Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘New York World’

Yellow Journalism

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 27, 2016

My friend, the late Jerry Flowers (8 January 1947 – 7 November 2016), used the rallying cry, “Commit journalism” to move his friends to action.   It was one of the things I remember most fondly about conversations with Jerry who believed in promoting the highest ideals regardless of the profession in which one was engaged.

The complete opposite from the kind of journalism is yellow journalism.    Yellow journalism is sensationalist, exaggerated reporting that relies heavily on distorted stories that have little to no legitimate facts.  It also uses unnamed sources to provide believable sound bites and the stories are published with scandalous headlines to draw attention to itself.  Reporting lies and rumors as fact is a large part of yellow journalism.  The major focus of yellow journalism is to excite public opinion and to sell more newspapers than might otherwise be sold.

Yellow journalism is easy to spot as it generally has all five of these characteristics which are easily identifiable.

  1. Fearmongering headlines in large print;
  2. Pictures that are used out-of-context to lend credence to the fake story;
  3. Pseudoscience, fake interviews, and/or false information from alleged experts;
  4. Scare tactics and highly charged emotional words and symbols used; and
  5. Dramatic sympathy for the underdog fighting the system in an effort to get the word out.

You may assume that yellow journalism is a term that came about during WWII and that it was an insult aimed at the Japanese.  You would be incorrect if that was your guess as to where the term originated.  The term yellow journalism goes back much further than WWII.

Back in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst (29 April 1863 – 14 August 1951) was the owner and publisher of the New York Journal newspaper, and József Pulitzer (10 April 1847 – 29 October 1911) was the owner and publisher of the New York World newspaper.  The techniques of yellow journalism have their humble beginnings in the New York World newspaper in the 1880s although the term yellow journalism hadn’t been invented yet.

In the Spring of 1893, the New York World ran a popular cartoon strip about life in New York’s slums and this cartoon strip, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, was titled, “Hogan’s Alley.”  The break-out character from the cartoon strip was the Yellow Kid.  William Randolph Hearst hired Richard F. Outcault (14 January 1863 – 25 September 1928) away from the New York World to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.  József Pulitzer hired a new cartoonist who continued to draw the cartoon for his newspaper.

yellow-kid

The competition between the newspapers raged on with each newspaper trying to outdo the other right down to the Yellow Kid.  It wasn’t long before the sensationalist stories and outrageous pictures in both newspapers became known as the competition of the “yellow kids.”  Shortly thereafter, such  journalism was labeled yellow journalism.

When the U.S. battleship Maine was sunk in the Havana harbor in Cuba, the rush was on to get a newspaper out that would outsell the competitor.  Since both newspapers had fanned the anti-Spanish public opinion flames for years, the publishers felt it was to them to beat their competitor to the news stands.  The publishers directed their reporters to write stories intended to tug at the heartstrings of Americans.

An illustrator by the name of Frederic Sackrider Remington  (October 4, 1861 – December 26, 1909) worked for William Randolph Hearst and was stationed in Havana.  He sent a cable to William Randolph Hearst that read:   “Everything is quiet.  No trouble here.  There will be no war.  Wish to return.  Remington.”

In response, William Randolph Hearst cabled back, “Please remain.  You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.  Hearst.”

new-york-journal_maine-destroyed

Both newspapers carried all manner of atrocities from scandals to the Buldensuppe mystery (where a man was allegedly found headless, armless, and legless) leading up to the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine.  Once the battleship was sunk, every atrocity was fair game for publication:  Female prisoners, executions, rebels fighters, starving children, and American women stripped naked by soldiers.

It wasn’t long before there were countless other tabloids hitting the market, and each of them tried to out tall tale tell each other with their stories.  However, the two newspapers responsible for this style of reporting, were at the head of their class, and yellow journalism flourished.

The expression yellow journalism therefore dates back to the days of William Randolph Hearst and József Pulitzer and the mid-1890s.

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Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hold Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 22, 2013

If an idea, reason or argument is strong and coherent, doesn’t seem to have any holes, and stands up under critical examination, it’s said to hold water. Conversely, if it’s a bad idea or a poor argument, you’ll hear people say it won’t hold water.

On November 29, 2001 Neha Kaushik’s article on Coca-Cola Indias (CCI) was published in The Hindu newspaper. The article reported that strategies applied by the soft drink giant resulted in the company garnering 24 percent in the packaged water segment in just over a year. The article was entitled, “Coke’s Plans Hold Water.”

When the Lodi News Sentinel wrote about Vice-President Ford’s “Meet The Press” appearance in their January 10, 1974 edition, the difficult position Gerald Ford found himself in was clear. It was reported that the “Meet The Press” interviewer had recalled comments Gerald Ford had made before with regards to impeaching a President. It appears that Gerald Ford stammered and attempted to “bail himself out of the dilemma” only to make another comment the reporter latched on to. In the news story, the article ended with this comment:

The grounds for impeachment cited in Section 4, Article II apply not only to the president and vice president which clearly includes judges. Ford’s explanation of the discrepancy between his views in 1970 and today on grounds for impeachment does not hold water.

Back on October 10, 1932 the Ellensurg Daily Records reported on the captain of the prison guards at the Sunbeam prison camp near Jacksonville, Florida who allegedly whipped Arthur Maillefert with an 18-inch length of 3 inch rubber hose, normally used for coupling freight cars. At the time, whipping prisoners was against Florida laws. Things went terribly wrong and Maillefert died, which led Captain Courson to coerce other prisoners into lying about what had happened. The story stated that one of the witnesses alleged the following was true:

“Then Captain Courson told me: ‘Bob, there’s liable to be some trouble over this.'”

“Yes, Cap’n, it is a pretty tight spot,” Blake said he replied.

“He told me to go in and get him five or six witnesses who might be able to clear him at a trial.”

“I did. After I went out I told Courson I thought he had a story that would hold water.”

The witnesses said they “framed it” so several convicts would testify that Maillefert intended to commit suicide.

It’s unfortunate that the story didn’t give details about when the court case was due to resume, or if the judge made arrived at a verdict that day. It also didn’t indicate what the penalty might be if a guilty verdict was rendered. In spite of all this, the story was aptly entitled:

Prison Guard Framed Story Says Extrusty: Says Officer Obtained His Help In Framing Alibi That Would Hold Water At Trial

Nearly two generations before that story was published, the Lewiston Evening Journal ran a story from Bangor, Maine on October 13, 1887. This story was about the articles in the New York World and Boston Globe newspapers reporting on the bank robbery in Dexter. There were several discrepancies highlighted such as the fact that, due to the amount of snow on the ground, the robbers couldn’t have driven away in a wagon as alleged. This story was entitled:

Editor Robbins Scouts the Theory of Murder Still: He Says The Confession of Stair Does Not Hold Water

The expression was even found in the Daily National Intelligencer of July 15, 1842 with regards to the bill to provide revenue from imports, and to change and modify existing laws imposing duties on imports and for other purposes which was debated in on July 11 in the House of Representatives. When C.J. Ingersoll to the floor, he had a lot to say about the situation, some of which had its roots in discussing free trade and direct taxation extending from 1783. His comments made their way to what Mr. Ingersoll referred to as the Nullification war, and the Compromise Act of 1833, and in the course of his statements, he stated the following:

Among other things it had been stated that there were but about sixty-seven thousand persons immediately interested in manufactures, and these protection bills were to be passed for that handful of men! Very well; admitting it to be so, how many shipping merchants were there in the United States? About forty thousand probably; and was not our entire navigation system framed to protect them? Laws not merely protective, but absolutely prohibitory? The doctrine that no legislation was to take place for the benefit of particular classes in the country would never hold water. How many lawyers were there in the United States? (and this objection came from one who was himself a distinguished lawyer) Were there fifteen thousand? And were the laws which guarded their profession all robbery and plunder?

Other politicians took to the floor and shared their opinions, and in the end, the newspaper reported that the debate was to be continued.

English actor, playwright, and poet laureate, Colley Cibber (June 11, 1671 – November 12, 1757) wrote “She Wou’d, and She Wou’d Not: Or the Kind Imposter. A Comedy, as it is Acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane by His Majesty’s Servants” which was published in 1703.  In Act IV of this play, the expression was used here:

This business will never hold water.

As research continued, an old Swedish proverb was found that read: “Don’t throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water.”  Now that’s very good advice indeed, and certainly drives home the point that an old bucket without holes in it beats a new bucket that won’t hold water … both literally and figuratively speaking.

Although Idiomation was unable to pin an exact date to the Swedish proverb, the expression dates back to at least the early 1600s, and this is suggested based in part on the ease with which Colley Cibber used it in his play in 1703.

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Shot In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 28, 2011

Very different from being in the dark, a shot in the dark means you’re taking a calculated but wild guess about something about which you know nothing or next-to-nothing about in the first place.

On November 17, 2010 the Independent Newspaper in the UK ran a story by Stephen Foley on the U.S. Federal Reserve whose mandate ensuring full employment in the U.S. be removed in order to focus solely on price stability.  Former Federal Reserve vice-chairman, Alan Blinder was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying:

The anti-Keynesian revival has been disheartening enough. But now the economic equivalent of the Flat Earth Society is turning its fury on Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. It is not a shot in the dark, not a radical departure from conventional monetary policy, and certainly not a form of currency manipulation.

Back on July 16, 1960 readers of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix read a news story written by journalist Ned Powers entitled, “Four Canadian Records Fall.”  He wrote about a young athlete named Smith, a late starter from Weyburn, who made good with his final broad jump to upset the international campaigner, Jack Smyth of Winnipeg.

It could be hardly classed as a shot in the dark for young Smith, who best exemplified the steady rise of youth in Canada’s track and field program.  He bettered 22 feet on three occasions and had the least fouls among the entries.

On May 30, 1922 the New York Times reported on Senator Lodge, representing Massachusetts as well as Senate Leader at the time, and the troublesome word “if” that was eventually deleted from a Senate Tariff Bill.  Concerned about a possible Democratic filibuster against the bill, it took five hours before the troublesome word “if” was stricken from one of the clauses in the Senate Tariff Bill.  The story, was entitled quite simply, “A Tariff If.”  The news article read in part:

[Massachusetts Senator Lodge] admits that the fundamental conditions of tariff legislation today are entirely different from what they ever were before.  The “utterly distorted and dislocated” foreign exchanges make, he confesses, any given rate a duty little more today than a shot in the dark.  Still he would have no delay in passing a bill which, in the course of a few months, may be found to have included rates wholly unnecessary for protection and outrageously oppressive in their effect on prices.

On April 1, 1884 the Warsaw Daily Times carried a story that most definitely was not an April Fool’s joke.  The news article reported on an incident stemming from a game of cards at Cole’s Creek, Columbia county in Pennsylvania, the previous Sunday.  It would appear that Charles Davis, Charles Mills, James Royer and Henry Williams had entered a tavern and started up a poker game with amounts being wagered finally reaching $500 a side — a very tidy some back in 1884.   

As oftentimes is the case in these very emotional high stakes poker games, there was disagreement as to whether a particular player had cheated; in this case, Williams reached for the stakes when Royer claimed he had seen Davis cheat.  The money was knocked to the floor and a row ensued where revolvers were drawn and the barroom emptied. What was referred to back in the day as a “promiscuous firing” occurred and when all was said and done, all four were found lying on the floor, dead.  The headline to the detailed account of the incident was:

Shot In The Dark: Deadly Pistol Practice With The Lights Out

The double entendre was not lost on the readers of the Warsaw Daily Times in Letters to the Editor in subsequent newspaper editions.  While it has been claimed that George Bernard Shaw appears to have been the first person to use the phrase metaphorically, as evidenced by The Saturday Review of February 1895, to others it appears that the metaphorical use of the phrase “shot in the dark” was already a humourous jibe a decade before George Bernard Shaw‘s clever use of the phrase.

No doubt, the literal sense of the phrase hinting at the figurative sense of the phrase can be found in the New York World newspaper of February 15, 1870 that reported:

To level his weapon and fire was the work of a moment; but as both figures fled the shot seemed to have been wasted.  Upon examining the spot in the morning, however, the gentleman found a considerable quantity of blood upon the trampled grass, and traces of it for some distance from the house.  Soon after the sod of a graveyard near the house was found to have been disturbed as though in preparation for the removal of a body, and the neighbors resolved the attempted burglary into the wanderings of a couple of would-be “body-snatchers” whom the alarmed householder had frightened and grazed by his random shot.

The news story was aptly entitled:

A Shot In The Dark: Strange Solution Of A Family Mystery

Idiomation was able to find several published literal versions of the phrase in newspapers and books prior to 1870, however, none of them appeared to have the figurative sense implied or carefully crafted into the headline so as to create a double meaning to the phrase “shot in the dark.”

One such story is from the New Zealand Colonist edition of October 18, 1842 that related an anecdote about the Emperor, Napoleon and the Battle of Jena at Weimar.  The anecdote ends with:

The Emperor laughed, and to reconcile the poor fellow to himself, said, as he withdrew, “My brave lad, it was not your fault; for a random shot in the dark, yours was not amiss; it will soon be daylight; take a better aim, and I’ll provide for you.”

Idiomation is relieved to hear that the literal sense for the expression is much less in use nowadays than its figurative use of the expression.

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