For the two-fold purpose of background and perspective, I include the following additional information. The subjects of this volume had predecessors, men who covered previous wars. These early correspondents were a different breed from the group that reported World War II. Before the reader can make his own comparisons, he must understand something about the journalists who covered the Civil War and World War I. Hopefully, some limited understanding of those men and their impact on journalism can be gleaned from the capsulized picture below.
Louis M. Starr presents a colorful account of the Civil War reporters in Bohemian Brigade. The "Bohemian Brigade" was the self-styled name for the young and daring northern newspapermen who reported the battles for their respective publications. They were a race apart and rather delightedly conscious of it. They had a roving commission, and they lived like vagabonds in the open air among the armies, white tents, cannon, drums, and fighting. Competition ruled these Bohemians. While it inspired their finest work, it also drove them to "bribery, subterfuge, plagiarism, and outright fakery." Pick-lock journalism became the order of the day.
The Bohemians had one overriding and very identifiable journalistic philosophy: get the news, and get it first --at any cost. They exalted the beat above all else. Reporters of the next generation were to be schooled in the same philosophy. The Bohemians made great contributions to their newspapers, to the American public, to President Lincoln, and to journalistic progress. It is true that they provided useful information to the enemy via their war reports, but this was indirect and unintended. Their steady flow of war news did much to boost Union morale. The millions who read the dispatches felt tightly bound by a sense of shared experience. This solidarity prevailed throughout the bad times and despite divisive factors. The concept of nationality took on a new meaning as the nation became exposed to constant, first-hand accounts of men and battles. For the first time our whole nation knew its leaders, what happened yesterday, and what might happen today. The entire country knew the business it was about.
As with the modern press, the Bohemians coined words and phrases that became household expressions: "flank attack," "military necessity," "On to Richmond," and "all quite on the Potomac" to name a few.
Often, the newsman's report provided President Lincoln with the first news of a battle's outcome. This was true in the case of the Merrimac, Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. Lincoln greatly appreciated the early word which the Bohemians so often supplied him.
The Bohemians established the right to report, but only after struggling with censorship for the war's duration. They overcame restrictions imposed by such powerful figures as Secretary of War Stanton and General Sherman, to name the two most adamant censors. They did so by rail, by mail, by messenger, by code, and by crook. In the end, society and government came to recognize the important function reporters perform in their behalf.
The Civil War was a great internal revolution which dramatically changed many aspects of American life and American institutions. Journalism of the day was no exception. As a result of the Civil War, journalism experienced a news revolution. This was a drastic and permanent change for the better.
Pre-war newspapers had been political in nature and strongly biased. The Superintendent of the 1860 Census officially classified all 373 daily newspapers as "political in their character."
The Bohemians altered the strong political bias. This was evident in the more temperate campaign journalism of the 1864 presidential election. War news left less space for editorial dirty work. But primarily, as the author stated, "After three years of tolerably factual reporting, readers could scarcely be expected to swallow the diatribes and fabrications of old, and managing editors knew it."
Pre-war press had also emphasized opinions and editorials over news. Horace Greeley's famed editorial prowess was one important reason for The New York Tribune's regional, even national, prominence in the ante-bellum period. Greeley's journalistic credo had been: the newspaper must provide American society with leadership before anything else -- moral, political, artistic, and intellectual leadership. His paper had attempted to provide this leadership by means of Greeley's own editorial crusades for causes he personally believed in.
The Civil War changed the whole emphasis of American journalism. No longer did editorials make or mar a paper. The success and power of a newspaper came to depend wholly on two things: (1) its success in getting news and (2) its skill in presenting news. The news became a journalist's work; editorials became his play.
In this new journalism, speed, efficiency, and a nose for news supplanted the old emphasis on rhetoric, bombast, and belles-lettres. Editors became increasingly aware of their responsibilities and toned down headlines to convey more of the sense of the dispatches they accompanied. The New York Times led the way in this by frequently inserting such remarks as "It is well to say that this information needs confirmation."
The war affected newspaper circulation and routine. In April of 1861 The Tribune announced plans to publish an evening edition throughout the war. The New York Herald soon countered with editions issued at 1:30, 3, and 4:30 p.m. daily. (The "extra" became a part of everyday life. The Tribune, Times, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Herald independently launched Sunday editions. As a result, railroads instituted a special Sunday newspaper express where crowds awaited them at every station. (Later in the war provincial papers came into their own as weekly editions of the New York papers declined and their own press runs increased.)
One Bohemian, Samuel Wilkeson of The Tribune, introduced the era of the inside operator -- the man who seeks not only to report news, but to learn everything he is not allowed to report -- the man who makes arrangements for getting confidential information and keeps his editor posted on what is happening now and likely to happen next. These inside reports are characteristic of modern reporting.
It is interesting to note that the byline first appeared during the Civil War. It is even more interesting that General (Fighting) Joe Hooker was responsible for it. Hooker wanted to know who was responsible for certain stories that he found questionable or, at least to his interests, objectionable. He directed reporters to sign their copy. He merely had the dispatches transmitted with the reporters' name. Thus we had the "byline" which is in such universal use today. For the first time, some reporters became familiar by name to Northern readers.
In all of the above ways, the Civil War and the devoted Bohemians acted to change the course of journalism progress, laying the foundation for modern newspaper reporting in the process.
World War I
Emmet Crozier relates varied experiences of war correspondents during the World War I years in American Reporters on the Western Front 1914-18. It primarily portrays what the war was like for them and especially how censorship on all sides prevented them from effectively covering that war's progress.
In the beginning of the European conflict in 1914, millions of men were called to arms. The routine of life was disrupted for millions more. The author explains the state of the press during those early months:
For the newspapermen it was a period of intense activity and frustration. This was the biggest challenge journalism had known, but it was also a time of confusion, rumors, official secrecy. The impact of war was both the tidal wave and an impenetrable fog. Some of the newspapermen understood what was happening and tried to tell about it. . . . It could be that the world as they had known it was finished. Meanwhile, they were the historians.
Since William Howard Russell's' dispatches from the Crimea in 1856, the role of the war correspondent might have been recognized as a quasi-public function by the press and people, but from the early days of the 20th century hostilities, it was clear that the military was not of the same mind.
It was not unreasonable for the American war correspondents to expect that accredited journalists would be provided accommodations with the forces in the field. After all, how else could they observe and report military developments? Their rude awakening was to a total impasse. The British War Office had established an Information Bureau in London which issued censored news items to the press. They contained what military authorities thought prudent to disclose. That was the extent of early war coverage.
No newspaperman had been accredited to either the British Expeditionary Force or to the Belgian Army. Only a government laissez-passer and American passport afforded the journalists what limited freedom of movement they had behind the lines. For the duration of the war, only one American journalist was accredited to the B.E.F. He was Frederick Palmer, official correspondent for the three American wire services: AP, UP, and the INS. He was thereby the official reporter for all American newspapers.
Before the United States declared war, its correspondents were able to cover both sides of hostilities. Their encounters with the Germans were not unpleasant. The Germans treated the newspapermen more considerately than did the English. Their motive was to gain a favorable hearing in the American press.
The French, like the British, ignored the American correspondents whenever possible. They too set up a bureau for the issuance of official war bulletins. Laissez-passers were issued to those who qualified. These green cards gave the bearer the dubious privilege of entering the War Ministry three times daily at 10 a.m., 3 p.m., and 11 p.m. to receive official bulletins which contained neither news nor information.
As a result of the total absence of cooperation with the press, some of the American correspondents ventured out on their own to find the fighting and report it. The French strongly opposed these unauthorized sojourns. It was not unusual for an American returning from covering the scene of battle to be arrested by the French, thrown in jail, and sometimes treated like a spy.
The truth is that top French and English military officials like General Joffre and General Kitchener thought the press ought to be throttled in time of war. They regarded newspapers and dangerous instruments of communication with the enemy.
Consequently, they created a dilemma for those who tried to report war news: correspondents either waited endlessly in the anterooms of military bureaucrats or they were harassed, insulted, and treated like spies when they ventured into the field. In every conceivable way, the officials suppressed straightforward battle news. They did not understand that nothing could influence world opinion in their favor as persuasively as facts presented objectively in the press.
A typical example of British censorship involved the 1915 Zeppelin attack on London. All London was aroused by the bombs dropped by a huge German airship. The British War Office Information Bureau decided to keep the attack quite. It therefore forbad correspondents to mention the incident, and the newspapers were forbidden to publish any accounts of it.
Even after the American journalists attained a semblance of recognition with the Allied armies in France, they still had to contend with the "tyrany of capricious censorship." In 1915, Edward Bell of the Chicago Daily News summed up the situation in a speech when he said, ". . . the (British) censorship justly may be described as chaotic, political, discriminatory, destructive, unchivalrous, in effect, anti-British, in effect pro-German, ludicrous, incompetent, incredible."
When reporters attempted to send back realistic accounts of an Allied defeat or setback, their copy was seized or ruthlessly cut by censors. Some were warned against writing critical reports. And if one attempted to violate censorship by bypassing the censors, his credentials were revoked, his name was placed on the War Office blacklist, and his career as a war correspondent was virtually at an end. Yet against these odds the unique, undisciplined, nonconforming correspondents persisted in their efforts to cover the war. Although barred from the Army's lines, they somehow managed to get their dispatches back to London.
The first official breakthrough in the hard line press policy did not come until eleven months after the onset of war. Six journalists were finally accredited to the British forces. Although still restricted, they were able to inform the outside world of what was happening on the Western Front for the first time.
No marked improvement of the press situation accompanied the entry of the United States into the fighting. At that time, the British had five accredited correspondents with their army in France, and the French had twelve. General Pershing decided to allow twelve American correspondents with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe. (That number was slightly increased later in the war.) Each press association and newspaper qualifying for accreditation was required to deposit $3,000 with the War Department to ensure payment for transport and other expenses and as a forfeit in case of gross violation of rules. Each accredited correspondent wore a conventional Army officer's uniform with Sam Browne belt and green arm band with a letter "C" on it.
Just a few complaints the American correspondents cites against G-2-D (Military Intelligence) the American Press Division, included: (1) It had failed to inform them when the first American troops were moved into the front line. (2) They could not send dispatches about the American bayoneting of their first German prisoner. (3) They could not report on the finding of three U.S. soldiers dead, with throats cut, after the first night raid by the Germans on American lines. The American people were shielded from learning the grim facts of war. These G-2-D shortcomings stirred the American journalists to protest. They resented being gagged from telling the truth about military inefficiency and arrogance in France. Restrictions, prohibitions, delays, and the unfitness of some censors for their work made it impossible for American newspapermen to do their job. One of the few journalistic firsts of the war period was the beginning of publication of a weekly newspaper for the troops overseas. The first issue of The Stars and Stripes appeared on February 8, 1918.
The restrictions of censorship were not relaxed until February of 1918. It was not until near the end of hostilities that the correspondents experienced trench life and dug-out cookery for the first time.
But at no time during the war was the press ever reasonably free. The correspondents even faced frustrating censorship after the armistice of November, 1918. At the same time that a new German government was trying to function in the defeated Fatherland, the press was told it must confine its news-gathering to the old battlefields and newly liberated areas of northern France. So it was that military authority and newspapermen skirmished to the end -- and after it.
It is ironic and unfortunate that the only skirmish the press really won paved the way for World War II. The press was oblivious to the dangers inherent in a post-war vacuum and the need to help Europe return to peace and order. Instead, the press espoused the popular view that homesick troops should be brought home and that the United States should avoid further European involvement. Floyd Gibbons carried the day by running a banner line every day on the front page of The Chicago Tribune's European edition:
GET THE BOYS HOME TOOT SWEET!
The boys did come home, only to return some 24 years later.
12 June 1975