This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
At a time when Richards was on the paper’s board and also Republican National Committeeman from Delaware, Richards complained bitterly to the editors that the paper’s reporter had written a conventional news account of a Democratic rally when he should have turned it into a pro-Republican essay. Richards even wrote his own anti-Democratic story as an example of how the paper should have carried it, though presumably Richards was not at the rally himself. “This was a matter which, if properly handled, could, in my opinion, have been very useful to the Republican Party and their success at the polls in November,” he wrote.
When Wilmington began having racial troubles, H. B. du Pont told his editors, “A continual overplaying of integration in our papers certainly plays right into the hands of the radical element of our population many of the writers on your staff seem to have a degree of dedication to certain causes which would make them appear to be quite far to the left.”
Most revealing is the collection of complaints issued by Carpenter to the executive editor:
On an editorial praising President Kennedy’s Supreme Court appointments: “Why should we devote space to one who is an enemy of private enterprise and the capitalistic system?”
When editors asked him if his complaints about their comments on a bill by Representative McDowell meant the paper should oppose everything McDowell was for, the answer was, “I would say, Yes.”
When an editorial criticized some Republican choices of candidates: “Are we endorsing the Democratic Party by criticizing the Republican Conventions? Could we not become a house organ for the conservative cause?”
When he objected to running a letter to the editor signed by sixty-four University of Delaware students favoring integration, the editors asked if they should close the column to all letters from students. His answer was, “Yes.”
On an editorial noting that French Socialists had outmaneuvered French Communists: “Should the News-Journal take the position of favoring actions of any Socialist Party? I believe it is a grave error for a subsidiary of Du Pont to follow the philosophy of the ultra-liberal whose objectives are destruction of capitalistic systems.”
It is apparent in retrospect that two conflicting developments had occurred. The Wilmington papers, as with most metropolitan dailies in this country, were in fact broadening their professional and social scope. This was in line with the growing sophistication of the overwhelmingly Democratic or moderate Republican urban audience. At the same time, the owners seemed increasingly rigid in their demands for ultraconservative orthodoxy and family convenience, both in the news columns and editorials.
With the 1964 election campaign approaching, and with Senator Barry Goldwater involved, it was obvious to the editors that something had to be done to resolve these conflicts. The editors pressed the owners for a statement of what they expected of the papers, some mandate that could be followed. When the editors suggested that the papers be committed to the Republican cause with editorials to “focus on an objective appraisal of the chances of the various candidates,” H. B. du Pont objected that this idea would “leave editorial writers free to snipe at candidates for the Republican nomination for President.”
Black asked mostly for consistency. In a memo noting that he had received orders from four or five separate owners plus the public-relations department of the Du Pont Company, he asked, “How many bosses are we expected to please and take orders from?” (He had, for example, run the names of large holders of General Motors stock, as released to the national press by the Du Pont Company public-relations office and had received bitter castigation from two members of the Du Pont family.)
On May 19, 1964, the owners of the Wilmington News and Journal gave their answer. They said that Charles M. Hackett, executive assistant in the public-relations department of the Du Pont Company, would be the boss of news and editorial operations of the papers, with Black serving under him. Black quit. The day before, the announcement was made that the Wilmington papers had won five of fifteen possible first prizes in a publishers’ association judging of papers in Pennsylvania and Delaware.