
is to discover "Bolshevism" in it and to 
blacken all immigrants with suspicion. 
For his culture and his aspirations, for 
his high gifts of hope and variety, we 
have neither eyes nor ears. The immi- 
grant colonies are like holes in the road 
which we never notice until we trip over 
them. Then, because we have no cur- 
rent information and no background of 
facts, we are, of course, the undiscrim- 
inating objects of any agitator who 
chooses to rant against "foreigners." 

Now, men who have lost their grip 
upon the relevant facts of their envir- 
onment are the inevitable victims of 
agitation and propaganda. The quack, 
the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, 
can flourish only where the audience is 
deprived of independent access to infor- 
54 



What Modern Liberty Means 

mation. But where all news comes at 
second-hand, where all the testimony is 
uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, 
and respond simply to opinions. The 
environment in which they act is not the 
realities themselves, but the pseudo-en- 
vironment of reports, rumors, and 
guesses. The whole reference of thought 
comes to be what somebody asserts, not 
what actually is. Men ask, not whether 
such and such a thing occurred in Rus- 
sia, but whether Mr. Raymond Robins 
is at heart more friendly to the Bolshe- 
viki than Mr. Jerome Landfield. And 
so, since they are deprived of any trust- 
worthy means of knowing what is really 
going on, since everything is on the plane 
of assertion and propaganda, they be- 
lieve whatever fits most comfortably with 
their prepossessions. 

That this breakdown of the means of 
public knowledge should occur at a time 
55 



Liberty and the News 

of immense change is a compounding of 
the difficulty. From bewilderment to 
panic is a short step, as everyone knows 
who has watched a crowd when danger 
threatens. At the present time a nation 
easily acts like a crowd. Under the in- 
fluence of headlines and panicky print, 
the contagion of unreason can easily 
spread through a settled community. For 
when the comparatively recent and un- 
stable nervous organization which makes 
us capable of responding to reality as it 
is, and not as we should wish it, is baf- 
fled over a continuing period of time, the 
more primitive but much stronger in- 
stincts are let loose. 

War and Revolution, both of them 
founded on censorship and propaganda, 
are the supreme destroyers of realistic 
thinking, because the excess of danger 
and the fearful overstimulation of pas- 
sion unsettle disciplined behavior. Both 

56 



What Modern Liberty Means 

breed fanatics of all kinds, men who, in 
the words of Mr. Santayana, have re- 
doubled their effort when they have for- 
gotten their aim. The effort itself has 
become the aim. Men live in their ef- 
fort, and for a time find great exaltation. 
They seek stimulation of their effort 
rather than direction of it. That is why 
both in war and revolution there seems 
to operate a kind of Gresham's Law of 
the emotions, in which leadership passes 
by a swift degradation from a Mirabeau 
to a Robespierre; and in war, from a 
high-minded statesmanship to the depths 
of virulent, hating jingoism. 

The cardinal fact always is the loss of 
contact with objective information. Pub- 
lic as well as private reason depends 
upon it. Not what somebody says, not 
what somebody wishes were true, but 
w r hat is so beyond all our opining, con- 
stitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And 
57 



Liberty and the News 

a society which lives at second-hand will 
commit incredible follies and counte- 
nance inconceivable brutalities if that 
contact is intermittent and untrust- 
worthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that 
flourishes where discrimination fails, 
and only those who are at grips with 
things themselves are impervious to it. 
For, in the last analysis, the demagogue, 
whether of the Right or the Left, is, con- 
sciously or unconsciously an undetected 
liar. 

Many students of politics have con- 
cluded that, because public opinion was 
unstable, the remedy lay in making gov- 
ernment as independent of it as possible. 
The theorists of representative govern- 
ment have argued persistently from this 
premise against the believers in direct 
legislation. But it appears now that, 
while they have been making their case 
against direct legislation, rather success- 

58 



What Modern Liberty Means 

fully it seems to me, they have failed 
sufficiently to notice the increasing mal- 
ady of representative government. 

Parliamentary action is becoming no- 
toriously ineffective. In America cer- 
tainly the concentration of power in the 
Executive is out of all proportion either 
to the intentions of the Fathers or to the 
orthodox theory of representative gov- 
ernment. The cause is fairly clear. Con- 
gress is an assemblage of men selected 
for local reasons from districts. It brings 
to Washington a more or less accurate 
sense of the superficial desires of its con- 
stituency. In Washington it is supposed 
to think nationally and internationally. 
But for that task its equipment and its 
sources of information are hardly better 
than that of any other reader of the news- 
paper. Except for its spasmodic investi- 
gating committees, Congress has no par- 
ticular way of informing itself. But the 
59 



Liberty and the News 

Executive has. The Executive is an elab- 
orate hierarchy reaching to every part of 
the nation and to all parts of the world. 
It has an independent machinery, fallible 
and not too truthworthy, of course, but 
nevertheless a machinery of intelligence. 
It can be informed and it can act, where- 
as Congress is not informed and cannot 
act 

Now the popular theory of represen- 
tative government is that the representa- 
tives have the information and therefore 
create the policy which the executive ad- 
ministers. The more subtle theory is that 
the executive initiates the policy which 
the legislature corrects in accordance 
with popular wisdom. But when the leg- 
islature is haphazardly informed, this 
amounts to very little, and the people 
themselves prefer to trust the executive 
which knows, rather than the Congress 
which is vainly trying to know. The re- 
60 



What Modern Liberty Means 

suit has been the development of a kind 
of government which has been harshly 
described as plebiscite autocracy, or gov- 
ernment by newspapers. Decisions in 
the modern state tend to be made by the 
interaction, not of Congress and the exec- 
utive, but of public opinion and the 
executive. 

Public opinion for this purpose finds 
itself collected about special groups 
which act as extra-legal organs of gov- 
ernment. There is a labor nucleus, a 
farmers' nucleus, a prohibition nucleus, 
a National Security League nucleus, and 
so on. These groups conduct a continual 
electioneering campaign upon the un- 
formed, exploitable mass of public opin- 
ion. Being special groups, they have 
special sources of information, and what 
they lack in the w r ay of information is 
often manufactured. These conflicting 
pressures beat upon the executive depart- 
61 



Liberty and the News 

ments and upon Congress, and formulate 
the conduct of the government. The 
government itself acts in reference to 
these groups far more than in reference 
to the district congressmen. So politics 
as it is now played consists in coercing 
and seducing the representative by the 
threat and the appeal of these unofficial 
groups. Sometimes they are the allies, 
sometimes the enemies, of the party in 
power, but more and more they are the 
energy of public affairs. Government 
tends to operate by the impact of con- 
trolled opinion upon administration. 
This shift in the locus of sovereignty has 
placed a premium upon the manufacture 
of what is usually called consent. No 
wonder that the most powerful news- 
paper proprietor in the English-speak- 
ing world declined a mere government 
post. 

No wonder, too, that the protection of 
62 



What Modern Liberty Means 

the sources of its opinion is the basic 
problem of democracy. Everything else 
depends upon it. Without protection 
against propaganda, without standards 
of evidence, without criteria of emphasis, 
the living substance of all popular deci- 
sion is exposed to every prejudice and 
to infinite exploitation. That is why I 
have argued that the older doctrine of 
liberty was misleading. It did not as- 
sume a public opinion that governs. Es- 
sentially it demanded toleration of opin- 
ions that were, as Milton said, indiffer- 
ent. It can guide us little in a world 
where opinion is sensitive and decisive. 

The axis of the controversy needs to 
be shifted. The attempt to draw fine 
distinctions between "liberty" and "li- 
cense" is no doubt part of the day's work, 
but it is fundamentally a negative part. 
It consists in trying to make opinion re- 
sponsible to prevailing social standards, 

63 



Liberty and the News 

whereas the really important thing is to 
try and make opinion increasingly re- 
sponsible to the facts. There can be no 
liberty for a community which lacks the 
information by which to detect lies. 
Trite as the conclusion may at first seem, 
it has, I believe, immense practical con- 
sequences, and may perhaps offer an es- 
cape from the logomachy into which the 
contests of liberty so easily degenerate. 

It may be bad to suppress a particu- 
lar opinion, but the really deadly thing 
is to suppress the news. In time of great 
insecurity, certain opinions acting on un- 
stable minds may cause infinite disaster. 
Knowing that such opinions necessarily 
originate in slender evidence, that they 
are propelled more by prejudice from 
the rear than by reference to realities, 
it seems to me that to build the case for 
liberty upon the dogma of their unlim- 
ited prerogatives is to build it upon the 



What Modern Liberty Means 

poorest foundation. For, even though 
we grant that the world is best served by 
the liberty of all opinion, the plain fact 
is that men are too busy and too much 
concerned to fight more than spasmodi- 
cally for such liberty. When freedom of 
opinion is revealed as freedom of error, 
illusion, and misinterpretation, it is vir- 
tually impossible to stir up much inter- 
est in its behalf. It is the thinnest of all 
abstractions and an over-refinement of 
mere intellectualism. But people, wide 
circles of people, are aroused when their 
curiosity is baulked. The desire to know, 
the dislike of being deceived and made 
game of, is a really powerful motive, 
and it is that motive that can best be en- 
listed in the cause of freedom. 

What, for example, was the one most 
general criticism of the work of the 
Peace Conference? It was that the cove- 
nants were not openly arrived at. This 



Liberty and the News 

fact stirred Republican Senators, British 
Labor, the whole gamut of parties from 
the Right to the Left. And in the last 
analysis lack of information about the 
Conference was the origin of its diffi- 
culties. Because of the secrecy endless 
suspicion was aroused; because of it the 
world seemed to be presented with a 
series of accomplished facts which it 
could not reject and did not wish alto- 
gether to accept. It was lack of infor- 
mation which kept public opinion from 
affecting the negotiations at the time 
when intervention would have counted 
most and cost least. Publicity occurred 
when the covenants were arrived at, with 
all the emphasis on the at. This is what 
the Senate objected to, and this is what 
alienated much more liberal opinion 
than the Senate represents. 

In a passage quoted previously in this 
essay, Milton said that differences of 
66 



What Modern Liberty Means 

opinion, "which though they may be 
many, yet need not interrupt the unity 
of spirit, if we could but find among us 
the bond of peace." There is but one 
kind of unity possible in a world as di- 
verse as ours. It is unity of method, 
rather than of aim; the unity of the dis- 
ciplined experiment. There is but one 
bond of peace that is both permanent 
and enriching: the increasing knowledge 
of the world in which experiment oc- 
curs. With a common intellectual meth- 
od and a common area of valid fact, 
differences may become a form of co- 
operation and cease to be an irreconcil- 
able antagonism. 

That, I think, constitutes the meaning 
of freedom for us. We cannot success- 
fully define liberty, or accomplish it, by 
a series of permissions and prohibitions. 
For that is to ignore the content of opin- 
ion in favor of its form. Above all, it 

67 



Liberty and the News 

is an attempt to define liberty of opinion 
in terms of opinion. It is a circular and 
sterile logic. A useful definition of lib- 
erty is obtainable only by seeking the 
principle of liberty in the main business 
of human life, that is to say, in the pro- 
cess by which men educate their response 
and learn to control their environment. 
In this view liberty is the name we give 
to measures by which we protect and in- 
crease the veracity of the information 
upon which we act. 



68 



LIBERTY AND THE NEWS 

THE debates about liberty have 
hitherto all been attempts to de- 
termine just when in the series from 
Right to Left the censorship should in- 
tervene. In the preceding paper I ven- 
tured to ask whether these attempts do 
not turn on a misconception of the prob- 
lem. The conclusion reached was that, 
in dealing with liberty of opinion, we 
were dealing with a subsidiary phase of 
the whole matter; that, so long as we 
were content to argue about the privi- 
leges and immunities of opinion, we were 
missing the point and trying to make 
bricks without straw. We should never 
succeed even in fixing a standard of tol- 
erance for opinions, if we concentrated 



Liberty and the News 

all our attention on the opinions. For 
they are derived, not necessarily by rea- 
son, to be sure, but somehow, from the 
stream of news that reaches the public, 
and the protection of that stream is the 
critical interest in a modern state. In 
going behind opinion to the information 
which it exploits, and in making the val- 
idity of the news our ideal, we shall be 
fighting the battle where it is really be- 
ing fought. We shall be protecting for 
the public interest that which all the 
special interests in the world are most 
anxious to corrupt 

As the sources of the news are pro- 
tected, as the information they furnish 
becomes accessible and usable, as our 
capacity to read that information is edu- 
cated, the old problem of tolerance will 
wear a new aspect. Many questions 
which seem hopelessly insoluble now will 
cease to seem important enough to be 
70 



Liberty and the News 

worth solving. Thus the advocates of a 
larger freedom always argue that true 
opinions will prevail over error; their 
opponents always claim that you can fool 
most of the people most of the time. 
Both statements are true, but both are 
half-truths. True opinions can prevail 
only if the facts to which they refer are 
known; if they are not known, false ideas 
are just as effective as true ones, if not 
a little more effective. 

The sensible procedure in matters af- 
fecting the liberty of opinion would be 
to ensure as impartial an investigation 
of the facts as is humanly possible. But 
it is just this investigation that is denied 
us. It is denied us, because we are de- 
pendent upon the testimony of anony- 
mous and untrained and prejudiced wit- 
nesses; because the complexity of the 
relevant facts is beyond the scope of our 
hurried understanding; and finally, be- 



Liberty and the News 

cause the process we call education fails 
so lamentably to educate the sense of evi- 
dence or the power of penetrating to the 
controlling center of a situation. The 
task of liberty, therefore, falls roughly 
under three heads, protection of the 
sources of the news, organization of the 
news so as to make it comprehensible, 
and education of human response. 

We need, first, to know what can be 
done with the existing news-structure, in 
order to correct its grosser evils. How 
far is it useful to go in fixing personal 
responsibility for the truthfulness of 
news? Much further, I am inclined to 
think, than we have ever gone. We 
ought to know the names of the whole 
staff of every periodical. While it is not 
necessary, or even desirable, that each 
article should be signed, each article 
should be documented, and false docu- 
mentation should be illegal. An item of 
72 



Liberty and the News 

news should always state whether it is 
received from one of the great news- 
agencies, or from a reporter, or from a 
press bureau. Particular emphasis 
should be put on marking news supplied 
by press bureaus, whether they are lab- 
eled "Geneva," or "Stockholm," or "El 
Paso." 

One wonders next whether anything 
can be devised to meet that great evil of 
the press, the lie which, once under way, 
can never be tracked down. The more 
scrupulous papers will, of course, print 
a retraction when they have unintention- 
ally injured someone; but the retraction 
rarely compensates the victim. The law 
of libel is a clumsy and expensive instru- 
ment, and rather useless to private indi- 
viduals or weak organizations because 
of the gentlemen's agreement which ob- 
tains in the newspaper world. After all, 
the remedy for libel is not money dam- 
73 



Liberty and the News 

ages, but an undoing of the injury. 
Would it be possible then to establish 
courts of honor in which publishers 
should be compelled to meet their ac- 
cusers and, if found guilty of misrepre- 
sentation, ordered to publish the cor- 
rection in the particular form and with 
the prominence specified by the finding 
of the court? I do not know. Such 
courts might prove to be a great nuis- 
ance, consuming time and energy and at- 
tention, and offering too free a field for 
individuals with a persecution mania. 

Perhaps a procedure could be devised 
which would eliminate most of these in- 
conveniences. Certainly it would be a 
great gain if the accountability of pub- 
lishers could be increased. They exer- 
cise more power over the individual than 
is healthy, as everybody knows who has 
watched the yellow press snooping at 
keyholes and invading the privacy of 
74 



Liberty and the News 

helpless men and women. Even more 
important than this, is the utterly reck- 
less power of the press in dealing with 
news vitally affecting the friendship of 
peoples. In a Court of Honor, possible 
perhaps only in Utopia, voluntary asso- 
ciations working for decent relations 
with other peoples might hale the jingo 
and the subtle propagandist before a tri- 
bunal, to prove the reasonable truth of 
his assertion or endure the humiliation 
of publishing prominently a finding 
against his character. 

This whole subject is immensely diffi- 
cult, and full of traps. It would be well 
worth an intensive investigation by a 
group of publishers, lawyers, and stu- 
dents of public affairs. Because in some 
form or other the next generation will 
attempt to bring the publishing business 
under greater social control. There is 
everywhere an increasingly angry disil- 
75 



Liberty and the News 

lusionment about the press, a growing 
sense of being baffled and misled; and 
wise publishers will not pooh-pooh these 
omens. They might well note the his- 
tory of prohibition, where a failure to 
work out a programme of temperance 
brought about an undiscriminating taboo. 
The regulation of the publishing busi- 
ness is a subtle and elusive matter, and 
only by an early and sympathetic effort 
to deal with great evils can the more sen- 
sible minds retain their control. If pub- 
lishers and authors themselves do not 
face the facts and attempt to deal with 
them, some day Congress, in a fit of tem- 
per, egged on by an outraged public 
opinion, will operate on the press with 
an ax. For somehow the community 
must find a way of making the men who 
publish news accept responsibility for an 
honest effort not to misrepresent the 
facts. 



Liberty and the News 

But the phrase "honest effort" does not 
take us very far. The problem here is 
not different from that which we begin 
dimly to apprehend in the field of gov- 
ernment and business administration. 
The untrained amateur may mean well, 
but he knows not how to do well. Why 
should he? What are the qualifications 
for being a surgeon? A certain mini- 
mum of special training. What are the 
qualifications for operating daily on the 
brain and heart of a nation? None. Go 
some time and listen to the average run 
of questions asked in interviews with 
Cabinet officers or anywhere else. 

I remember one reporter who was de- 
tailed to the Peace Conference by a lead- 
ing news-agency. He came around every 
day for "news." It was a time when 
Central Europe seemed to be disinte- 
grating, and great doubt existed as to 
whether governments would be found 
77 



Liberty and the News 

with which to sign a peace. But all that 
this "reporter" wanted to know was 
whether the German fleet, then safely in- 
terned at Scapa Flow, was going to be 
sunk in the North Sea. He insisted 
every day on knowing that. For him it 
was the German fleet or nothing. Fi- 
nally, he could endure it no longer. So 
he anticipated Admiral Reuther and an- 
nounced, in a dispatch to his home pa- 
pers, that the fleet would be sunk. And 
when I say that a million American 
adults learned all that they ever learned 
about the Peace Conference through this 
reporter, I am stating a very moderate 
figure. 

He suggests the delicate question 
raised by the schools of journalism: how 
far can we go in turning newspaper en- 
terprise from a haphazard trade into a 
disciplined profession? Quite far, I 
imagine, for it is altogether unthinkable 

78 



Liberty and the News 

that a society like ours should remain 
forever dependent upon untrained acci- 
dental witnesses. It is no answer to say 
that there have been in the past, and that 
there are now, first-rate correspondents. 
Of course there are. Men like Brails- 
ford, Oulahan, Gibbs, Lawrence, Swope, 
Strunsky, Draper, Hard, Dillon, Lowry, 
Levine, Ackerman, Ray Stannard Baker, 
Frank Cobb, and William Allen White, 
know their way about in this world. But 
they are eminences on a rather flat pla- 
teau. The run of the news is handled 
by men of much smaller caliber. It is 
handled by such men because reporting 
is not a dignified profession for which 
men will invest the time and cost of an 
education, but an underpaid, insecure, 
anonymous form of drudgery, conducted 
on catch-as-catch-can principles. Merely 
to talk about the reporter in terms of his 
real importance to civilization will make 
79 



Liberty and the News 

newspaper men laugh. Yet reporting is 
a post of peculiar honor. Observation 
must precede every other activity, and 
the public observer (that is, the report- 
er) is a man of critical value. No amount 
of money or effort spent in fitting the 
right men for this work could possibly 
be wasted, for the health of society de- 
pends upon the quality of the informa- 
tion it receives. 

Do our schools of journalism, the few 
we have, make this kind of training their 
object, or are they trade-schools designed 
to fit men for higher salaries in the ex- 
isting structure? I do not presume to 
answer the question, nor is the answer of 
great moment when we remember how 
small a part these schools now play in 
actual journalism. But it is important 
to know whether it would be worth while 
to endow large numbers of schools on 
the model of those now existing, and 
80 



Liberty and the News 

make their diplomas a necessary condi- 
tion for the practice of reporting. It is 
worth considering. Against the idea lies 
the fact that it is difficult to decide just 
what reporting is where in the whole 
mass of printed matter it begins and ends. 
No one would wish to set up a closed 
guild of reporters and thus exclude in- 
valuable casual reporting and writing. 
If there is anything in the idea at all, 
it would apply only to the routine serv- 
ice of the news through large organiza- 
tions. 

Personally I should distrust too much 
ingenuity of this kind, on the ground 
that, while it might correct certain evils, 
the general tendency would be to turn 
the control of the news over to unenter- 
prising stereotyped minds soaked in the 
traditions of a journalism always ten 
years out of date. The better course is 
to avoid the deceptive short cuts, and 
81 



Liberty and the News 

make up our minds to send out into re- 
porting a generation of men who will by 
sheer superiority, drive the incompetents 
out of business. That means two things. 
It means a public recognition of the dig- 
nity of such a career, so that it will cease 
to be the refuge of the vaguely talented. 
With this increase of prestige must go a 
professional training in journalism in 
which the ideal of objective testimony 
is cardinal. The cynicism of the trade 
needs to be abandoned, for the true pat- 
terns of the journalistic apprentice are 
not the slick persons who scoop the news, 
but the patient and fearless men of sci- 
ence who have labored to see what the 
world really is. It does not matter that 
the news is not susceptible of mathemati- 
cal statement. In fact, just because news 
is complex and slippery, good reporting 
requires the exercise of the highest of the 
scientific virtues. They are the habits of 
82 



Liberty and the News 

ascribing no more credibility to a state- 
ment than it warrants, a nice sense of the 
probabilities, and a keen understanding 
of the quantitative importance of partic- 
ular facts. You can judge the general 
reliability of any observer most easily by 
the estimate he puts upon the reliability 
of his own report. If you have no facts 
of your own with which to check him, 
the best rough measurement is to wait 
and see whether he is aware of any limi- 
tations in himself; whether he knows that 
he saw only part of the event he de- 
scribes; and whether he has any back- 
ground of knowledge against which he 
can set what he thinks he has seen. 

This kind of sophistication is, of 
course, necessary for the merest pretense 
to any education. But for different pro- 
fessions it needs to be specialized in par- 
ticular ways. A sound legal training is 
pervaded by it, but the skepticism is 

83 



Liberty and the News 

pointed to the type of case with which 
the lawyer deals. The reporter's work 
is not carried on under the same condi- 
tions, and therefore requires a different 
specialization. How he is to acquire it 
is, of course, a pedagogical problem re- 
quiring an inductive study of the types 
of witness and the sources of information 
with whom the reporter is in contact. 

Some time in the future, when men 
have thoroughly grasped the role of pub- 
lic opinion in society, scholars will not 
hesitate to write treatises on evidence for 
the use of news-gathering services. No 
such treatise exists to-day, because po- 
litical science has suffered from that 
curious prejudice of the scholar which 
consists in regarding an irrational phe- 
nomenon as not quite worthy of serious 
study. 

Closely akin to an education in the 
tests of credibility is rigorous discipline 



Liberty and the News 

in the use of words. It is almost impos- 
sible to overestimate the confusion in 
daily life caused by sheer inability to 
use language with intention. We talk 
scornfully of "mere words." Yet through 
words the whole vast process of human 
communication takes place. The sights 
and sounds and meanings of nearly all 
that we deal with as "politics," we learn, 
not by our own experience, but through 
the words of others. If those words are 
meaningless lumps charged with emo- 
tion, instead of the messengers of fact, all 
sense of evidence breaks down. Just so 
long as big words like Bolshevism, 
Americanism, patriotism, pro-German- 
ism, are used by reporters to cover any- 
thing and anybody that the biggest fool 
at large wishes to include, just so long 
shall we be seeking our course through a 
fog so dense that we cannot tell whether 
we fly upside-down or right-side-up. It 

85 



Liberty and the News 

is a measure of our education as a peo- 
ple that so many of us are perfectly con- 
tent to live our political lives in this 
fraudulent environment of unanalyzed 
words. For the reporter, abracadabra is 
fatal. So long as he deals in it, he is 
gullibility itself, seeing nothing of the 
world, and living, as it were, in a hall 
of crazy mirrors. 

Only the discipline of a modernized 
logic can open the door to reality. An 
overwhelming part of the dispute about 
"freedom of opinion" turns on words 
which mean different things to the cen- 
sor and the agitator. So long as the 
meanings of the words are not disso- 
ciated, the dispute will remain a circular 
wrangle. Education that shall make 
men masters of their vocabulary is one 
of the central interests of liberty. For 

such an education alone can transform the 
86 



Liberty and the News 

dispute into debate from similar pre- 
mises. 

A sense of evidence and a power to 
define words must for the modern re- 
porter be accompanied by a working 
knowledge of the main stratifications and 
currents of interest. Unless he knows 
that "news" of society almost always 
starts from a special group, he is doomed 
to report the surface of events. He will 
report the ripples of a passing steamer, 
and forget the tides and the currents and 
the ground-swell. He will report what 
Kolchak or Lenin says, and see what 
they do only when it confirms what he 
thinks they said. He will deal with the 
flicker of events and not with their mo- 
tive. There are ways of reading that 
flicker so as to discern the motive, but 
they have not been formulated in the 
light of recent knowledge. Here is big 
work for the student of politics. The 

87 



Liberty and the News 

good reporter reads events with an in- 
tuition trained by wide personal experi- 
ence. The poor reporter cannot read 
them, because he is not even aware that 
there is anything in particular to read. 

And then the reporter needs a general 
sense of what the world is doing. Em- 
phatically he ought not to be serving a 
cause, no matter how good. In his pro- 
fessional activity it is no business of his 
to care whose ox is gored. To be sure, 
when so much reporting is ex parte, and 
hostile to insurgent forces, the insurgents 
in self-defense send out ex parte report- 
ers of their own. But a community can- 
not rest content to learn the truth about 
the Democrats by reading the Repub- 
lican papers, and the truth about the Re- 
publicans by reading the Democratic pa- 
pers. There is room, and there is need, 
for disinterested reporting; and if this 
sounds like a counsel of perfection now, 



Liberty and the News 

it is only because the science of public 
opinion is still at the point where as- 
tronomy was when theological interests 
proclaimed the conclusions that all re- 
search must vindicate. 

While the reporter will serve no cause, 
he will possess a steady sense that the 
chief purpose of "news" is to enable 
mankind to live successfully toward the 
future. He will know that the world 
is a process, not by any means always 
onward and upward, but never quite the 
same. As the observer of the signs of 
change, his value to society depends upon 
the prophetic discrimination with which 
he selects those signs. 

But the news from which he must pick 
and choose has long since become too 
complicated even for the most highly 
trained reporter. The work, say, of the 
government is really a small part of the 
day's news, yet even the wealthiest and 



Liberty and the News 

most resourceful newspapers fail in their 
efforts to report "Washington." The 
high lights and the disputes and sensa- 
tional incidents are noted, but no one can 
keep himself informed about his Con- 
gressman or about the individual depart- 
ments, by reading the daily press. This 
failure in no way reflects on the news- 
papers. It results from the intricacy and 
unwieldiness of the subject-matter. 
Thus, it is easier to report Congress than 
it is to report the departments, because 
the work of Congress crystallizes crudely 
every so often in a roll-call. But ad- 
ministration, although it has become 
more important than legislation, is hard 
to follow, because its results are spread 
over a longer period of time, and its ef- 
fects are felt in ways that no reporter 
can really measure. 

Theoretically Congress is competent 
to act as the critical eye on administra- 
90 



Liberty and the News 

tion. Actually, the investigations of 
Congress are almost always planless 
raids, conducted by men too busy and 
too little informed to do more than catch 
the grosser evils, or intrude upon good 
work that is not understood. It was a 
recognition of these difficulties that was 
the cause of two very interesting experi- 
ments in late years. One was the estab- 
lishment of more or less semi-official in- 
stitutes of government research; the 
other, the growth of specialized private 
agencies which attempt to give tech- 
nical summaries of the work of various 
branches of the government. Neither 
experiment has created much commo- 
tion: yet together they illustrate an idea 
which, properly developed, will be in- 
creasingly valuable to an enlightened 
public opinion. 

Their principle is simple. They are 
expert organized reporters. Having no 



Liberty and the News 

horror of dullness, no interest in being 
dramatic, they can study statistics and 
orders and reports which are beyond the 
digestive powers of a newspaper man or 
of his readers. The lines of their growth 
would seem to be threefold: to make a 
current record, to make a running analy- 
sis of it, and on the basis of both, to sug- 
gest plans. 

Record and analysis require an ex- 
perimental formulation of standards by 
which the work of government can be 
tested. Such standards are not to be 
evolved off-hand out of anyone's con- 
sciousness. Some have already been 
worked out experimentally, others still 
need to be discovered; all need to be re- 
fined and brought into perspective by 
the wisdom of experience. Carried out 
competently, the public would gradually 
learn to substitute objective criteria for 
gossip and intuitions. One can imagine 
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Liberty and the News 

a public-health service subjected to such 
expert criticism. The institute of re- 
search publishes the death-rate as a 
whole for a period of years. It seems 
that for a particular season the rate is 
bad in certain maladies, that in others 
the rate of improvement is not suffi- 
ciently rapid. These facts are compared 
with the expenditures of the service, 
and with the main lines of its activity. 
Are the bad results due to the causes 
beyond the control of the service? do 
they indicate a lack of foresight in ask- 
ing appropriations for special work? or 
in the absence of novel phenomena, do 
they point to a decline of the personnel, 
or in its morale? If the latter, further 
analysis may reveal that salaries are too 
low to attract men of ability, or that 
the head of the service by bad manage- 
ment has weakened the interest of his 
staff. 

93 



Liberty and the News 

When the work of government is ana- 
lyzed in some such way as this, the re- 
porter deals with a body of knowledge 
that has been organized for his appre- 
hension. In other words, he is able to 
report the "news," because between him 
and the raw material of government 
there has been interposed a more or 
less expert political intelligence. He 
ceases to be the ant, described by Wil- 
liam James, whose view of a building 
was obtained by crawling over the cracks 
in the walls. 

These political observatories will, I 
think, be found useful in all branches 
of government, national, state, munici- 
pal, industrial, and even in foreign af- 
fairs. They should be clearly out of 
reach either of the wrath or of the favor 
of the office-holders. They must, of 
course, be endowed, but the endowment 
should be beyond the immediate control 
94 



Liberty and the News 

of the legislature and of the rich patron. 
Their independence can be partially 
protected by the terms of the trust; the 
rest must be defended by the ability of 
the institute to make itself so much the 
master of the facts as to be impregnably 
based on popular confidence. 

One would like to think that the uni- 
versities could be brought into such a 
scheme. Were they in close contact with 
the current record and analysis, there 
might well be a genuine "field work" in 
political science for the students; and 
there could be no better directing idea 
for their more advanced researches than 
the formulation of the intellectual 
methods by which the experience of 
government could be brought to usable 
control. After all, the purpose of study- 
ing "political science" is to be able to act 
more effectively in politics, the word 
effectively being understood in the largest 
95 



Liberty and the News 

and, therefore, the ideal sense. In the 
universities men should be able to think 
patiently and generously for the good of 
society. If they do not, surely one of 
the reasons is that thought terminates in 
doctor's theses and brown quarterlies, 
and not in the critical issues of politics. 
On first thought, all this may seem 
rather a curious direction for an inquiry 
into the substance of liberty. Yet we 
have always known, as a matter of com- 
mon sense, that there was an intimate 
connection between "liberty" and the use 
of liberty. Every one who has examined 
the subject at all has had to conclude 
that tolerance per se is an arbitrary line, 
and that, in practice, the determining 
factor is the significance of the opinion to 
be tolerated. This study is based on an 
avowal of that fact. Once it is avowed, 
there seems to be no way of evading the 
conclusion that liberty is not so much 



Liberty and the News 

permission as it is the construction of a 
system of information increasingly inde- 
pendent of opinion. In the long run it 
looks as if opinion could be made at 
once free and enlightening only by trans- 
ferring our interest from "opinion" to the 
objective realities from which it springs. 
This thought has led us to speculations 
on ways of protecting and organizing 
the stream of news as the source of all 
opinion that matters. Obviously these 
speculations do not pretend to offer a 
fully considered or a completed scheme. 
Their nature forbids it, and I should be 
guilty of the very opinionativeness I 
have condemned, did these essays claim 
to be anything more than tentative in- 
dications of the more important phases 
of the problem. 

Yet I can well imagine their causing 
a considerable restlessness in the minds 
of some readers. Standards, institutes, 
97 



Liberty and the News 

university research, schools of journal- 
ism, they will argue, may be all right, 
but they are a gray business in a vivid 
world. They blunt the edge of life; they 
leave out of account the finely irrespon- 
sible opinion thrown out by the creative 
mind; they do not protect the indispens- 
able novelty from philistinism and op- 
pression. These proposals of yours, they 
will say, ignore the fact that such an ap- 
paratus of knowledge will in the main 
be controlled by the complacent and the 
traditional, and the execution will inevit- 
ably be illiberal. 

There is force in the indictment. 
And yet I am convinced that we shall 
accomplish more by fighting for truth 
than by fighting for our theories. It is a 
better loyalty. It is a humbler one, but 
it is also more irresistible. Above all it 
is educative. For the real enemy is ig- 
norance, from which all of us, conserva- 



Liberty and the News 

live, liberal, and revolutionary, suffer. 
If our effort is concentrated on our de- 
sires, be it our desire to have and to 
hold what is good, our desire to remake 
peacefully, or our desire to transform 
suddenly, we shall divide hopelessly 
and irretrievably. We must go back of 
our opinions to the neutral facts for unity 
and refreshment of spirit. To deny this, 
it seems to me, is to claim that the mass 
of men is impervious to education, and 
to deny that, is to deny the postulate of 
democracy, and to seek salvation in a 
dictatorship. There is, I am convinced, 
nothing but misery and confusion that 
way. But I am equally convinced that 
democracy will degenerate into this dic- 
tatorship either of the Right or of the 
Left, if it does not become genuinely 
self-governing. That means, in terms of 
public opinion, a resumption of that con- 
tact between beliefs and realities which 
99 



Liberty and the News 

we have been losing steadily since the 
small-town democracy was absorbed into 
the Great Society. 

The administration of public infor- 
mation toward greater accuracy and more 
successful analysis is the highway of 
liberty. It is, I believe, a matter of first- 
rate importance that we should fix this 
in our minds. Having done so, we may 
be able to deal more effectively with the 
traps and the lies and the special interests 
which obstruct the road and drive us 
astray. Without a clear conception of 
what the means of liberty are, the 
struggle for free speech and free opinion 
easily degenerates into a mere contest of 
opinion. 

But realization is not the last step, 
though it is the first. We need be under 
no illusion that the stream of news can 
be purified simply by pointing out the 
value of purity. The existing news-struc- 
100 



Liberty and the News 

ture may be made serviceable to democ- 
racy along the general lines suggested, 
by the training of the journalist, and by 
the development of expert record and 
analysis. But while it may be, it will not 
be, simply by saying that it ought to be. 
Those who are now in control have too 
much at stake, and they control the source 
of reform itself. 

Change will come only by the drastic 
competition of those whose interests are 
not represented in the existing news- 
organization. It will come only if or- 
ganized labor and militant liberalism set 
a pace which cannot be ignored. Our 
sanity and, therefore, our safety depend 
upon this competition, upon fearless and 
relentless exposure conducted by self- 
conscious groups that are now in a min- 
ority. It is for these groups to under- 
stand that the satisfaction of advertising 
a pet theory is as nothing compared to 
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Liberty and the News 

the publication of the news. And having 
realized it, it is for them to combine 
their resources and their talent for the 
development of an authentic news-service 
which is invincible because it supplies 
what the community is begging for and 
cannot get. 

All the gallant little sheets expressing 
particular programmes are at bottom 
vanity, and in the end, futility, so long 
as the reporting of daily news is left in 
untrained and biased hands. If we are 
to move ahead, we must see a great in- 
dependent journalism, setting standards 
for commercial journalism, like those 
which the splendid English cooperative 
societies are setting for commercial busi- 
ness. An enormous amount of money is 
dribbled away in one fashion or another 
on little papers, mass-meetings, and what 
not. If only some considerable portion 
of it could be set aside to establish a 
1 02 



Liberty and the News 

central international news-agency, we 
should make progress. We cannot fight 
the untruth which envelops us by parad- 
ing our opinions. We can do it only by 
reporting the facts, and we do not de- 
serve to win if the facts are against us. 

The country is spotted with benevo- 
lent foundations of one kind or another, 
many of them doing nothing but pay 
the upkeep of fine buildings and sine- 
cures. Organized labor spends large 
sums of money on politics and strikes 
which fail because it is impossible to se- 
cure a genuine hearing in public opinion. 
Could there be a pooling of money for 
a news-agency? Not, I imagine, if its 
object were to further a cause. But sup- 
pose the plan were for a news-service in 
which editorial matter was rigorously 
excluded, and the work was done by men 

who had already won the confidence of 
103 



Liberty and the News 

the public by their independence? Then, 
perhaps. 

At any rate, our salvation lies in two 
things: ultimately, in the infusion of the 
news-structure by men with a new 
training and outlook; immediately, in 
the concentration of the independent 
forces against the complacency and bad 
service of the routineers. We shall ad- 
vance when we have learned humility; 
when we have learned to seek the truth, 
to reveal it and publish it; when we 
care more for that than for the privi- 
lege of arguing about ideas in a fog of 
uncertainty. 



104 



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