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

When Creed Black resigned he got the unexpected sympathy of some prominent citizens of Delaware, partly because not many hired hands publicly dispute the Du Ponts. Some publishers wrote him that owners will never learn. Editors sympathized with him. And one bright university student who had planned a newspaper career wrote:

I have always had a few doubts about the newspaper business… if this is at all typical of the behind the scenes actions in the fourth estate, I’ll have no part of it.

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Wilmington papers: rebuttals and reply, Fall, 1964

“Case History: Wilmington’s ‘Independent’ Newspapers,” the article by Ben H. Bagdikian that appeared in the summer, 1964, issue, attracted more comment than any other feature in the Review’s three years of publication. The article described relations between the editors of the Wilmington News and Journal and the papers’ owners, a subsidiary of the Christiana Securities Company. It was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Clark of Pennsylvania. It won approving comment in several score letters from journalists across the country.

But the reactions in Wilmington were mixed. The Review prints here three letters, two from members of the staff of the newspapers, and one that was written to the staff of the News-Journal by Henry B. du Pont, president of Christiana. It is printed in the absence of any owners’ reply addressed to the Review.

To the News and Editorial Staffs of the News-Journal Papers:

The “Columbia Journalism Review,” in its current issue, is publishing an article on the recent change in top editorial personnel at the News-Journal. I would have hoped that any comment from this source would have been a carefully-weighed examination of the situation presented with impartial detachment. The fact is, I regret to say, that the article is nothing more than a fabric of half truths, misstatements and prejudicial innuendoes, as you will readily recognize from the attached photocopy.

Such articles have the effect, if not the purpose, of placing competent and high-principled employees of the News-Journal papers in what may appear to be an uncomfortable position before their professional colleagues. This is as unjustified as it is unfortunate. Reckless disregard for truth and personal attacks upon officers and directors of your Company and its owners can be ignored. The implications with respect to News-Journal personnel, however, cannot be permitted to stand unchallenged.

The inference the reader is asked to draw is that, by the mere act of formulating basic policies it wishes the paper to follow, the ownership of a newspaper imposes upon the paper’s staff an intolerable indignity, incompatible with professional integrity. This, of course, is the sheerest nonsense. So is the further charge that this ownership insists on the suppression or distortion of disagreeable news. A newspaper’s primary obligation is, of course, to print the news, agreeable or otherwise. The fact that ownership makes decisions in areas which are clearly ownership responsibility in no way reflects discredit upon newspaper personnel. The high status enjoyed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Miami Herald, under divergent ownership philosophies, demonstrates clearly that no question of professional standard need be involved in ownership policies. The Columbia article reveals a childish petulance in reciting the out-of-context remarks of various directors and represents nothing more than an attempt to find trouble where no trouble exists.

The ownership of the News-Journal Co. is committed to no goal beyond the production of newspapers of integrity and distinction, fulfilling in every sense their responsibilities to the community. The day-to-day operation of our newspapers represent the real test. We have every confidence in the abilities of the management and the staff to maintain the highest journalistic standards.

We take the greatest pride in the professional standing of our newspapers and in the high degree of excellence represented by personnel at all levels. I should like to thank you personally for your loyalty and devotion to the News-Journal and to assure you that your high ideals and abilities will continue to find growing opportunities for professional fulfillment and personal satisfaction.

Yours sincerely,

Henry B. du Pont
President

To the Review:

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.