Thursday, October 19, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 11 Part 2
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
The Ordeal of the Red Hankerchief (part 2)link to previous installment link to next installment
It was my privilege twice during that period [editorship of the Chicago American] to furnish emphatic proof of editorial independence from advertising control. The occasions grew out of widely different news items. First came what has been described as the bloodiest strike on record. Second was the fatal shooting of Marshall Field, Jr.
The labor conflict was the result of Montgomery Ward & Company’s refusal to arbitrate the closed shop demand of seventeen garment workers. The controversy had smoldered for nearly five months. Then, on April 7, 1905, the seventy-one teamsters employed by the same firm walked out in sympathy with the striking needle pliers. The company was boycotted and picketed. That spread the strike to department stores and coal, grocery and express corporations. Their drivers refused to make deliveries to customers who had been declared “unfair.” A call went out to business men to oppose this trade union action with a fight to the finish.
The Employers’ Teaming Association was formed. It imported strikebreakers by the thousands. Trainloads of Negroes were brought from the South. Racial differences thus intensified the struggle. Street battles were fought at all hours in every section of the city. The sheriff swore in 2,300 deputies to reinforce the police. Casualties to the innocent passer-by became so numerous that panic hovered over the community. Frightened citizens demanded the imposition of martial law. Injunctions were sued out and indictments returned against both labor leaders and employers for conspiracies to violate writs of court. The rioting increased daily. By July, 21 dead and 415 wounded victims were reported.
|Strikers run from shooting strike-breakers, 1905|
Ever since my amateur days, there had been unceasing evidences of an irrepressible editorial afflatus among interested laymen. It was, as a rule, stridently vocal. But it had usually come to me in the form of criticisms or suggestions. Never before had it been translated into an explicit direction. My indignation did not lessen Shea’s insistence. He became furious. He decided to have me removed. Happily, he did not employ the direct-action method favored by some of his less resourceful associates. He telegraphed an earnest protest to my employer. Shea intrusted a copy of his complaint to Glen E. Laughery, the American’s labor reporter, for exhibition to me. That was my last personal communication from or about Shea. Later, I learned that the remonstrance reached Hearst in California. Apparently, it shared the same fate allotted to letters which Hearst believed would “answer themselves in a couple of weeks.”
The employers were much more formal in presenting their objections. They submitted an application for a meeting with the editor. The request, while outwardly courteous, assumed a minatory tinge from the composition of the designated committee. It consisted exclusively of leading advertisers. The members were executives of the seven most prominent department stores on State Street, Chicago’s famous shopping artery—Marshall Field & Co., Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., Charles A. Stevens & Bro., Siegel & Cooper, Mandel Bros., The Fair, and Hillman. Their visit was attended by a disconcerting solemnity. It was difficult to dismiss the feeling that at any moment they might intone a requiem.
The session imposed on me an unexpected burden. It had been my understanding that the formidable delegation of advertising magnates would be met by the highest-ranking dignitary the American could present. That should have been Richard A. Farrelly. He had been detached from the New York American the year before to serve as Hearst’s editor-in-chief in Chicago. Farrelly was one of the journalistic galaxy which a decade earlier moved its orbit from the Pulitzer to the Hearst constellation. He detested formal conferences. At the last minute, he left me alone to face the seven envoys from State Street, availing himself of “a constitutional right to evade cruel and unusual punishment.”
Time has not blunted the point of a single major argument advanced at that tilt over the resistance against dollar pressure on the press. Of course, the committee disavowed any intent to confuse advertising patronage with the purposes of their visit. It was merely a coincidence that all of them were in the practice of buying newspaper space. They had been selected because their daily contacts gave them a wider and deeper familiarity with the current phases of community life than was the normal experience of other classes of business men. Still, it must be apparent that a continuance of the present trend of affairs would make the use of advertisements a futile function. Oh, no! This wasn’t meant for anything like a veiled threat.
The committee were bent no more on intimidation than instruction. They were merely good citizens come to point out a common peril—a swift-growing crisis that they believed the editor could ward off. Though doubtless he had no such purpose, his method of presenting the news supplied a rallying force for elements of disorder. It was a constant spur to the strikers’ flagging spirits. What an opening this made for me! Did the gentlemen know that the strike leader—the president of the teamsters’ organization— took an exactly contrary position? Would it astonish my visitors to hear that Shea had protested earnestly and repeatedly that I “was following a policy definitely adverse to the interests of the unions”?
No, the committee were not even mildly shocked by this revelation. As a matter of fact, it betrayed an unreasonableness that fitted into the mosaic of their views. They did not charge the American with conscious hostility either to the employers or the strikers. They were not critical of the textual content of the stories published. What worried them was the effect of the headlines. It was the big, black lettering which they condemned.
Plastered over the top half of a front page, each of these headings was undeniably provocative. They were planned that way. And this was the grave menace which the State Street savants had called to discuss. The very size of the type, they were sure, conveyed a meaning apart from the words. It was stressfully exciting. It was in itself suggestive of violence. Above all, it infused the strikers with a false sense of their own importance. It would goad them into a persistence certain to cost Chicago irreparable damage.
Parts of my reply were baked in cerebral ovens suspended over a fire that had been burning for fourteen years. The flame had been started by W. Ballantyne Patterson, the real estate promoter who first jostled my confidence in the invulnerability of the press. He applied the spark by revoking an advertising contract with the San Antonio Times. The cancelation expressed dissatisfaction with the subordinate display of my story of a soiree at Patterson’s home. The pettiness of the grievance magnified the significance of the incident. Failure to combat this attempt at tyranny over the news remained in my memory the least forgivable stain on the escutcheon of journalism. Ever since, the yearning had possessed me to share in a complete and final reversal of the shield. Now the department store moguls had let me in for a “big time” inning.
The committee’s graciousness in waiving all consideration as advertisers was duly acknowledged. That waiver, however, only underlined the realities. It was impossible to face such a group of conspicuous business leaders without recognizing the potentialities of their presence together in a newspaper shop. It would be impossible to shut my mind entirely to this formidable implication. Still, the delegation had been helpful in frankly disclaiming any thought of possible coercion or undue influence. That made it unnecessary to thresh out in detail certain truisms that must form the basis of my remarks. The mere citation of a few, such as these, would suffice:
- The newspaper that serves its reader most serves its advertiser best.
- Preservation of the subscriber’s faith is the publisher’s highest duty to investors in advertising space.
- The news ear that listens for the jingle of the advertising dollars fails to catch the diminuendo of the circulation pennies.
- A linage purchaser’s seat at an editorial table certifies his distrust of the newspaper.
- News currents are contaminated by no virus more malignant than infections from space buyers’ favors.
My next declaration of editorial independence from advertising dominance was marked by a clash inside the Hearst organization. The set-up had been altered. Farrelly was no longer my chief. He had been transferred to Boston as publisher of the Boston American. And there was now a publisher on the Chicago American. William Preston Leech had resigned as general manager of the San Francisco Chronicle to accept this new post. These changes were in accord with a revision of managerial policy that W. R. Hearst was effecting. It pointed toward emphasis of the business department’s control of operations.
Until then, the editorial chief had been recognized as supreme in each unit. Now, the highest insignia of office were pinned on the publisher. His installation in first rank clothed him with a prestige calculated to command the advertiser’s fullest respect. Appointees were chosen with especial regard to their promotional ability in the sales field. Meanwhile, the editor was not divested of any responsibility. There was no lessening of his direct accountability to the proprietor. The degree of his subordination to the publisher was dependent on himself—on the measure of forcefulness, strategy and tact that he employed in maintaining an uninterrupted two-way channel of communication with Hearst. High altitude in a newspaper organization stimulates editorial aspirations less aggressive at lower levels. So, most of the new heads of operation found it difficult to keep their hands off the news. Intriguing games of office politics followed.
This regime was essentially Hearstian. It tied authority to the person instead of the job. Suppose it did lead to occasional confusion. Suppose some executive’s spirit was broken or that another’s initiative was bogged down. Suppose that now and then there was a snarling of the threads of methodical procedure. What did all this amount to beside the strokes of brilliance that might ensue from friction between personality and position? Why hamper genius with discipline? The cock-sure answers that stood for a while have since bobbed up for reexamination.
Leech’s advent as publisher of the Chicago American had not affected my status as managing editor. It did temper my relations with Max Annenberg, the circulation manager. Leech had been connected with the business direction of dailies in several cities. His experience had not included any editorial training. That, of course, stamped a marked reservation on my acceptance of his chieftaincy. Annenberg attached himself to his latest boss with professed enthusiasm. One bond had held Max in hearty collaboration with me—a common passion for increasing circulation. Under Leech, Max’s ardor was seasoned with a solicitude for advertising revenues.
Annenberg was just beginning his climb to the highest compensation of any employee engaged in the distribution of periodical publications. His earnings on the New York. Daily News in the late 1930s exceeded $200,000 annually. Max is not to be confused with his brother, Moses L. Annenberg, who, also starting as a newsboy in Chicago and serving for a number of years as a lieutenant of W. R. Hearst, ultimately became the multimillionaire proprietor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. At one time Moses L. Annenberg received the largest cash income in America derived from sources not listed on the Stock Exchange. Much of his wealth was garnered from a monopoly of racing news for bookmakers. The curiosity of government agents led to his occupation of quarters in a federal prison. His sojourn there consumed part of the time required to make up an $8,000,000 penalty.
The Annenbergs did not exert a sedative influence. They kept both competitors and associates always on the qui vive. Near the upper rungs of their respective careers, they became bitterly estranged. That ended my long study of their personalities. Their candor obviated any further research. It presented them as ruggedly unique individuals, contemptuous of conventional—and sometimes other—restraints.
Few dishes tempted Max’s palate so much as the word “murder” tickled his tongue. His favorite headline was “Double Murder and Suicide.” With that, he always promised extra sales. My argument that it might repel as many buyers as it tempted fell on deaf ears. He was sure it injected into his street hustlers such a vim as they got from few other labels. And, that, he insisted, meant a batch of additional readers.
There were other phases of Max’s partiality for the word “murder.” Its frequent use suggested a callousness in quarters that it was advantageous to impress with such a quality. The Chicago war for newspaper circulation was entering a homicidal stage. Max Annenberg was acquiring a reputation apt to deter weak-kneed rivals from the sort of violence that might prompt reprisal. After he had joined the Chicago Tribune, several years later, a shocking rise in the mortality rate among news-dealers brought his name conspicuously to the fore. It has been my suspicion that this notoriety was less deserved than designed. It did not diminish Max’s payroll stature. It was partly responsible for his mention as “a throbbing sinus of newspaperdom.”
At half-past four in the morning of November 23, 1905, a telephone call awoke me. It was from Joseph H. Finn, editor of an edition of the American listed on the press schedule as the “Indiana,” because it was timed to catch trains for the Hoosier State. To the newsboys, it was the “Postscript,” descriptive of its relationship to the morning papers. Its official designation for the editorial and composing-room staffs was “Morning Glory.” That was more cynical than poetic. It emphasized the inconvenience of the hours of the shift, least desirable in the whole newspaper routine. Beginning work in successive squads at 9, 10 and 11 o’clock in the evening, they finished duty at respectively 5, 6 and 7 o’clock in the forenoon. There was no “jocund day standing tiptoe” to meet them. Instead, the “Morning Glory” rolled off the presses in ironic reminder that their night’s chore ground the morning and the glory thereof into plain supper-time.
|Marshall Field Jr.|
The four morning papers had issued extras to cover the latest developments of the tragedy. The headlines of three—the Tribune, Record-Herald and W. R. Hearst’s Examiner—described it as an accident. The Inter-Ocean heading referred to the wound as self-inflicted, without further explanation. According to an unofficial statement issued several hours later, the victim was found on a couch in his wife’s boudoir. Blood was pouring from a bullet wound in his side. On the floor lay an automatic revolver. The discovery was made by the butler. He had been summoned by a bell. That was at 5:30 in the afternoon. The household was aroused and young Field was hastened to Mercy Hospital. The ambulance bearing him away passed the carriage in which his wife was returning from an afternoon of social calls. A surgical operation was performed at 6:30.
An element of mystification was introduced by the family’s reticence. The police were not notified until midnight. Then the notice consisted only of the formal hospital report required by law in such circumstances. Two detectives were assigned to investigate. Nobody at the Field mansion or at the hospital was communicative. It was three o’clock in the morning before Assistant Chief of Police Schuettler organized enough of the facts to bring the case to the attention of his superior, Superintendent Collins. The unexplained lapse of more than six hours, between the shooting and the notification to the authorities, presented an enigma. The riddle was complicated by continued secrecy.
The wording and typography of the headline as well as the first paragraph of the text of the story to appear in the next edition of the American were dictated over the telephone. The heading, in two lines approximately eight inches deep, read:
MYSTERY IN SHOOTING OF MARSHALL FIELD, JR.
In fifteen minutes, Finn was followed on the phone by Max Annenberg. Ordinarily, Max’s work-day began at 7 a.m. The Marshall Field story had hustled him out of bed several hours earlier. Evidently he had been in touch with Leech. Marshall Field & Co., the bellwether of Midwest mercantile affairs, had some time before crossed the Chicago American off its list of advertising media. Leech confronted no task more pressing or consequential than recovering the patronage of this top-notch advertiser. Annenberg’s call stressed the critical nature of that problem.
“I’ve just come from the composing room,” Max said in palpable agitation. “I saw the head you ordered. Koenigsberg, you’re murdering the paper.”
“First degree, or just manslaughter?” I asked, as much to reprove him for idiomatic excess as for extravagance of statement.
“This is too serious to ‘kid’ about,” Annenberg answered. “You know that we need the Marshall Field business more than anything else; and your head will put the kibosh on our last chance to get it back.”
The frigidity of a nightgown ensemble may have accented the chill of this questioning response: “Do you mean to suggest that the story be suppressed?”
“Of course not; but the mystery angle is suicide.”
Max didn’t mean that young Field had sought to destroy his own life. He did mean that self-destruction for the Chicago American lay in the headlines that I had dictated to Finn. Max felt certain that any assertion of mystery in connection with the shooting would array the all-powerful Marshall Field group and their friends against the offending newspaper. And Max professed to fear that the American could not survive the punishment that would be meted out.
Annenberg had never before objected to a startling headline. Obviously, he was playing a part. He was acting as a catspaw to force my hand. “Whether you know it or not,” I said, “you are advising the suppression of news. If you had any facts which our staff was unable to obtain, there would be some excuse for your call. But without any pretense of fresh information, you offer advice about the editorial handling of a story. You wouldn’t presume to do such a thing except to ‘get a rise’ out of me. Well, you’ve got it. The head that I have ordered on the Marshall Field story will stand. If your concern about your employer’s property in this situation is sincere, you should take it up with the proper person, your chief. The publisher is entitled to discuss this matter with the managing editor.”
A moment later, Leech telephoned. “Annenberg says you want to talk with me,” he began.
“That is not correct,” I answered quickly. “You know that I don’t need Annenberg’s help to reach you.”
“But Annenberg said—”
“Mr. Leech,” I interrupted, “my watch shows five o’clock. It’s not an hour for stage setting. Let’s save time with a bit of frankness. Annenberg apparently has reported to you what I said to him about the headlines on the Marshall Field shooting. If you wish to discuss my statement now, let’s proceed from that point.”
“Well, Koenigsberg, do you realize that Marshall Field & Co. are the most important advertisers in Chicago and that while they may not regularly buy the largest volume of newspaper space, they do buy a great deal?”
“Not in the American.’’
“That’s the main point,” Leech retorted. “We’ve been trying very hard to get them back in the paper. How can we ever hope to do that if we antagonize them on a story such as this?”
“Your question is just as unanswerable as the trick query of the prosecutor in the stage farce—‘When did you last beat your wife?’ We haven’t set out to antagonize Marshall Field & Co. We’re publishing the news. That’s our job. If we do it well, we’ll hold the respect of everybody, including the Marshall Fields. If we flunk—especially if we do so with the idea that we’ll be rewarded for flunking—we’ll lose the respect of everybody, including the Marshall Fields. And what would be the attitude of other advertisers if they learned that we had omitted important intelligence with the purpose of having one of their competitors accept the omission as a bribe for the renewal of his business?
“I don’t purpose to tell you anything about the sale of space; but I’m convinced it would be easier to get contracts with those who believe we print the news without fear or favor than with those who suspect us of killing or distorting news. The fact that Marshall Field & Co. are not advertising with us now tightens the squeeze on us. It puts us in the center of the spotlight. I think your prospect of getting the Marshall Field account will be better after we have published this story than it would be if we failed to print it. That, however, is not my reason for going ahead. My duty is to serve the reader without truckling to the advertiser. That’s what I shall do until I’m stopped.”
There was an uncomfortably long silence, during which I nervously canvassed the courses open to Leech. Dare he countermand my orders to the staff? That was possible, but unlikely. It would be risking too unpalatable a result. He might try to reach W. R. Hearst by telephone. I had no misgiving on that score.
“I am not happy about this,” Leech said at last. “I can only hope that you’re right; but I’m not sure. However, I am not going to put up a fight.”
Marshall Field, Jr., succumbed to his wound on November 27th, five days after the shooting. On December 2nd a jury impaneled by Coroner Hoffman returned a verdict of accident. That formality failed to silence the stories that shrouded the death in the most persistent of Chicago’s legendary mysteries. The most popular theory laid the scene of the shooting in the Everleigh Club, a resort of international notoriety colored by yarns—widely credited but never substantiated—of world-famous beauties who, incognito, shared its prismatic piquancies from time to time.
William Preston Leech succeeded, before many months, in regaining for the Chicago American the advertising patronage of Marshall Field & Co. The circumstances are recounted by way of illumination of one of the most widely discussed phases of journalism—“the influence of the advertiser on the freedom of the press.”
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