This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.

H. B. du Pont ordered the papers not to comment editorially on the film. Instead, for two months the news columns carried attacks against the paper by the state police chief. The letters columns carried attacks on the papers and on the patriotism of the staff. The editors themselves were ordered to remain silent. The owners’ old resolutions—never to resort to suppression and always to give all sides a fair hearing—were invoked, in vain.

At about this time the papers provoked the disapproval of the president of the University of Delaware, an institution close to the Du Ponts, who served on its board of trustees. The dispute seemed to be over the reporting of campus controversies, which the university regarded as bias on the part of the dailies. H. B. du Pont ordered the papers to suppress a number of items involving the university.

It was at this point that Bobby Carpenter, nephew of H. B. Du Pont, was placed on the board of the papers. It was plain that the papers were being enlisted in a passionate political crusade. From this time on there was growing acrimony between the editors and the owners.

In 1962, the editors proposed that they interview major candidates for state office from both parties to help them editorialize during the campaign. This was approved. But when the editors decided to back the Democratic candidate for Congress as “the lesser of two evils,” there was a special meeting of the board of Christiana Securities. Christiana is probably the richest investment trust in the world, with assets of more than $3,000,000,000, but that day its attention was directed to the cosmic subject of an editorial that compared the demerits of two candidates for Congress and came up with a begrudging net in favor of the Democrat. Christiana had the editorial rewritten outside the newspaper office. It finally appeared, watered down from the original. The papers did endorse one Democrat openly—the candidate for state auditor.

Other clashes came quickly. When Shell Oil wanted to build a refinery in Delaware, the owners ordered the papers to stop comment on the issue. When Congress was considering legislation for relief of the Du Ponts in selling their General Motors stock under court order, the papers were told not to criticize Senator Byrd, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. During the same period, the Du Pont Company public-relations department asked the paper not to run on page one a statement on the matter by Harris McDowell, Democratic member of Congress from Delaware, for fear it would anger a friendly senator.

H. B. du Pont also told the paper to put the damper on stories of public charges of mismanagement at the Wilmington airport, whose chief activity is handling the business of a private aviation corporation in which H. B. du Pont has an interest.

Some idea of the clash between owner ideologies and professional practices can be seen in the complaints of board members. The significance of these conflicts is not so much in the views of the owners (who, of course, have views, as do all interested citizens) as it is a revelation of what happens when an owner fails to understand the role of the monopoly newspaper and the discipline of news.

Henry Silliman and Robert Richards, both members of the paper’s board, formally requested through Richards that the paper give a prominent play to a family wedding. “I do not know if this is in accordance with your policy or would require a deviation from your rules. If the latter is true, there should be exceptions to every rule…”

Ben Bagdikian was an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, and later dean of the University of California, Berkeley's journalism school. He wrote about the Washington press regularly for CJR in the 1960s and '70s.