Howard Rushmore, editor of CONFIDENTIAL, formerly with the NEW YORK
JOURNAL-AMERICAN, was once a member of the Communist party. In 1953 he
served on the staff of the McCarthy Committee. Here he debates with Panelists
William Buckley, Jr., author and magazine editor; George Hamilton Combs, network news commentator and former U.S. Congressman; and Professor Charles
Hodges of New York University, former foreign correspondent.
ANSWERS FOR AMERICANS
HOW FREE is .ur FREE PRESS
Hurt: Do newspapers anil magazines
deliberately slant lln- news to fit ilie views
of iln-ir publishers?
Rushmore: I'd like to answer that
question wilh a no, but I'm afraid I
can't. I've been in this business as a
working newspaperman for 26 years,
and I'm sure' Professor Hodges ami
myseli can remember the day when
there was very little prejudice. Bul in
lln- past few years there's been a great
1 in not referring to prejudice and
bias on lhe editorial page- (hell's
where every publisher has a right to
express it. I'm talking aboul lhe news
columns — anil the news colums of the
magazines, too. And particularly ditr-
ing the past four years over one topic
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. 1 think
there's I.ecu more Lias- ami more prejudice surrounding thi- mem than any
figure of political life that I've ever
covered or seen during my career.
Combs: In reply lo Mr. Rushmore—
fur whose opinion I have great respect
— the theory lhat there's been an or-
ganization, a conspiracy of misrepresentation al...nt Senator McCarthy is.
of emu's,., nonsense. My point about
Senator McCarthy is that he is entirely
a creation of the uncritical reporters of
the pre-ss. Th,. newspapermen did not
realize that when he made a statement
he was nol speaking literally, he was
always speaking metaphorically, figuratively, and lhal there' might lee a
stneill grain of truth in the \ei~t mountain of allegations which hi' made.
\\ >■ Democrats, however, indicate thai
there is and has been a bias on the part
of the newspapers ami news magazines,
because they an' 9n per cent Republican.
Ami we've always had difficulty in presenting our Democratic peeint of view,
..in- philosophy ..I life.
Also. I would like to say lhal I don'l
believe that any one of these editors,
or very few of them at least, are' consciously distorting or deforming the
new-, ll seems lo hi' natural that the
news coverage, the' accent, the placing,
the handling, the' selection of news will
more or less conform In the economic
and political views of lhe publisher and
the editor. As to that we can have no
complaint. After all. it is a free press.
and so long as we have access lee the'
public through radio and television,
we're perfectly willing to let lhe news-
paper owners am) publishers subscribe
lo whatever little whimsies nf interpretation and choice of material they
elect. (Naturally, we couldn't do anything about it anyway.)
Buckley: My answer to the question
is yes; bul I ihink Mr. Combs is wrong
in implying lhal we're talking aboul a
conspiracy. In pari it is conspiratorial,
hut largely il's jusl spontaneous. That
is in say, I think Mr. Rushmore is right
in maintaining that in the- lei-l ten or
fifteen years a profound change has
taken place- in the attitude of newsmen.
As evidence of this. I cite the facl lhat
Mi. Sill/lunger of the New York Times,
in an address he gave two or three years
ago. said that the news has become so
complex eis a resull of our hectic
civilization, that it now becomes the
eliitv nf tin- reporter nol only lo relate
the facts bul lo interpret them, loo.
A reporler more or less knows lhat
In'- mil lo color a story a particular wax
these days because he is expected in
To cite ;i specific instance, aboul two
months ago I heard a perfectly straight
TV reporting of the news. The' commentator reported a charge that Senator
McCarthy hail made mil in Milwaukee,
anil hi' looked up from his notes and
PACTS FORUM needs typists who can
furnish a test exceeding 4i5 words pel-
minute. .Virility to originate material, anil
good judgment needed. Shorthand not
required. Address Facts Forum, Dallas 1.
said, "Senator McCarthy musl he convinced lhal he has onl) to utter a lie
often ei gh In make' a truth," anil wenl
back In the news.
I would say iii answer to your question, succinctly yes: there is systematic,
deliberate interpretation ami ilisim tion
of news to fit the views not exclusively
of the publishers bul uf the writers
themselves. Sometimes there is a great
bridge between the publisher's personal
views anil those of his reporters, I"1'
he is not in a position always lo detect
lhe llisteellieeil or i lltelpl flat ion of iht'
Combs: The trouble is vou an- lamenting the passing of lhat highly
partisan Republican press which went
out wilh the passing of the celluloid
collar ami lhe detachable cuff, ton en'1'
objecting lo there being a certain
amount nf three-dimensional reporting-
Ihis. after all. is a way of discovering
Hurt: Professor tlodges, eis a veteran
newspaperman as well .is a professor,
what is lour analysis in answer lo l'""
Hodgest I have fell thai ii is of tl"'
utmost importance lo America to §
news. Anil I think thai we musl reCOg'
nize the triiih of Mr. IIu-liniore's observation that we're living in changing
times ami the heal i~ on. I think thai
that's ihe important thing rather tl"1"
am vast interpretations of conspire")
ami so on.
Certainly you cannol play dow n ■'"
suppress news, even in a one-newspapel
town. We must remember thai fur a • '
of America you've got the radio and
in more ami mun' instances ' "'
light nn tlle job. Xnw I submit ''"'
slogan. "The conflict iii lhe headlines •*
the truth in lhe news." This is the H'-"
defense, of democracy. It's tin- difference
between the free press nf tin' free worW
— wilh all of ils qualifications :,IIC
the' totalitarian press.
FACTS FORUM NEWS, April, 1»55