- John Swinton: Yes, he said it, but...
- I got email from Jay Salter, one of my readers, who had
come across the http://www.snowcrest.net/zepp/Other_Voices/Swinton.htm
John Swinton vignette in my "Other Voices" section. He forwarded
it to a journalist's discussion area, asking for feedback.
- One journalist there, Jeff McMahon, made this response
- "Yeah, I'll take that bait.
- "The last time I saw that phony quote Swinton was
identified as the "chief of staff" of the New York SUN, the date
was 1853, and where it now says "I am paid weekly," it then said
"I am paid $150 a week." Which is, actually, about how much I
made in journalism. Then some liar realized that newspapers don't have
chiefs of staff, at least the editorial departments don't, and if you're
going to lie you might as well do it big, so they made him the EDITOR IN
CHIEF of the New York TIMES in NINETEEN 53. Unfortunately, the editor of
the New York Times in 1953 was Turner Catledge.
- "So, the quote itself betrays a need for journalists
because otherwise people who spread such propaganda might go unchecked.
- "That having been said, I will acknowledge that
this cheap lie, like most cheap lies, has some truth to it. I think it
is expressed rather bitterly, personally, but I'm sure every journalist
with any history in the biz has had at least one day when they felt that
way. It's the very reason that I gladly applied the word "former"
to the word "journalist" when it is attached to my name.
- "Indeed, New York Times executive editor Max Frankel
said something very similar about the impact of profiteering on journalism
after he retired in 1994. Frankel probably isn't quoted quite so widely
because he doesn't use 21st century Neo_Old_Testament Naderite phrasiology
like "fawn at the feet of mammon."
- "What "Swinton" describes is not so easily
described or it would have been dealt with. It is more like a constant,
subtle pressure to bend to power. A pressure that can be defied and maybe
even often, but that does not seem to ever go away. The strong spend a
career tilting against it; the weak let it direct them, as you can see
every day in this county's media.
- "It certainly isn't true that you can never write
your true opinion in the American press. I wrote my true opinion plenty
of times, most recently when I wrote that commentary about Hearst Ranch.
It managed to pass through two editors and a publisher without one word
changed. However, no anti-Hearst commentary can run in this county without
a Steve Hearst commentary on the very same page. And who is responsible
for that? Is it the fault of the journalists? No, for that subversion of
truth and integrity we can thank our county's professional greenwashers.
- "Anyway, before posting such, we should consider
how our brothers and sisters in the Newspaper Guild might feel about such
a broadbrush defilement of a very diverse group of largely hard working
and unanimously underpaid men and women.
- "I propose the following bumper sticker:
- SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FACT CHECKER
- In cheerful solidarity, Jeff McMahon" ___
- OK. Jay forwarded McMahon's response back to me, and
since I would like to keep things reasonably accurate on my webpage, I
went looking to see if I could verify or dispute the Swinton vignette.
- It turned out - surprise! - that like most really good
stories, it contained a little bit of truth, and a bit of fiction, and,
unlike most really good stories, the reality behind the story is even more
- Yes, Virginia, there was a John Swinton, and yes, he
was an editor of the New York Times, and yes, he did say the remarks attributed
to him. However, he did not say it at a retirement party, he did not say
it as an editor of the Times, and he certainly did not say it in 1953,
for the simple reason that he died in 1901.
- A web search turned up the same vignette, word for word
as I had it, in hundreds of locations. However, as McMahon notes, there
are variations on the theme, including one which had him born in 1829 and
giving the remarks at a retirement party in 1918. He would have been at
least 88. Feisty old bastard, what with being dead 17 years and all.
- But I hit paydirt in some odd areas. At http://www.scots_in_the_civil_war.net/newsmen.htm,
I found the following:
- John Swinton (1829_1901)
- The managing editor of the New York Times during the
Civil War, John Swinton later became a crusading journalist in the movement
for social and labor reform. Scottish_born, he learned typesetting in Canada
before moving to the United States. During the trouble in Kansas he was
active in the freesoil movement and headed the Lawrence Republican. Moving
back to New York he wrote an occasional article for the Times and was hired
on a regular basis in 1860 as head of the editorial staff. Afterward holding
this position throughout the Civil War, he left the paper in 1870 and became
active in the labor struggles of the day. He later served eight years in
the same position on the New York Sun and published a weekly labor sheet,
John Swinton's Paper.
- At another location, Ayer Company Publishers, I came
across this information:
- Ayer Company Publishers Phone: (888)_267_7323 FAX: (603)_922_3348
- Swinton, John
- A MOMENTOUS QUESTION: The Respective Attitudes of Labor
and Capital Introduction by Leon Stein and Philip Taft In 1883 John Swinton
founded a four_page "independent" labor paper known simply as
John Swinton's Paper, and for the next four years until he could no longer
sustain it, made it the voice of the workers.
- His book reflects his continuing concern for the interrelationship
between the workers and political and economic events. In particular it
provides a close_up view of the dramatic sympathy strike of the railroad
workers who made the cause of the Pullman Strike their own. It is fully
documented with statements by the chief participants including Debs, Gompers,
John W. Hayes (Secretary_Treasurer of the Knights of Labor), Governor Altgeld
and President Cleveland.
- LC 77_89764 Philadelphia & Chicago 1895 $28.95
- ISBN: 0405021550
- From this, we can surmise that he was disaffected with
capitalism and the American media, making the remarks attributed to him
much more credible. And it turns out that he has peripheral involvement
in a trial in 1885, Illinois vs. August Spies et al. He is regarded by
the defendants, hard core Marxists, as being (ironically) too fond of and
trusting in the media and democracy.
- People's Ex. 38.
- THE ALARM, February 21, 1885. The Dynamite Terror.
- As for the American people the thing to bear in mind
is that here the ballot can be so wielded that there shall be no need of
resorting to force for the cure of any public evil however deep rooted
or malignant. --John Swinton's paper.
- The above is the concluding paragraph of a lengthy article
of John Swinton's paper last week. We are surprised to see our old friend
bow at the shrine of that capitalistic humbug -- the ballot.
- America is not a free country. The economic condition
of the workers here are precisely the same as they are in Europe. A wage-slave
is a slave everywhere, without any regard to the country he may happen
to have been born in or made the living in.
- Friend Swinton, how can the industrially enslaved be
politically free? How can a man without the right to live possess the right
- You give the facts and illustrations in your own columns
which proves that the hand which holds the bread can alone wield the ballot.
- What do you mean by "public evils"? Do you
mean the political offices with its bribery and corruption? And that [Image,
People's Exhibit 38, Page 2] all the workers have to do in order to be
saved is to "turn the rascals out?" Well, from a democratic point
of view, Cleveland will
- do that after the 4th of March next. The "outs"
will go in and the "ins" will go out. But surely you cannot mean
that the wage_slave will no longer be a slave?
- Here in America the worker is deprived of life, liberty
and happiness (The Declaration of Independence to the contrary notwithstanding)
in spite of, yes, mainly by means of the ballot. With a copy of the Declaration
in one hand and the ballot in the other, the wage_worker is deluded into
the belief that he is a free man and a sovereign?
- The poor have no votes; poverty can't vote __ for itself
Wealth alone can vote. The workers vote wrong, because they are poor, and
are poor because they are robbed. Robbed of their inheritance__ the land;
robbed of their right to the free use of all the resources of life __ the
means of existence. The workers are deprived of all opportunity to acquire
and apply knowledge. They are deprived of all access to culture and refinement.
For the perpetuation of these evils they have to thank government, the
state, and ballot box and the politicians. Politicians and the State are
the legitimate, inevitable outgrowth of the profit_mongering system of
wage_slavery, based upon competition and wages. We cannot get rid of the
former until we remove the latter.
- The deep rooted, malignant evil which compels the [Image,
People's Exhibit 38, Page 3] wealth_producers to become the dependent hirelings
of a few capitalistic Czars, cannot be reached by means of the ballot.
- The ballot can be wielded by free men alone; but slaves
can only revolt and rise in insurrection against their despoilers.
- Let us bear in mind the fact that here in America, as
elsewhere, the worker is held in economic bondage by the use of force,
and the employment of force therefore becomes a necessity to his ecomonic
[sic] emancipation! Poverty can't vote! ___
- At http://www.trunkerton.fsnet.co.uk/journalism.htm
I found what I believe may be a more accurate rendition of the story. Given
what I learned of the manís far-left politics (a voice nearly dead
in our comfortable corporate existence) I find it easy to believe that
he did say that which was attributed to him. However, the claim that he
so said as managing editor of the NY Times, and in 1953, appear to be nothing
more than misguided efforts to give the story cachet and topicality.
- As for Mr. McMahon's response, I would say that he is
entirely correct in saying that the story creates an unfair image of the
media. However, with the possible exception of Hunter S. Thompson, there
are no Swintons in the American media these days, and I would ask Mr. McMahon
why he thinks that is so. A media that presents only half the range of
opinion is presenting no information at all.
- One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent
New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by
the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton
offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues
- "There is no such thing, at this date of the world's
history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.
- "There is not one of you who dares to write your
honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never
appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of
the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries
for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write
honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If
I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before
twenty_four hours my occupation would be gone.
- "The business of the journalists is to destroy the
truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon,
and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and
I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?
- "We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind
the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance.
Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other
men. We are intellectual prostitutes."
- (Source: Labor's Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and
Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine
Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)
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