The Press and the President


The Press and the President


Pulitzer, Ralph, 1879-1939




1916 June 30


An Address Delivered at the Dinner of the New York Press Club to Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States,


Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton, Virginia




I must tell you how deeply I appreciate the honor of being here to-night as the spokesman for the Press. But I must also confess that I am in a rather embarrassing position. For, speaking as the representative of the Press, my appropriate and courteous function here to-night would be to assure our honored guest that the newspapers of the Nation will be solidly for him on Election Day. And yet such an assurance would seem to be a trifle premature. For in these days when a great body of our voting citizens threaten to allow themselves to be docketed, dickered for and delivered, F. O. B., G. O. P., it is a matter of pride with us that there is no such thing as a solid newspaper vote.

I hate, gentlemen, in an after-dinner speech to say that anything could be a matter of pride to the Press. Paying post-prandial compliments to the Press is neither fashionable nor popular. On the contrary you all will have noticed that the surest method of rousing an after-dinner audience to fervent enthusiasm is for a speaker to take a crack at the newspapers. Why this is so I do not know, unless perhaps because after-dinner audiences are drawn from people who invariably have guilty consciences. And they have, either at one time or another, had the truth told about them by some discourteous paper, or they have been unjustly charged with the wrong offense. And, gentlemen, as you well know, there is no one who cherishes a more poignant sense of injustice and of injury than the man who, having just committed manslaughter, gets falsely arrested for picking pockets.

Whatever the explanation of this enthusiasm for Press-baiting, I know it exists, for I have shared in it myself. Many were the excellent banquets which I attended together with the late Mayor Gaynor, and I never shall forget the exultation with which we applauded him as he scattered my dismembered fragments, about the banqueting hall.

But be that as it may, I am going to set fashion at defiance by paying one compliment to the Press to-night, and that is that no politician ever has received the support of the Press as a class by appealing to the selfish interests of the Press as a class.

You hear of the Farmer Vote and the Manufacturer’s Vote, the Labor Vote and the Wall Street Vote; but you never hear of the Park Row Vote. That is because these other interests are material interests, thriving by material means. But a newspaper, to endure, must be far more than a manufacturing enterprise. It cannot rest content with the mechanical application of black ink to white paper. It cannot be satisfied with harvesting the events of the day and manufacturing them into the news of the hour. Its life-force lies in a higher function. Among its raw materials, which find their places in its finished product, are public convictions, public principles and public ideals. The newspaper has not only a body and a brain; it has also a soul. In individual cases the soul is crippled and shrivelled. The brain is sordid and debased, the body is prostituted and debauched.

But, as a profession, the Press has a public conscience which it sets above its material advantages.

And so we may rest assured that the newspapers which will support President Wilson in this campaign will be following their honest principles, while a great majority of those who oppose him will be following their honest prejudices.

It is true the opposition will be somewhat lacking in the virtue of consistency. It will indict Mr. Wilson for being domineering on the one hand and for being pusillanimous on the other, for being stubborn and for being vacillating, for being a visionary and for being an opportunist, for being a pacifist and for being a militarist, for ignobly exploiting the enervating prosperity of the present and for deliberately precipitating the hard times of the immediate future, for being subservient to Germany and for being sycophantic to England, for putting us into Mexico and for keeping us out of Mexico.

And yet most of these mutually destructive charges are made honestly enough. They are the tribute that fanaticism pays to moderation. They merely represent the exasperation of the unbalanced extremists toward the man who believes in the just medium.

There are, of course, other opponents who do not belong in this class of extremists. There is the man who is voted by his ancestors—the hereditary Republican. There is the man who is voted by his possessions—the property Republican. There is the man who is voted by his privileges—the plutocratic Republican. There used to be the man who was voted by his ideals—the progressive Republican. But all these are honest, too, according to their lights, and so are the papers that hold their views.

Then there is the cat’s-paw contingent who are heartbroken because they cannot prevail on the President to pull other nations’ chestnuts out of the fire for them.

There are the town-scold advocates who have urged the President repeatedly to administer a reproving smack to the European buzz-saw for not revolving according to buzz-saw rules.

And there have been others who besought the President to caress the buzz-saw soothingly, in order to bring it to a standstill.

There have been those who demanded that the President meet an English blockade of German ports by establishing a German blockade of American ports and calling it an embargo.

There have been those who urged the President to banish German citizens out of the country for using the right of free speech; and those who urged the President to intern American citizens in this country by forbidding them the right of free voyage.

There have been those who wanted the President to send warships abroad to escort alien passenger ships—which was bad enough, and there have been those who wanted the President to send peace ships abroad, which, if possible, was even worse.

And, furthermore, there have been those who did not bother the President with any burdensome requests, but got busy with the pretty implements of strike and torch and dynamite.

The pro-German professional, the pro-ally dilletante, the pro-American crank, all helped the President along on his soft and easy path. And all of them have added their resentments and revenges to the opposition.

But they, too, were all honest, in their own strange ways.

Unfortunately there has been a limited amount of flagrant dishonesty, too, both among politicians and in our own profession. The political demagogue and the journalistic demagogue have desecrated the name of patriotism to further their own ambitions. The one became the self-appointed custodian of the National honor in our relations toward Germany, the other in our relations toward Mexico. In the first case we have witnessed a premeditated patriot excoriating the President and boasting how instantly he would have cowed the most arrogant and warlike nation in Europe when the most daring international deed of his career had been to launch an ultimatum at a Tangierine called Raisuli, and to pinch Panama.

In the second case we witnessed one of our most representative kleptomaniac patriots reviling the President for refusing to save our honor in Mexico by pacification judiciously blended with pilfering; burying our national morals in their mines and fertilizing their ranches with our rotting reputation.

It seems almost a pity that such pure souled publicists cannot run their ranches in the country where they print their papers; or, better still, print their papers in the country where they run their ranches.

But these are only humiliating exceptions to the rule of honesty in opposition. The rule stands.

And so I can only again assure our honored guest that, in this campaign for the vindication of his administration, that portion of the Press which supports him will support him honesty and conscientiously. That part of the Press which opposes him will oppose him honestly and conscientiously. And an honest support and an honest opposition, with an honest American people to judge between them, is all that any man has a right to ask.

I think I have the right to speak for the honest Press opposing him when I say if they should defeat him they would themselves admit, the day after election, that they had defeated no petty President, but a great Chief Magistrate in order to replace him by one whom, from their point of view, they think will be an even greater. But we claim that when the historian, our older brother, who is the journalist of the centuries, looks back with unclouded vision on our troubled times he will dispassionately set it down that Woodrow Wilson’s service to his country, with all its human fallibilities, placed him among our very greatest Presidents, and made inevitable the triumphant re-election which was his.


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924



Pulitzer, Ralph, 1879-1939, “The Press and the President,” 1916 June 30, WWP21009, Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.