This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
“It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, his death will bring,” the Times, quoted by Chapman, had editorially noted.
There have been none in the News’s editorial orientation. It has continued on, as if guided by an Iron Mike, until it now refers to itself on its editorial page as a “nationalist” newspaper, implying that all others, except the Chicago Tribune, are “internationalist,” which = Socialist, which = Uknowhat.
Reuben Maury, who wrote the pro-Roosevelt, pro-Social Security, pro-TVA editorials for the Captain—Maury went there in 1926—and who wrote the anti- Roosevelt editorials after the Captain changed his mind, is now writing pieces about how McCarthy was right, and others under heads such as “Socialism in the Sickroom” (medical care for the aged) and “Fascism on the Farm” (Administration agricultural program). Both these ran on the same day, June 5.
C. D. Batchelor, the equally suggestible editorial cartoonist, furnishes gems like that of June 8, showing Uncle Sam, with a skull in his left hand—the skull labeled “Peace Hopes”— in a cemetery filled with headstones marked “League of Nations, RIP,”
“Nuclear Test Ban,” and “To Let.” The News’s isolationist chauvinism of 1940 has changed to an extremely bellicose brand. Batchelor, who used to draw “War” as a lady with a skull for a face, may begin any day to make her look pretty.
Maury’s notion of proving that McCarthy was right —the Captain, incidentally, died before McCarthy appeared, and might not have liked him—is to lift to the editorial page a news item about a State Department announcement that it had dropped sixteen employees as homosexuals. McCarthy’s most famous charge was that the State Department contained 205 card-carrying Communists, not one of whom he produced. The incidence of homosexuals is probably about the same in the State Department as in newspaper offices.
On none of these points does Mr. Chapman, who is a nice fellow, say anything. Is he afraid of the ghost?
With the News’s swerve to the right, in 1942, its circulation leveled off. The period of growth had ended. Between 1932 and 1942 circulation rose from 1,400,000 to very nearly two million. It was still that in 1959, the last year noted on the graph of comparative New York newspaper circulations that serves as endpaper to Tell It To Sweeney. In the same period of seventeen years the population of New York City had risen by a million, of what the census calls the New York Metropolitan Area by a great deal more.
Whether this contrast between a gain of 43 per cent in ten years and a flat standstill in the next seventeen was a coincidence or had any significant correlation with the paper’s switch is a great “not proven.” The author, while he concedes that “in the first happy days of the New Deal” the News had stated that its support of Roosevelt had “stood well in the top row of reasons for its growth,” concludes dutifully that the change “had no measurable effect on the paper.” It has, however, suffered arrested growth in a growing market, where there were four morning papers, including the News, in 1959 as in 1942.
The Times, which does not compete with the News, in the same years increased its circulation by 50 per cent, according to the same obliging graph.
Patterson himself, as a young man, once wrote that a new newspaper proprietor comes to town full of zeal for the underdog and avid for circulation, fights for the first, gets the second, and joins the fat cats when the money rolls in. Then, he went on, growth ceases and deterioration begins.
The News has reached its plateau, but has not yet fallen over the edge, a position the curious reader expects even an informal historian to comment on. I am tempted to try for myself, but that is not a reader’s function. Between ourselves, I hold with the early Patterson.