This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
In 1964, Ben Bagdikian, usually CJR’s Washington correspondent, looked north to Delaware, and examined the very heavy influence of the Du Pont family on the state’s largest newspapers. Control was both literal (their holding company owned the papers) and explicit (one family member asked, in writing, that news coverage become a “house organ” for a pet cause.) The article reported that, on issues from elections to the state’s university, the Du Ponts had ordered editorials and news coverage that suited family members’ political, financial, and personal interests. The Summer 1964 issue where the article appeared carried an unsigned editorial describing the Du Pont grandees as “men of pronounced politico-economic views who completely lack the professional’s appreciation of a newspaper’s obligations and responsibilities.” The Du Ponts let their anger at the article be known, not by complaining to CJR, but by going directly to the president of Columbia University. The Du Ponts sold the papers to Gannett in 1978. Bagdikian’s concern with the way that ownership shaped coverage in Delaware presages his later work on the dangers of the corporate press. CJR’s Fall 1964 issue carried lively responses to the article, reproduced below.
The Wilmington, Delaware, newspapers, The Morning News and The Evening Journal, are, according to a standing editorial masthead, “independent” newspapers. A formal resolution issued by their owners on April 13, 1936, and presumably still in force, instructs the editors that the policy of the paper is, among other things, to “avoid blind partisanship never to misrepresent the facts either in their news or editorial columns; never to resort to suppression except for the public good always to give all sides a fair hearing on all public questions.”
In this the two papers are no different from hundreds of others across the United States that also call themselves “independent” and solemnly declare that their owners insist on editorial freedom and want no fiddling with the news. As in Wilmington, their owners don’t really mean it, or else the words mean one thing to editors and something else to owners.
Creed Black is an intense Kentuckian, 39 years old, with reportorial and editorial experience on Stars and Stripes, the Chicago Sun, the Chicago Herald-American, The Nashville Tennessean, and the Savannah News-Press. He seldom turns his back on a controversy (“I don’t mind a fight”) and until June 1 of this year was vice president and executive editor of the two Wilmington papers.
Black’s departure from Wilmington is not unusual in the tribulations of the trade—it was an enactment of a ritual that goes on through American newspaperdom with all the unhappy regularity of Aztec sacrifices; and if some way is not found to end this combat the free-enterprise press could go the way of the Aztecs. For what Creed Black did overtly goes on silently and secretly in editorial offices and board rooms all over the country, in election years more than ever.
The owner of the two Wilmington papers is the Du Pont Company, which is to Delaware what God is to Heaven. More precisely, the owner is the Christiana Securities Company, a holding company that is to Du Pont what the Church is to God. Christiana was formed in pre-World War I days to buy out a faction of Du Ponts during one of the bitter family feuds. It now owns 27 percent of the Du Pont Company and all the stock of the News-Journal Company, which, with the exception of a paper of 13,600 circulation in Dover, publishes the only dailies in Delaware.
The Du Pont Company is run by an executive committee of nine men, called the ExComm. The Du Pont family interest in the company and other concerns is exercised through Christiana, whose ruling group has some seats in ExComm. There is a single room on the ninth floor of the Du Pont Building in Wilmington where the secretary of Christiana can cast one ballot to constitute a “stockholders’ meeting” of the News-Journal Company.