Thursday, February 22, 2018


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 18

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 18

Aligning the World's Press Experts

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Circumvention of the Associated Press cabal had not insured a favorable place in the sun for International News Service. An opposition even more formidable remained to be beaten. It included a combination of the Associated Press and the United Press. It was launched at a conference that should go down in history as the "conspiracy of Warsaw." It brought into active alliance the official and semi-official news agencies of Europe. Its defeat marked my most important contribution to journalism.

Roy W. Howard was a dominant figure at the Warsaw meeting. The gathering evolved an elaborate plan whereby the facilities of independent news agencies might be crippled, if not destroyed, by statutory enactments of the countries constituting the League of Nations. A bill was framed for submission to the parliaments of the world. It was to be presented for adoption by the first conference of press experts summoned by the League of Nations to assemble at Geneva, August 24, 1927. It was designed to attach to news a proprietary right to be protected, like any other chattel in the tribunals of the different sovereign states.

Most of the authoritative news emanating from foreign centers was issued through official and semi-official agencies. If it were impressed with the attributes of property, it would thus pass into the ownership of those various quasi-public bureaus. These operated in contractual affiliation with the Associated Press and the United Press. Under the proposed legislation—described as the “draft law”—a piece of current intelligence would assume the character of property, appropriation of which might be punished like the theft of any other article of value. Hence, if a correspondent of International News Service were to pick up an item belonging to any of these distributing organizations, he might be subject to prosecution as a common thief.

The sinister significance of this movement greatly alarmed the executives of the Hearst news services. Marc A. Rose, previously managing editor of the Buffalo News and the New York Sun, had become editor and manager of International News Service. He succeeded George G. Shor, who was transferred to an important post with King Features Syndicate. Rose joined Chester R. Hope in urging that I attend the conference at Geneva. Pressure of other duties made me reluctant to go. On my waiver of objection, Rose and Hope appealed to W. R. Hearst. It was at his instruction that I served as the delegate of the Hearst organization to the League of Nations press conference.

My American colleagues included Kent Cooper, general manager of the Associated Press, Karl A. Bickel, president of the United Press, Robert P. Scripps, president of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers, and Frederick T. Birchall, acting managing editor of the New York Times. These four, with me, were the five delegates from the United States. Each of us was accompanied by a staff of associates and assistants. Edwin L. James, later managing editor of the New York Times, was Birchall’s technical adviser. George B. Parker, editor-in-chief of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers, served as aide to Bickel and Scripps. James T. Williams, Jr., formerly managing editor of the Boston Transcript and currently manager of the Universal Service Washington (D. C.) Bureau, together with Robert J. Prew, afterward executive editor of the London Mail, were my adjutants.
Lord Riddell

At Geneva it seemed that the cards were stacked against me. Lord Riddell, owner of the leading English weekly News of the World, was the floor leader. He told me that it was hopeless to oppose the resolution introduced by Kent Cooper approving the draft law advocated by the conference at Warsaw. For three days my efforts to engage him in detailed discussion were frustrated. Cooper and Karl Bickel had convinced him that property rights in news had been confirmed by the federal courts of the United States. It was not until the third day of the debate that Riddell’s doubts were aroused. Then I effected from the rostrum what I had failed to accomplish in personal conversation. My speech was especially directed at Riddell. An epitome is given here:

Journalism has today suffered a stigma that it will take years to erase. I am depressed with the consciousness that at the first international conference of press experts in history, there has become evident a marked confusion, not only concerning the cardinal principles of our profession, but concerning the fundamental laws pertaining to its pursuit. . . . Journalism stands or falls on the principle that news shall be equally available to all who seek it. An attack upon that principle is an assault upon the basis of journalism.

There is apparently a widespread feeling that within our own profession practices are pursued which are seriously injurious to the property interests of newspapers and news agencies. I sympathize with that feeling but I cannot comprehend why it has induced a willingness among journalists to undermine the pillars on which their profession rests. Must we apply to the parliaments of the world for correction of wrongs which have existed exclusively within our own ranks?

All gentlemen who have submitted resolutions to cure the evil which disturbs them, and those who have spoken on the subject, appear to suffer from an identical misapprehension. They seem to think that laws are in existence conferring private ownership in news. I can find no trace of such a law.

In the United States where the highest tribunal, the Supreme Court, has delivered the most recent decision on this subject, it is an established principle that news is not convertible into private ownership. That decision clearly indicates a method for curing the evil at which the gentlemen say these resolutions are directed. While property rights in news as news cannot be conferred on private parties, quasi rights in and to news secured by newspapers and news agencies do exist as against competitors. These rights may be protected under existing doctrines of law. . . .

My colleagues from America have spoken eloquency of the moral aspects of this question. Their eloquence is all the more notable in view of their apparent confusion about the nature of the question itself. They have referred to the judgment of the United States Supreme Court as if it upheld their position. They have mentioned with evident, though mistaken, satisfaction the photographic copies of that momentous decree, which you found at your seats at the opening of this session. It was I, not they, who supplied those facsimiles. They were placed before you as exhibits in support of the substitute resolution which I have submitted opposing any declaration of property in news. ...

Any law that would alienate from the public domain one iota of property rights in news would be a prelude to other laws and other regulations for extending that alienation, until all property rights in news had departed from the public and were vested in private owners.

I believe—and all those who are associated with me believe—that it is the highest duty of journalists to secure the free and unimpeded flow of news from one nation to another. I believe that only through such a process can nations be brought into closer harmony. I believe that any movement that can possibly be twisted, converted or distorted into a process by which private enterprise becomes the possessor of a property right in news will tend to defeat the highest aims of our civilization.

As eager as we all appear to be to prevent misappropriation of the fruits of our labors by our competitors, I am more anxious to prevent a monopoly of news. I am gratified by the admission by one of our colleagues that the term “property right in news” is a misnomer. But can we rest there?

How many of us would be satisfied with a deed to a piece of real estate with a description of property that either did not exist or could not be found? We must be careful not to let the feeling that something is only a misnomer lead us into a fatal error. In the effort to preserve the flowers that you cultivate, do not surrender the garden in which they grow.

There can be no monopoly in something that does not exist. There does not now exist any private property right in news. If we create it we create a substance out of which a monopoly may ultimately be formed.

While I was speaking Lord Riddell busily ran through the photostat of the United States Supreme Court decision that had lain on his desk unread. Not until I was seated had Riddell digested the meaning of the decree. Then he rushed over to apologize for the error under which he had labored. “Oh, I see!” he exclaimed. “It isn’t property in news that you folks have; it’s a rule against unfair competition.” Thereupon Riddell became my ally. “The conspiracy of Warsaw” came to naught.

James T. Williams, Jr., my chief adjutant at the conference, learned that I was sending no special report of the outcome to Hearst. He decided to repair this omission on his own account. His cablegram became especially significant in the light of the Associated Press and United Press stories of the proceedings. It described the deep impression which he felt had been made on the gathering by my insistence from the outset that no action should be taken toward opening the way for a monopolistic control of news through a declaration of property rights therein. The message recounted the “vigorous” fight with the Associated Press, the United Press and the various semi-official agencies and newspapers that opposed me. It assured Hearst that from “our viewpoint” the convention was an unqualified success because I had completely won my points, the final resolutions excluding any reference to property rights.

Official confirmation of Williams’ conclusions was contained in a pamphlet prepared by Pierre Comert, director of the press section of the League of Nations, reviewing the proceedings of the conference. Comert’s paper said, tersely: “Mr. Koenigsberg’s speech, which followed that of Lord Riddell, killed any chance that the [Kent] Cooper resolution may have had of being accepted.”

The Associated Press refused to recognize its defeat. Its cabled reports of the conference perverted the facts. There has been no correction or retraction of this paragraph contained in the Associated Press dispatch from Geneva under date of August 26, 1927:


As witness in contravention of the Associated Press account of this historic episode, let us summon Dr. Manley O. Hudson, Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard and technical adviser of the Secretariat of the League of Nations. Dr. Hudson published an analytical review of the action of the international conference of press experts on the subject of property rights in news. It appeared in the April, 1928, quarterly issue of the American Journal of International Law. Referring to the rejection of the draft law and to the resolution that was adopted in substitution therefor, Dr. Hudson said:

The adoption of this resolution signalizes the failure, for the time being, of the efforts to secure an international recognition of property in news. In view of the careful preparation of the subject, an early renewal of such efforts seems improbable.

Patrolling the freedom of news in Geneva was a stimulating engagement. It became a startling adventure in Rome. It opened a page of history which, yet unfinished, should command the intensive study of all thinking men. It was one thing to debate ownership of current intelligence but it was quite another thing to oppose control of the facts from which that intelligence evolves. One was at least a theory. The other was unthinkable. Yet such was the range traversed between Switzerland and Italy.

My errand in Rome in the fall of 1927 was to smooth out a difficulty in which William Emmanuel, the International News Service correspondent at the Italian capital, was entangled. Emmanuel had been the representative of Corriere della Sera, of Milan, Italy’s leading newspaper and one of the foremost journals of Europe. Mussolini had put him under avisement. Two policemen were detailed to watch his every movement. They were instructed to see that he remain in his palace—Emmanuel’s residence was actually rated as a palace—from eight in the evening until eight in the morning.

Emmanuel was forbidden to approach nearer than one hundred yards any place of public congregation. His lot, however, was not unbearable. His guards enjoyed the secret use of his pocketbook. There was a private arrangement by which they saw Emmanuel only twice a day and then at his convenience. But restriction of areas through which he was permitted to circulate seriously hampered his work. It was my purpose to liberate him from these restraints. Harold Horan was the Universal Service correspondent at Rome. He arranged an appointment for me with Mussolini.

The premier of Italy—the title of Il Duce lacked favor at the moment—was absent from the Chigi Palace at the hour set for my call. In his stead, Count Capasso Torre received me. He was the minister of Posts and Telegraph. The count was profusely apologetic. The premier had been unexpectedly detained. A meeting with the King of Montenegro had lasted much longer than was expected. That was too bad, I explained, because it had been my desire to present to the premier, before my departure the next day, a situation important to me as president of several American news services.

Yes; the minister was aware of the nature of my mission. He spoke excellent English. But the tone of his voice expressed much more than his words. It didn’t require unusual perspicacity to gather that the premier would find no pleasure in discussing the subject that was on my mind. But something had to be done for Emmanuel.

“It is my feeling that the premier might be pleased to receive certain assurances that I am prepared to offer,” I said. Emmanuel is the correspondent of International News Service. That organization has a fixed policy requiring that its dispatches shall neither contain nor reflect the individual opinions of the senders, Emmanuel has voluntarily pledged faithful adherence to that rule. I have discussed this with him thoroughly. I know his messages will be confined absolutely to facts.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Count Capasso Torre. “But facts must be controlled!’

The suddenness of my response precluded an opportunity for reasoning. It was more of an involuntary ejaculation than a considered statement. It was an inspiration.

“I shall immediately withdraw our correspondents from Italy,” I announced.

The Minister of Posts and Telegraph sprang to his feet in undisguised consternation. “But you misunderstood me,” he remonstrated. By that time my emotion had subsided. It flashed upon me that the threat had scored. I stood pat.

Il Duce
At one o’clock the next afternoon, the premier of Italy greeted me in his office at the Chigi Palace. Never have I sensed the proximity of a greater bundle of nerves. The air seemed to crackle around Mussolini. It was the clashing of invisible forces, like a mass of electric energy hurling itself against a static barrier. Though his face was a mask, the movements of his hands and shoulders betrayed a terrific inner conflict. It became my conviction that impatience laid upon Benito Mussolini his heaviest cross. He was an actor always in furious rebellion against the pauses between his lines.

The premier listened to me as if in the performance of a grim duty. Count Capasso Torre insisted that we pose together for photographs. That was a cue the meaning of which came to me later. No promises were made; but that evening, Emmanuel, with his wife, saw me off on the train to Naples. His guards were not in sight. His avisement was relaxed during the remainder of my management of International News Service. However, there has been no sign that I instilled any distaste for the control of facts in Italy.

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