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Saturday, May 24, 2014

New Eyes on old New York Times Articles

by Jamie Lutton

It is not only the question of the world views of Hitler during his rise to power, and his first years as Fuhrer that intrigue me.

I would love to go through, say, the New York Times, to narrow it down to one newspaper, and see how they covered different eras. It would be worth reprinting their own articles, to reveal what prejudices they showed, and what, say, the editorial page looked like from decade to decade. Even from year to year, when the society was changing quickly.

I am not picking on this newspaper in any particular way, except that it is a very old  and respected paper, and is still being published, so there is some continuity that makes their statements somewhat less quaint.

The received wisdom that we tend to get in the history books allowed  in  public schools, was that America always knew what it was doing; and rarely went wrong.  The newspapers of the day, in particular this one, does give witness that this is simply not so. 

Think of all sorts of matters that are settled today, that were wildly controversial in their own time. A few examples might include the struggle in this country for blacks to achieve any civil rights for the last 150 years.. I understand that the when the New York Times covered the funeral of Fredrick Douglass they commented that he was so intelligent because he had 'white blood' in him.  That would be fun to dig up and reprint.

A careful selection of topics  might be fun to go check and see what the current wisdom was.  Women's struggle for the vote, and married women's property rights in the early 20th century.  The rights of Native Americans. The rights of Chinese and other Asian citizens and immigrants.

Closer to our time, how the  New York Times handled the new idea of women working outside of the home, and wanting to enter 'nontraditional' work places, like becoming lawyers, doctors, and engineers, and how this was seen as heretical and mocked gently and not so gently.  In the late 1960's. I recall this, myself, from when I was a teen.   Perhaps some of the respected journalists who wrote them went on to change their tune as the culture changed.

Then, it would be good to show to those interested in the modern civil rights era to see how the works of Dr. Martin Luther King jr. was covered by the press. I do believe there was a call, almost in unison, that he was asking for too much, and going too far, from every newspaper and from every pundit - that was white - for decades.

There is a book in this. I do not have the talent or the resources to write it, at least now, but it would be wildly entertaining.  It would only take a microfilm reader, some focus, some patience, and a strong stomach.   

A few of the most famous arrogant errors  of the Times are fairly notorious - who has not heard that when the Wright brothers made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, the New York Times did not believe it, and would not report the event for several years? This story is often repeated in aviation history books.
          
  

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