Saturday, May 19, 2018

Fake News, 1918 Edition

Seditionback Saturday hearkens once again to the thrilling days of yestercentury, where we find the First Amendment under fire... from the press.
"A Convenient Perch" by Ted Brown in Chicago Daily News, ca. May, 1918
Now that The Masses had been shut down, there were few publications willing to tolerate any dissent about United States participation in Europe's Great War. German peace overtures had to be dismissed out of hand lest one's patriotism be called into question. And hanging onto one's cultural heritage had become suspect; who knew whether the fellows babbling in some foreign tongue might be plotting to blow up the town armory? (Or forcing Aaron  Schlossberg to pay for their welfare 100 years later?)
"Have You a Little Gas Mask" by Cy Hungerford in Pittsburgh Sun, c. May, 1918
This next cartoon of a row of Deutsche Zeitung readers was drawn to illustrate a column by Frederick Boyd Stevenson for the Brooklyn Eagle headlined "Who Has Kept Kaiserism in German Newspapers?: ...
"Is This Somewhere in Germany or Somewhere in America?" by Beaumont Fairbank in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 5, 1918 
"... How the American Defense Society Took Up the Task of Getting the Patriotic Proprietors of Newsstands to Ban All Newspapers and Periodicals Printed in the German Language and How the Spirit of America Is Doing the Rest — Twelve German Language Newspapers In This Country Quit Publications in Two Weeks and More Are Ready to Follow."

(I've omitted half of the subhead, but you get the idea.)
"Torpedoed" by Sidney Greene in New York Evening Telegram, May 27, 1918
Stevenson's column started out praising German-Americans who served the Union in the Civil War, but then launched into a paragraph of leading questions suspicious of the German-language press in America. "Do you or anyone else know how many of these German-language newspapers printed in this country denounced the crime of Germany? Do any of you know how many of these German-language newspapers defended the sinking of the Lusitania?" And so on.

Well, of course you didn't, if you didn't read German. And, in true Fox News style, Stevenson never quite got around to telling you, either.

"Breath of the Hun" by W.A. Rogers in New York World, ca. May, 1918
Stevenson continued:
"Today many [German-Americans] are still reading in German, talking in German, thinking in German. Many of them have made themselves obnoxious to Americans in their public organizations and their private clubs.
"And who is responsible for this un-Americanism?
"The German-language press of America."
Stevenson praised the efforts of the American Defense Society and other citizens "chafing under sight of German-language newspapers waving before them like the flag of Germany" to push for official censorship of German-language newspapers as well as to pressure newspaper vendors not to sell them and publishing companies not to print them.
"The Kaiser's Shadow" by Harry Tuthill in St. Louis Star, May or June, 1918
The ADS, Stevenson reported, had backed an amendment to the 1917 Espionage Act by Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) stating, "The use of the mails should not be permitted to any newspaper, magazine, periodical, circulars or pamphlets which are printed in whole or in part in the German language." While that amendment had failed to be included in the final bill, the the ADS had claimed victory in getting local officials to ban German-language newspapers in several cities in New Jersey and Long Island.

The twelve German-language papers cited in the column's subhead included "the formerly very influential" Texas Deutsche Zeitung of Houston, and the 77-year-old Deutsche Korrespondent of Baltimore. The Socialist New Yorker Volkszeitung also planned to suspend publication and repurpose itself as an English-only newspaper.

Downtown, the New York Evening Telegram, which regularly printed full pages in Italian for its espatriati readership, repeatedly ran the following box editorial demanding that German newspapers be shut down:
Box editorial appearing in New York Evening Telegram, May, 1918
But there was more to worry about than those sneaky Deutschsprechenders.
"Know Them?" by Nelson Harding in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 13, 1918
In Congress, there remained criticism of the Wilson administration, alleging that the U.S. was still unprepared for the war, and that Secretary of War Newton Baker was not up to the task. It hadn't helped that Baker's first statement to reporters upon his appointment in 1916 was "I am an innocent. I do not know anything about this job."
"Synchronizer" by Jay "Ding" Darling in Des Moines Register, ca. May 7, 1918
There was plenty of ammunition for critics of American readiness. The Aircraft Board was forced to admit that plans for an air fleet were still being designed and re-designed on the drawing board — it was, after all, a fledgling industry.
"End of the First Chapter" by Milton Halladay in Providence Journal, ca. May, 1918
In more established industries, the American outlook was more positive.
"Catching Up" by Archibald Chapin in St. Louis Republic, ca. May, 1918
On the other side of the trenches, German cartoonists worked to reassure their readers that worrisome talk of America's entry into the war with all its fresh materiel wasn't really so serious a threat to the Vaterland.
"Mister Barnums Hilfe" by E. Schilling in Simplicissimus, Munich, May 21, 1918
Speaking of enemies the Germans weren't supposed to worry about, and as long as we happened to discuss Nicaragua last week: Gustav Brandt here offered his view of "the latest war announcements." Guatemala and Nicaragua declared war against Germany on April 23 and May 18 respectively.
"Guatemala and Nicaragua" by Gustav Brandt in Kladderadatsch, Berlin, May 26, 1918
I've given a literal translation of the dialogue below the cartoon, which is a near-quotation from Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos. An English translation by R. D. Boyan paraphrases the original passage as
"Thus, arm-in-arm with thee, I dare defy
   The universal world into the lists."
...which is hardly any clearer. The line comes at the end of Act I, as the Marquis of Posa and young Don Carlos, Prince of Spain, profess their undying love for each other, as equals. Clearly, Brandt sees the relationship between Uncle Sam and the centroamericanos differently. U.S. marines had occupied Nicaragua since 1912, and the Guatemalan government was more or less a subsidiary of United Fruit Company.

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