Anyone with a pulse has strong opinions about media bias, it seems today. Entire TV networks are seen as inartfully spinning the news left or right according to political tilt; particular broadcast commentators and print columnists are presumed to be chronic fabricators of lies; Internet-based news resources often can't be trusted because - well, c'mon, it's on the Internet, man!
But often the most powerful kind of bias is also the easiest to commit: Just ignore something. If your only news source doesn't report that someone did X or said Y, then event X or quote Y simply didn't happen - or at least, wasn't worth mentioning.
A fine example was found in the 1907 Santa Rosa papers, as discussed here earlier. A downtown market sold contaminated seafood salad and about a dozen people fell seriously ill with food poisoning, with one prominent woman nearly dying. The Santa Rosa Republican printed full details and identified the store; the Press Democrat deftly avoiding mention of the market by name. Was it significant that the market was a regular advertiser in the PD but not the Republican?
Other forms of bias were demonstrated in the Press Democrat in early 1909. In the space of three weeks, three remarkable men visited Santa Rosa, and in each case, the PD censored what they had to say.
Our first visitor was Jacob Riis, the reformer and godfather of investigative journalism who revealed the horrible conditions of the New York City slums in the 1890s. Riis was in Santa Rosa as part of a tour of high schools and colleges around the West presenting his "The Battle With the Slums" lecture with a slideshow of his famous photographs. (His most shocking book, "How The Other Half Lives," is available online with a separate index of pictures.) Riis, who visited here in March, also exposed the sweatshops that exploited children, and told his audience that all would be better if the kids could only enjoy the "brightness of the sunlight, fresh air and opportunities to see the beauties of nature." One wonders if he would have changed his opinion if he had come around in the summer, when boys as young as seven were shipped up here from the Aid Society in San Francisco to pick fruit and work in the canneries.
Readers of the Republican paper saw a summary of his "decidedly entertaining and instructive" lecture that was heard by almost 500 people - a remarkable turnout for a town with a population under ten thousand. Over at the PD,
however, readers weren't told who Riis was, and the word "slum" wasn't even mentioned. Their subscribers learned only that this "noted lecturer" was surprised to discover that Santa Rosa had also been damaged in the 1906 earthquake, that he thought Luther Burbank was a swell guy, and that he "showed remarkable interest in the chicken industry." Why did the Press Democrat go out of its way to trivialize - and likely insult - this important man? No explanation is clear, except that PD editor Ernest L. Finley had often previously shown antipathy against both citizen do-gooders and muckrakers. (CORRECTION: In error I overlooked that the Press Democrat indeed published an unbiased review of the Jacob Riis lecture in a separate article on a different page in the same March 20, 1909 edition of the paper. A transcription of that article has been added below.)
A few days later, Santa Rosa was visited by card-carrying Socialist "Big Bill" Haywood who was speaking to encourage union membership in general and "relate the stories of hardships and cruelties practiced on the miners." Local press coverage was a repeat of the Riis visit, only more so; the Santa Rosa Republican published a straight-forward article about what Haywood said, adding only that he was an entertaining speaker who provided "great merriment to his audience." In a short article the PD presented him as a dangerous rabble-rouser who vowed, "We are going to turn the government upside down." This time, the word unmentioned by the PD was "union." Again, the finger of bias points to Finley, who was not only the editor of the paper but president of the anti-union Chamber of Commerce.
The third example of bias grows out of a meeting between Luther Burbank and Elbert Hubbard. A true celebrity in his day, Hubbard was a renowned author, newspaper columnist, and one of the pioneers of the emerging American Arts & Crafts movement. As the latter, he was also a friend of the Comstocks, who had moved to Santa Rosa a year earlier. Three of the young Comstocks had worked for Hubbard in his Roycroft workshops, and matriarch Nellie was described as a "close personal friend" of Hubbard's in her obituary. It is unknown whether Hubbard met with any of them during this brief visit, however.
Although there was no public event during Hubbard's swing through town, the Press Democrat squeezed out 300 words about his visit, mainly to note he was "lavish in his praise of the wonderful accomplishments" both here and in San Francisco since the quake. The Republican offered only a short item about him as yet another famous person visiting Burbank, most of its copy shamelessly cribbed from the PD article. A month later, however, a followup article in the Press Democrat rehashed the trip - this time, with a twist of censorship.
The PD reprinted part of an essay about the Burbank visit that appeared in the June, 1909 edition of Hubbard's magazine, "The Fra" (read the entire piece here). The full essay begins with Hubbard spotting Burbank in the audience when he took the stage in San Francisco, and that his lecture subsequently turned into "a heart to heart talk" aimed directly to Burbank. Describing his trip to Santa Rosa the following day, Hubbard continued his paen to Burbank, and this section of the essay contained several mottoes that are much quoted in writings about Burbank, including "The most beautiful words I heard him utter were these: 'I do not know'" and, "The finest product of the life and work of Luther Burbank is Luther Burbank."
But in its reprint, the Press Democrat cut out a section (shown in bold in the transcription below) including this paragraph:
Theology and metaphysics have their jargon and jibberish. They pull the strings that make the puppets dance, and beneath their lingo they hide their ignorance. The pseudo-scientists can no more be cornered in argument and caught than you can corral an evangelist.
There were no ellipsis in the PD reprint to cue readers that this text had been removed, and there was no mention of the magazine's name, where a curious reader could hunt out the original - complete with its introduction that included an even more inflammatory comment: "Luther Burbank... never goes to church."
Presumably the PD didn't want to wade into stormy waters by insulting local evangelicals or bringing up our local icon's lack of christian faith (which eventually caused him enormous grief when he declared himself an "infidel" 17 years later). Best to just ignore the controversial parts. Who's to know?
RIIS IS PLEASED WITH SANTA ROSANoted Lecturer Praises Wonderful Rebuilding of Santa Rosa and Progressiveness of People
Jacob Riis, who lectured at the High School last night, is accompanied on his western trip by his wife. It is the first time they have ever been in this part of California, and they were both greatly delighted at what they saw here. In speaking to a newspaper man yesterday afternoon at the Occidental Hotel Mr. Riis showed great surprise at the newness of the city.
"I remarked to my wife after coming up the street," said he, "that Santa Rosa was as new looking as San Francisco, and we wondered at the fact." When told that the city was any of the greatest sufferers in the state by the disaster of April 18, 1906, and had been rebuilt since that date, he expressed the greatest surprise at the wonderful work accomplished. "I never thought of the disaster outside of San Francisco," said he. "Your people are greatly to be complimented on their faith and progressive spirit."
The noted lecturer showed remarkable interest in the chicken industry, and asked many questions regarded the resources of the county. He spoke of the wonderful work of Luther Burbank, declaring that the horticulturalist stood in a class all by himself as a scientist along those lines.
Speaking of his work Mr. Riis said he was on the coast for a series of lectures before the High Schools and everywhere he had been greeted with large audiences. He declared he was glad on the opportunity to visit Santa Rosa, and speak to a people who had shown themselves capable of doing so much for themselves.
- Press Democrat, March 20, 1909
JACOB RIIS HEARD IN LECTURE HERENoted Author and Lecturer Tells of Great Good Accomplished in the Slums of New York
Jacob Riis, known the country over by his accomplishments in the way of relieving conditions in the over-crowded slums and tenement districts of New York as well as by his writings, delivered a most intensely interesting, instructive, and patriotic lecture in the Assembly room of the Santa Rosa High School last night to an audience of nearly five hundred people.
The earnestness of the man, the Christian spirit which prompts his actions and his easy manner, together with his familiarity with the subject which he handled, made his address impressive. The stereopticon slides of the sights and scenes before and after the work which has been accomplished in New York City's slums, held his audience spell bound as he described the dark side of life and what has been done to better conditions.
Mr. Riis contends that the environment makes mankind what he is and if the environment is made so as to appeal to the best that is in a child, that child will grow up into a man or woman who will make a good and true citizen, while if the reverse conditions exists, the soul is destroyed and only the clod of clay remains. With dirt, filth and darkness goes crime of all kinds, while with light, fresh air and opportunity to see the beauties of nature comes purity of heart and purpose in the growing youth.
As a police reporter on the New York Sun Mr. Riis had many opportunities of seeing the results of life in the slums, and when he took up the idea of bringing before the public those conditions he spent years writing and working before it had any appreciative results. It was when he was joined by Theodore Roosevelt, after he became Police Commissioner, that results began to materialize. The worst sections of the city were transformed into play grounds one after another, and the laws regarding tenement houses were revised until now the poor and neglected are given many opportunities never dreamed of a few years ago. The work is going on all the time, and each year sees marked advances to the good accomplished.
- Press Democrat, March 20, 1909
LECTURE BY JACOB RIISTells of Battle in Slums of New York
Jacob Riis, the well known worker of the slums in New York City, delivered his splendid address at the Assembly Hall of the high school Friday evening. Nearly five hundred people availed themselves of the opportunity to listen to the address and to greet the man who has done so much to ameliorate the condition of the people living in the slum districts of the American metropolis.
The speaker began his work while a reporter on the New York Sun. He had the police detail, and such harrowing tales came under his notice in his department that he finally took an interest in relieving the conditions existing as much as he could by his personal efforts. To show the public the exact conditions Mr. Riis equipped himself with a camera and took pictures of the poverty stricken districts in which his work lay, and showed the people of New York a condition which few of them had any idea existed. The work of Mr. Riis was not appreciated to any great extent until President Roosevelt became a police commissioner of New York City, and undertook to assist Riis in his laudable endeavors.
Mr. Riis contends that environment is everything in life and that only when the environment is such as to appeal to the best in a child's nature will that child grow to be a man worthy of the name. He contends that where the obverse conditions obtain, the child will be the result of the environment to the extend that its nature will be limited by the sphere in which it grew to manhood. With the surroundings of dirt and filth crime is bred and fostered, while with the brightness of the sunlight, fresh air and opportunities to see the beauties of nature will come a purity of heart and purpose in the child growing to manhood or womanhood.
Through the effort of Mr. Riis' beginning, the tenement house ordinances were revised until the dwellers in these domiciles are made comfortable and given opportunities to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight, play grounds have been established in the sections where dirt and filth formerly prevailed, and the children of the slums have been provided with opportunities for enjoyment that were not theirs a few years since. The lecture was decidedly entertaining and instructive.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 20, 1909
HAYWOOD IS GOOD SPEAKERTell of Troubles of Miners Wednesday Night
"Bill" Haywood, the "undesirable citizen," lectured here at the People's Unitarian church Wednesday evening to a good sized audience, and he entertained them with the story of the labor troubles of the miners in Idaho and Colorado. Haywood has a vein of humor in his address that is captivating, and some of his illustrations were productive of great merriment to his audience.
The speaker was introduced to the audience by James H. Hughes, and launched at once into his recital. He declared if it were not for the staunch support of the union men of the country, he would not be in the flesh now, but sleeping in a bed of quicklime at the Idaho penitentiary. He proceeded, as he said, to give his hearers some information regarding the serious disturbances that he had not gained from the windows of a Pullman car, and said he would relate the stories of hardships and cruelties practiced on the miners of the States named.
The speaker announced at the outset that the Socialist party was the only one which would ever emancipate the laboring men. He said the Socialists were accused of wanting to "divide up," that they did not want to "divide up" now, but intended to take all that they produced. The conflict he said was being waged between those who produce all and have none and those who produce nothing and have all. He referred humorously to the candidacy of William J. Bryan, "sometimes" candidate of the Democratic party, and likened him to the boy who fell out of the window. The first fall was an accident, the second was a coincidence, and the third became habit. So, he said, it had become a habit with Bryan to run for the Presidency. He also gave Roosevelt a rap for declaring him and his friends "undesirable citizens."
The problem of the unemployed was discussed by the speaker, and he said Socialism offered the only reasonable solution for the question. He advocated that human beings should have as much sense as a mule, and that when they were hungry and unable to obtain work, they should help themselves to the supplies where found. He instanced passages from the Bible and from remarks of Cardinal Manning, Abraham Lincoln and others to show that there was nothing wrong in this procedure.
Haywood described the bull pens into which the sturdy miners had been thrust, how disease and vermin ran riot among the men, of alleged indignities heaped upon them and the helpless women and children, of the calling out of the military forces to subdue and shoot down the miners when no acts had been committed which would justify such a course in the least. The story of how he, Moyer and Pettibone were taken from Denver to Idaho on a special train, thrown into the penitentiary, and kept eighteen months before trial, was graphically described. Haywood did not pose as a hero in any respect, but gave a simple narrative on the events without much personal allusion. He said the Western Federation of Miners had been born in jail, conceived in the bull pen, was the child of injunction, and the result of a strike to prevent a reduction of wages.
Among the troubles of the miners particularly recounted by the speaker were those of Cripple Creek, Leadville, Lake City, the Couer de Allenes and other places. The blowing up of the depot at Independence, where thirteen men were killed, and other overt acts were discussed by the speaker. He said attempts had been made to trace these crimes up to the miners' unions, but that indisputable evidence had been obtained that they were perpetrated by the mine owners in order to divert attention from the real cause of trouble and to secure the aid of the militia in subjugating the miners.
The speaker said the Socialists proposed to turn the government upside down and turn the country from a political junk shop to an industrial workshop. He appealed to all workingmen to join the unions to which their respective crafts permitted them to become members and give them loyal support.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 25, 1909
LECTURE GIVEN BY "BILL" HAYWOOD"Undesirable Citizen" Gives His Views Wednesday Night on a Number of Matters
W. D. Haywood, "one of the undesirable citizens" of Colorado, who was involved in the murder charge growing out of the assassination of Governor Steunenberg of Idaho, delivered a lecture here in the Unitarian Church on Wednesday night to a fair audience. He gave a brief outline of the miners' troubles from the time of the Cripple Creek strike in 1894 up to the time of the assassination and related many of the incidents connected with the use of troops in the mining regions.
His contention was that capital was warring on labor then and still continues to do so, and declared that the only relief was through the Socialistic organization. "We are going to turn the government upside down," he declared, amid applause. "We will turn the country upside down and make the political junkshop an industrial workshop where all men and women capable will be contributing to the general development and receive in return for their labor the full social value of all they produce."
In closing he made a strong plea for the support of organized labor, and the placing of the ballot in the hands of the women of the land on the same equality as men.
- Press Democrat, March 25, 1909
ELBERT HUBBARD VISITS SANTA ROSABrilliant Author and Lecturer and Editor of "The Philistine" Calls on Luther Burbank Wednesday
Elbert Hubbard, distinguished author and lecturer, was visitor in Santa Rosa on Wednesday. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter, Miss Miriam Hubbard. They came here to visit Luther Burbank.
Mr. Hubbard is the editor of "The Philistine" and also proprietor of The Roycroft Shop in East Aurora, N. Y. His shop is devoted entirely to the making of De Luxe editions of the classics and to publishing his own works. He is a brilliant and forceful writer, and one of the best known.
"You and I are working along the same lines," Hubbard told Burbank when they bade each other goodbye. He added: "I may say, Mr. Burbank, that this visit is one that I have long had in mind. It has been a very delightful one, but all too short."
We Santa Rosans get so used to hearing men and women of prominence who visit us praise the beauties of the City of Roses that it has almost become a second nature to expect such a compliment. Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard were delighted with what they saw of the city. Mr. Hubbard had read of the devastation wrought here and in San Francisco by the earthquake. He had also seen published accounts of the rebuilding. He was lavish in his praise of the wonderful accomplishments of both cities. Speaking of his visit here on Wednesday he "just dropped in to see Mr. Burbank."
Mr. Burbank went to San Francisco last Sunday to hear Elbert Hubbard speak on the "March of the Twentieth Century." He returned home very much pleased. Hubbard also spoke at San Jose and Berkeley. He left on Wednesday night for Los Angeles.
It is a source of considerable regret that Mr. Hubbard could not deliver a lecture in this city.
- Press Democrat, April 15, 1909
ELBERT HUBBARD ON HIS VISIT TO LUTHER BURBANK
Sometime since Elbert Hubbard, the famous author and writer, came to Santa Rosa to visit Luther Burbank. At the time the Press Democrat published a short interview with him and his estimate of Burbank and his work. From his pen since then has come a splendid tribute to the distinguished Santa Rosan. The part referring to Mr. Hubbard's visit to Santa Rosa will be read with interest. It is as follows:
The next day I saw Burbank in his own garden, there at Santa Rosa. A modest man with iron-gray hair, furrowed face of tan, with blue eyes, that would be weary and sad were it not for the smiling mouth whose corners do not turn down. A gentle gentleman, low-voiced, quiet, kindly, with a welling heart of love. On Broadway, no one would see him, and on Fifth Avenue no one would turn and look. His form is slender, and smart folks, sudden and quick in conclusion, might glance at the slender form and say the man is sickly. But the discerning behold that he is the type that lives long, because he lives well. His is the strength of the silken cord that bound the god Thor when all the chains broke. He is always at work, always busy, always thinking, planning, doing, dissatisfied with the past, facing the East with eager hope. He is curious as a child, sensitive as a girl in love, strong as a man, persistent as gravitation and gifted like a god.
His hands are sinewy and strong—the hands of a sculptor. His clothes are easy and inexpensive. Children would go to him instinctively. Women would trust him.
Luther Burbank was born in Massachusetts, and those prime virtues of New England—industry and economy—are his in rare degree.
No matter how much money he might possess, Luther Burbank's mode of life would not change.
He is wedded to his work. His mother, aged ninety-six, is one of his household. His sister is his housekeeper. Two fine, intelligent young women, bookkeepers and stenographers, make up the balance of the family.
They all work—even the good mother reaching out toward the last lap of her century run, is busy. In fact, I rather guess that is the secret of her long life—an active interest in things, with plenty of responsibility for ballast.
It is a very busy household, with every day crammed with work. The stiff, formal and pedantic are beautifully absent.
These people are doing things, so they do not have to pose or pretend.
Henry Thoreau said: "The character of Jesus was essentially feminine." That is to say, the love that could embrace a world was mother-love, carried one step further. The same could truthfully be said of Luther Burbank.
Much has been written in an exaggerated way of Burbank's achievements, but the fact is, his genius is of a kind in which we can all share, and is not difficult to comprehend.
Genius, in his case, is a great capacity for hard work. Fused with this capacity is great love, great delicacy, great persistency.
Among scientists there is almost as much bigotry and dogmatism as there is among theologians.
There is canned science as well as canned religion. In truth, most so-called scientists are teachers of text-books—purveyors in canned goods.
Even among the Big Five—Tyndall, Huxley, Spencer, Wallace and Darwin—there were a few slight spots on the sun. Only one of that immortal quintette was ninety-nine and ninety-nine one-hundreths fine.
That man was Charles Darwin.
In the heart of Darwin there was no room for doubt, distrust, jealousy or hate. He was without guile. He loved Nature with a high and holy passion. He had no other gods before her.
The honesty of Darwin, his reverence for truth, the modesty of his claims set him apart as the High Priest of Science. In all the realm of physical research, Darwin seemed to have but one compeer and that was Aristotle.
Now there is a trinity, for Luther Burbank is one with these. He is a citizen of the Celestial City of Fine Minds.
[Theology and metaphysics have their jargon and jibberish. They pull the strings that make the puppets dance, and beneath their lingo they hide their ignorance. The pseudo-scientists can no more be cornered in argument and caught than you can corral an evangelist.
The tactics of the inkfish are not covered by copyright.] With Luther Burbank the clap-trap of science is beautifully missing. The tricks of the sciolist are absent.
The most beautiful words I heard him utter were these: "I do not know." He makes no effort to explain things he does not understand. He lives out his life in the light.
It is a joy to think that the bounty of Andrew Carnegie has made this great and gentle soul free from bread and butter cares, so he can give his days to science and the race.
"The land that produces beautiful flowers and luscious fruits will also produce noble men and women," said Aristotle. Also, in producing beautiful flowers and luscious fruits, men and women become noble.
The finest product of the life and work of Luther Burbank is Luther Burbank.
- Press Democrat, May 13, 1909