Illinois Staats-Zeitung -- January 01, 1875The Press as an Educator (Editorial)
The press is the real "people's high school" of America. The ill-ordered quantity of mechanical knowledge which is imparted to the children in our English schools merely furnishes the tools which the pupils later use to read, understand, and study newspapers. And the American press has assumed a much wider sphere of activity than, for instance, German newspapers. The latter confine themselves chiefly to dry, sober politics and relegate those national and social events which we consider to be the most interesting news, to some inconspicuous column. The English-American newspapers, however, follow an altogether different policy. They strive to accommodate all tastes, to serve their readers with news from every phase of life, social, political, and national, to print any news that will interest a part of their subscribers, even though that news consists of the most despicable defamation, or of the darkest sides of social life.2
The result is that while American newspapers contain an extraordinarily large volume of interesting and useful articles, and surpass the entire European press in this respect (even that of England), they are also a veritable pit for the offal and filth of public life. All manner of infamous deeds, crimes, villainy, and blackguardisms are described not only in detail, but also with a certain amount of sensual pleasure which completely nullifies the only real value which such articles could possibly have, namely, to serve as a warning and a deterrent.
However, it is just descriptions of this sort that prove so attractive to people who are only mechanically and superficially educated, and thus lack moral or spiritual stability. It is no exaggeration to state that the English-American press in general is nothing but a school of crime and vice. That is true even of our daily press, the so-called political newspapers, but it is true in a much higher degree of those revolting "belletristic" publications that are issued by the hundreds in America and specialize in hideous murder stories and obscene pictures. This vulgar trash is displayed everywhere, 3especially in small bookstores which are located near schools, and always so that pictures of the most shameful obscenity or of the most hideous murders are plainly visible; and if you ask the storekeeper, he will tell you that half-grown boys and girls are his best customers. Nobody can estimate how many criminal and vicious acts have their origin in this salacious trash. In 1848 old Thadden Triglaff was called a half-witted man because he said: "Freedom of the press--yes! But let us always erect a gallows beside it!"--but there is nothing foolish about this utterance, if one applies it to the criminal press of America. Death on the gallows would not be too severe a punishment for the rogues who use "art and literature" to lead young boys and girls into a life of crime and vice.
That the large dailies, too, and among them even those that claim they are especially decent, are diligently co-operating to spoil the literary taste of the public and to deaden all sense of shame and morality in our people, is evident from a merely superficial view of the headlines of the stories of crime and vice that they relate. Occasional unctuous remarks by the editor 4are no antidote against the rotten, poisonous stories which are told in a manner that appeals to the sensual side of man. These dull remarks call to our mind the words of Mephistopheles, "I shall sing to her a moral song, the more certainly to deceive her".
We offer some of the headings, that appear in large letters over articles that were published in three of our local English morning newspapers on the last day of the year 1874, as a sample of objectionable items, and as a proof of our statements. First we shall quote from the Times, which is the chief offender, and then from the Tribune, which, unfortunately, has done everything possible to ape the Times--because the appetite of the English-American reading public is already so spoiled, that nothing save spicy food can satisfy it:
A Murderous Pair Dropped from the Hangman's Tree
John W. Goodman Pays the Penalty of the Worst of His Bad Deeds5
His Last Words: "This is all Justly Done, I Committed the Crime".
John Murphy's Sudden Death from the Tight Rope in Carson, Nevada
A Wife's Mysterious Disappearance
The Husband Arrested for Murder
Duel in Pennsylvania--Fatal Results.
Two Fools Fight over a Jug of Whiskey and Both Receive Fatal Wounds.
Diabolical Attempt to Murder an Entire Family in Iowa
A Row and a Butchery at a House-Warming in Minnesota
Miscellaneous Criminal Record.6
Dead Sea Fruit
Mr. John Goodman, of Ottawa, Ohio, Being the Choicest Specimen.
He was Suspended Yesterday on a Gallows for an Example
A Major Criminal in Massachusetts--The Champion Sinner
Murder, Robbery, Theft, Incest, and the Rest of the Cataloge.
The Inter-ocean is somewhat more conservative. Following are a few of its headlines:
Two Murders Pay the Awful Price of their Bloody Crimes
Goodman Hanged at Ottawa, Ohio, for Killing John Haywood and Wife
Execution of John Murphy, at Carson, Nevada, for the Murder of J. R. McCallum.
And the publications quoted are among the decent "political" newspapers, and they would not deem it a compliment to be placed on the same levels with the Koelnische Zeitung or the Augsburgische Allgemeine Zeitung....
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