a, a, b, b, true, false, true, false, Democratic, Republican, William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan sides with Atrios against Ron Fournier:

It should be the purpose of the Associated Press to convey to its numerous subscribers the unbiassed, uncolored truth. I recognize that this is extremely difficult and that with even the best of intentions those who report interviews, conventions and events will unintentionally inject their own opinions and yet absolute impartiality must be the ideal at which The Associated Press aims. You furnish news to Republican papers, Democratic papers, papers identified with other parties and to independent papers; and the readers of these Associated Press reports represent every phase of opinion.

Your association is not a party organ. It does not do editorial work; it is not the champion of any cause or the advocate of any man. It is expected to tell the truth about Congressional doings, legislative sessions, municipal matters, and to report correctly that which is given to it for publication. It cannot guarantee its readers against mistakes, for its agents are human, but it can correct mistakes when they are found out, and admonish its representatives to be cautious. It does not furnish the headlines, which are often misleading, but it can see to it that the text is free from intentional errors and that those who trust to its accuracy shall not be deceived.

I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the treatment that has been accorded me. The association has asked me for advance copies of a great many more speeches than I have been able to give it, and in asking for an advance copy it has furnished the best proof that it wanted to treat me with fairness. Through The Associated Press I have been able to get my ideas and my arguments before the readers of the Republican papers, and I have been less concerned about the editorial comments of Republican papers than about the correctness of the news reports.

Bryan goes on to discuss his ideal newspaper: an independent paper – as opposed to a party organ – with non-partisan news reporting and openly bi-partisan editorials. That may be fine as far as the news goes, but what happens in a bi-partisan media environment when the two major parties are largely in agreement on a subject, but a significant percentage of the population thinks otherwise?

Below the fold: the full report of Bryan’s speech, taken from the New York Tribune of 23 April 1908.

MR. BRYAN’S SPEECH

Mr. Bryan was in a happy mood and took his audience into his confidence as to how he tried to keep his various brands of speeches true to the contents as on the label, dividing them through all the grades from Young Men’s Christian Association addresses to straight political talks. He lamented the fact that folks were prone to confuse them and read politics into all of them. He advanced this plan for an independent newspaper:

I appreciate the compliment which is paid me by those who have had the arrangement of this banquet. The Associated Press is a very important factor in the spread of that information which is necessary for the formation of opinion; and in casting about for a subject nothing more appropriate has occurred to me than the Bible passage:

“Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

It should be the purpose of the Associated Press to convey to its numerous subscribers the unbiassed, uncolored truth. I recognize that this is extremely difficult and that with even the best of intentions those who report interviews, conventions and events will unintentionally inject their own opinions and yet absolute impartiality must be the ideal at which The Associated Press aims. You furnish news to Republican papers, Democratic papers, papers identified with other parties and to independent papers; and the readers of these Associated Press reports represent every phase of opinion.

Your association is not a party organ. It does not do editorial work; it is not the champion of any cause or the advocate of any man. It is expected to tell the truth about Congressional doings, legislative sessions, municipal matters, and to report correctly that which is given to it for publication. It cannot guarantee its readers against mistakes, for its agents are human, but it can correct mistakes when they are found out, and admonish its representatives to be cautious. It does not furnish the headlines, which are often misleading, but it can see to it that the text is free from intentional errors and that those who trust to its accuracy shall not be deceived.

I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the treatment that has been accorded me. The association has asked me for advance copies of a great many more speeches than I have been able to give it, and in asking for an advance copy it has furnished the best proof that it wanted to treat me with fairness. Through The Associated Press I have been able to get my ideas and my arguments before the readers of the Republican papers, and I have been less concerned about the editorial comments of Republican papers than about the correctness of the news reports.

It occurs to me that this is a good place to present a thought which I believe to be worthy of consideration. The metropolitan newspaper is becoming more and more a business enterprise and less and less a political organ. The advertising columns of the big papers are nonpolitical, and where the circulation is large the readers are so divided politically that the paper is by this very fact restrained from aggressive partisanship. Then, too, the owner of a big newspaper is seldom able to do the editorial work, and as he must depend on others to write the editorials the paper becomes less and less representative of the personal opinions of any one. As the years go by and as the circulation and advertising patronage increase the papers show an increasing inclination toward political independence.

HIS IDEAL NEWSPAPER

In view of this tendency in modern journalism it seems to me that the time is ripe for an experiment. It is much easier for a paper to be bi-partisan than non-partisan; that is, easier to represent both sides than to discuss public questions without taking either side. If the proprietor really wants to conduct a non-partisan paper and if the readers really want to subscribe for a non-partisan paper, why would not both proprietor and reader be better satisfied with a paper which represented the news impartially in its news columns and then gave to each party representation on its editorial page? If, for instance, a big metropolitan paper wants to become really independent, why should it not employ a representative of each of the parties to furnish signed editorials on political questions? Such a paper would appeal to all parties and especially to those who are anxious to know both sides of every public question. Is it not an experiment worth trying? The so-called independent paper is very likely to become partisan just before the election. This may suit the proprietor if he is anxious to make his paper a party organ. But it is sure to disappoint those who differ from him and who have become subscribers because of the claim of independence. If the proprietor honestly desires to take his paper out of politics and make it purely a newspaper, the bi-partisan plan enables him to carry out his purpose. No paper can be entirely neutral in a campaign, and no editorial writer can conceal his own bias when he writes on political subjects. If a man can write equally well on both sides he cannot write very well on either side.

If, on the other hand, the editorials are signed by men who frankly avow their intention of presenting questions from a party point of view, the reader can make allowance for partisanship and weigh argument against argument. Such an editorial policy would be entirely in harmony with the news service which The Associated Press was organized to give, and for that reason I present the suggestion at this banquet.

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2 Responses to a, a, b, b, true, false, true, false, Democratic, Republican, William Jennings Bryan

  1. Standpipe Bridgeplate says:

    a, a, b, b, true, false, true, false, Democratic, Republican, William Jennings Bryan

    If you say this in a darkened room in front of a mirror, you gain 100 electoral votes.

  2. andrew says:

    I was trying for a Simpsons reference that appears to be little represented online, but I’ll take this one too.

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