Tom Johnson‘s ambition was big enough to account for him. To take one city and solve there the social, economic, political problems and so set an example to other super-business men of a job worth doing and to the world of a government as it should be–that was as understandable as the wish to make a million dollars. Especially since this business man already had his million plus. My petty suspicions of Tom Johnson vanished. He belonged in the class with Folk and LaFollette, Roosevelt, Seth Low, and Walter Fisher. He was on “our side,” the people’s; that was why the other side, the plutogogues, called him a demagogue. But I heard some of Tom Johnson’s campaign speeches in the infamous tent he moved about for meetings in parts of the town where there were no halls or where opponents closed halls against him. His “circus” speeches were indeed entertaining; he encouraged questions from the floor, and he answered them with quick wit and barbed facts; but those political meetings were more like classes in economics and current (local) history than harangues. The only just complaint of his enemies was that he “had gone back on his class.” This was said by men who almost in the same breath would declare that reform was not a class struggle, that there was no such thing as class consciousness, no classes, in America; and they meant it, too. The charge against Tom Johnson, Folk, LaFollette and, later, Rudolph Spreckels, of treason to their class, is an expression of our unconscious class consciousness, and an example of our appalling sincerity, miscalled hypocrisy.
(Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, 477)
I hope at some point to write up some posts based on Lincoln Steffens’ autobiography, which I started reading out of an interest in what he says about journalism, but now seem to be reading more out of an interest in what it says about reform – or rather, about a variety of things that fall, not entirely easily, under the category of “reform.” But for now other things are taking priority over blogging, so I’m keeping to transcribing passages.
What reporters know and don’t report is news–not from the newspapers’ point of view, but from the sociologists’ and the novelists’. It enabled me, when I learned a little of it, to write my Shame of the Cities. But it took time and sharp listening to get that little. Though I had nothing to do, professionally, with criminal news, I used to go out with the other reporters on cases that were useless to my paper but interesting to me. Crime, as tragedy and as a part of the police system, fascinated me. I liked to go for lunch to the old Lyons restaurant on the Bowery with Max Fischel or some other of the “wise” reporters. They would point out to me the famous pickpockets, second-story men and sneaks that met and ate there; sometimes with equally famous detectives or police officials and politicians. Crime was a business, and criminals had “position” in the world, a place that was revealing itself to me. I soon knew more about it than Riis did, who had been a police reporter for years; I knew more than Max could tell Riis, who hated and would not believe or even hear some of the “awful things” he was told. Riis was interested not at all in vice or crime, only in the stories of people and the conditions in which they lived.
—The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, 223