Liberty And News

WHAT MODERN LIBERTY
MEANS

~””i

FROM our recent experience it is
clear that the traditional liberties
of speech and opinion rest on no solid
foundation. At a time when the world”
needs above all other things the activity
of generous imaginations and the crea-
tive leadership of planning and inventive
minds, our thinking is shriveled with
panic. Time and energy that should go j
to building and restoring are instead con-
sumed in warding off the pin-pricks of
prejudice and fighting a guerilla war
against misunderstanding and intoler-
ance. For suppression is felt, not simply
by the scattered individuals who are ac-
tually suppressed. It reaches back into
the steadiest minds, creating tension
19

Liberty and the News

everywhere; and the tension of fear pro-
duces sterility. Men cease to say what
they think; and when they cease to say
it, they soon cease to think it. They
think in reference to their critics and not
in reference to the facts. For when
thought becomes socially hazardous, men

j spend more time wondering about the
hazard than they do in cultivating their
thought. Yet nothing is more certain
than that mere bold resistance will not
permanently liberate men’s minds. The
problem is not only greater than that, but
different, and the time is ripe for recon-

; sideration. We have learned that many
of the hard-won rights of man are ut-

i terly insecure. It may be that we can-
not make them secure simply by imitat-
ing the earlier champions of liberty.

Something important about the human
character was exposed by Plato when,
with the spectacle of Socrates’s death be-
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What Modern Liberty Means

fore him, he founded Utopia on a cen-
sorship stricter than any which exists on
this heavily censored planet His intol-
erance seems strange. But it is really the
logical expression of an impulse that
most of us have not the candor to recog-
nize. It was the service of Plato to
formulate the dispositions of men in the
shape of ideals, and the surest things we
can learn from him are not what we
ought to do, but what we are inclined
to do. We are peculiarly inclined to ‘
suppress whatever impugns the security i
of that to which we have given our al-
legiance. If our loyalty is turned to what
exists, intolerance begins at its frontiers;^] if it is turned, as Plato’s was, to Utopia,
we shall find Utopia defended with in-
tolerance.

There are, so far as I can discover, no
absolutists of liberty; I can recall no
doctrine of liberty, which, under the acid
21

Liberty and the News

test, does not become contingent upon
some other ideal. The goal is never lib-
X’ ferty, but liberty for something or other.
For liberty is a condition under which
activity takes place, and men’s interests
attach themselves primarily to their ac-
tivities and what is necessary to fulfill
them, not to the abstract requirements
of any activity that might be conceived.

And yet controversialists rarely take
this into account. The battle is fought
with banners on which are inscribed ab-
solute and universal ideals. They are
not absolute and universal in fact. No
man has ever thought out an absolute or
a universal ideal in politics, for the sim-
ple reason that nobody knows^enough,
\ or can know enough, to do it. But we
all use absolutes, because an ideal which
seems to exist apart from time, space,
and circumstance has a prestige that no
candid avowal of special purpose can
22

What Modern Liberty Means

ever have. Looked at from one point of
view universals are part of the fighting
apparatus in men. What they desire
enormously they easily come to call
God’s will, or their nation’s purpose.
Looked at genetically, these idealizations
are probably born in that spiritual rev-
erie where all men live most of the time.
In reverie there is neither time, space,
nor particular reference, and hope is om-
nipotent. This omnipotence, which is
denied to them in action, nevertheless il-
luminates activity with a sense of utter
and irresistible value.

The classic doctrine of liberty consists
of absolutes. It consists of them except
at the critical points where the author
has come into contact with objective diffi-
culties. Then he introduces into the ar-
gument, somewhat furtively, a reserva-
tion which liquidates its universal mean-
ing and reduces the exalted plea for
23

Liberty and the News

liberty in general to a special argument
for the success of a special purpose.

There are at the present time, for in-
stance, no more fervent champions of
liberty than the western sympathizers
with the Russian Soviet government.
Why is it that they are indignant when
Mr. Burleson suppresses a newspaper and
complacent when Lenin does? And,
vice versa, why is it that the anti-Bol-
shevist forces in the world are in favor
of restricting constitutional liberty as a
preliminary to establishing genuine lib-
erty in Russia? Clearly the argument
about liberty has little actual relation to
the existence of it. It is the purpose of
the social conflict, not the freedom of
opinion, that lies close to the heart of the
-^partisans. The word liberty is a weapon
\. and an advertisement, but certainly not

L

^ an ideal which transcends all special
i aims.

24

What Modern Liberty Means

If there were any man who believed
in liberty apart from particular pur-
poses, that man would be a hermit con-
templating all existence with a hopeful
and neutral eye. For him, in the last
analysis, there ~ould be nothing worth
resisting, nothing particularly worth at-
taining, nothing particularly worth de-
fending, not even the right of hermits
to contemplate existence with a cold and
neutral eye. He would be loyal simply
to the possibilities of the human spirit,
even to those possibilities which most
seriously impair its variety and its health.
No such man has yet counted much in
the history of politics. For what every
theorist of liberty has meant is that cer-
tain types of behavior and classes of
opinion hitherto regulated should be
somewhat differently regulated in the
future. What each seems to say is that
opinion and action should be free; that
2$

Liberty and the News

liberty is the highest and most sacred
interest of life. But somewhere each of
them inserts a weasel clause to the ef-
fect that “of course” the freedom granted
J jshall not be employed too destructively.
It is this clause which checks exuberance
and reminds us that, in spite of appear-
ances, we are listening to finite men
pleading a special cause.

Among the English classics none are
more representative than Milton’s Areo-
pagitlca and the essay On Liberty by
John Stuart Mill. Of living men Mr.
Bertrand Russell is perhaps the most
outstanding advocate of liberty. The
three together are a formidable set of wit-
nesses. Yet nothing is easier than to
draw texts from each which can be cited
either as an argument for absolute lib-
erty or as an excuse for as much repres-
sion as seems desirable at the moment.
Says Milton:

26

What Modern Liberty Means

Yet if all cannot be of one mind, as who
looks they should be? this doubtles is more
wholsome, more prudent, and more Chris-
tian that many be tolerated, rather than all
compel!’ d.

So much for the generalization. Now
for the qualification which follows im-
mediately upon it.

I mean not tolerated Popery, and open
superstition, which as it extirpats all re-
ligions and civill supremacies, so itself should
be extirpat, provided first that all charitable
and compassionat means be used to win and
regain the weak and misled : that also which
is impious or evil absolutely either against
faith or maners no law can possibly permit,
that intends not to unlaw it self: but those
neighboring differences, or rather indiffer-
ences, are what I speak of, whether in some
point of doctrine or of discipline, which
though they may be many, yet need not in-
terrupt the unity of spirit, if we could but
find among us the bond of peace.
27

Liberty and the News

With this as a text one could set up
an inquisition. Yet it occurs in the nob-
lest plea for liberty that exists in the
English language. The critical point in
Milton’s thought is revealed by the word
“indifferences.” The area of opinion
which he wished to free comprised the
“neighboring differences” of certain
Protestant sects, and only these where
they were truly ineffective in manners
and morals. Milton, in short, had come
to the conclusion that certain conflicts
of doctrine were sufficiently insignificant
to be tolerated. The conclusion de-
pended far less upon his notion of the
value of liberty than upon his conception
of God and human nature and the Eng-

‘land of his time. He urged indifference

to things that were becoming indifferent.
** If we substitute the word indifference

for the word liberty, we shall come much
closer to the real intention that lies be-

28

What Modern Liberty Means

hind the classic argument. Liberty is to
be permitted where differences are of no
great moment. It is this definition which
has generally guided practice. In timeSj
when men feel themselves secure, heresy
is cultivated as the spice of life. During
a war liberty disappears as the commu-
nity feels itself menaced. When revolu-
tion seems to be contagious, heresy-hunt-
ing is a respectable occupation. In other
words, when men are not afraid, they
are not afraid of ideas; when they are
much afraid, they are afraid of anything
that seems, or can even be made to ap-
pear, seditious. That is why nine-tenths
of the effort to live and let live consists
in proving that the thing we wish to have
tolerated is really a matter of indiffer-
ence.

In Mill this truth reveals itself still

more clearly. Though his argument is
29

Liberty and the News

surer and completer than Milton’s, the
qualification is also surer and completer.

Such being the reasons which make it im-
perative that human beings should be free to
form opinions, and to express their opinions
without reserve; and such the baneful conse-
quences to the intellectual and through that
to the moral nature of man, unless this lib-
erty is either conceded or asserted in spite
of prohibition, let us next examine whether
the same reasons do not require that men
should be free to act upon their opinions, to
carry these out in their lives, without hin-
drance, either moral or physical, from their
fellow men, so long as it is at their own risk
and peril. This last proviso is of course in-
dispensable. No one pretends that actions
should be as free as opinions. On the con-
trary, even opinions lose their immunity when
the circumstances in which they are expressed
are such as to constitute their expression a
positive instigation to some mischievous act.

“At their own risk and peril.” In
other words, at the risk of eternal dam-
nation. The premise from which Mill
30

What Modern Liberty Means

argued was that many opinions then un-
der the ban of society were of no interest
to society, and ought therefore not to be
‘interfered with. The orthodoxy with
which he was at war was chiefly theo-
cratic. It assumed that a man’s opin-
ions on cosmic affairs might endanger his
personal salvation and make him a dan-
gerous member of society. Mill did not
believe in the theological view, did not
fear damnation, and was convinced that
morality did not depend upon the re-
ligious sanction. In fact, he was con-
vinced that a more reasoned morality
could be formed by laying aside theolog-
ical assumptions. “But no one pretends
that actions should be as free as opin-
ions.” The plain truth is that Mill did
not believe that much action would re-
sult from the toleration of those opinions
in which he was most interested.

Political heresy occupied the fringe of

Liberty and the News

his attention, and he uttered only the
most casual comments. So incidental
are they, so little do they impinge on his
mind, that the arguments of this staunch
apostle of liberty can be used honestly,
and in fact are used, to justify the bulk
of the suppressions which have recently
occurred. “Even opinions lose their im-
munity, when the circumstances in which
they are expressed are such as to consti-
tute their expression a positive instiga-
tion to some mischievious act.” Clearly
there is no escape here for Debs or Hay-
wood or obstructors of Liberty Loans.
The argument used is exactly the one
employed in sustaining the conviction of
Debs.

In corroboration Mill’s single concrete
instance may be cited: “An opinion that
corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or
that private property is robbery, ought
to be unmolested when simply circulated
32

What Modern Liberty Means

through the press, but may justly incur
punishment when delivered orally to an
excited mob assembled before the house
of a corn dealer, or when handed about
among the same mob in the form of a
placard.”

Clearly Mill’s theory of liberty wore
a different complexion when he consid-
ered opinions which might directly affect
social order. Where the stimulus of
opinion upon action was effective he
could say with entire complacency, “The
liberty of the individual must be thus far
limited; he must not make himself a
nuisance to other people.” Because Mill
believed this, it is entirely just to infer
that the distinction drawn between a
speech or placard and publication in the
press would soon have broken down for
Mill had he lived at a time when the
press really circulated and the art of
33

Liberty and the News

type-display had made a newspaper
strangely like a placard.

On first acquaintance no man would
seem to go further than Mr. Bertrand
Russell in loyalty to what he calls “the
unfettered development of all the in-
stincts that build up life and fill it with
mental delights.” He calls these in-
stincts “creative”; and against them he
sets off the “possessive impulses.” These,
he says, should be restricted by “a pub-
lic authority, a repository of practically
irresistible force whose function should
be primarily to repress the private use
of force.” Where Milton said no “tol-
erated Popery,” Mr. Russell says, no tol-
erated “possessive impulses.” Surely he
is open to the criticism that, like every
authoritarian who has preceded him, he
is interested in the unfettered develop-
ment of only that which seems good to
him. Those who think that “enlightened
34

What Modern Liberty Means

selfishness” produces social harmony will
tolerate more of the possessive impulses,
and will be inclined to put certain of
Mr. Russell’s creative impulses under
lock and key.

The moral is, not that Milton, Mill,
and Bertrand Russell are inconsistent, or
that liberty is to be obtained by arguing
for it without qualifications. The im-
pulse to what we call liberty is as strong
in these three men as it is ever likely to
be in our society. The moral is of an-
other kind. It is that the traditional
core of liberty, namely, the notion of in- i
difference, is too feeble and unreal a doc-
trine to protect the purpose of liberty,
which is the furnishing of a healthy en-
vironment in which human judgment
and inquiry can most successfully organ-
ize human life. Too feeble, because in
time of stress nothing is easier than to
insist, and by insistence to convince, that
35

Liberty and the News

tolerated indifference is no longer toler-
able because it has ceased to be indif-
ferent.

It is clear that in a society where pub-
Ik opinion has become decisive, noth-
ing that counts in the formation of it
can really be a matter of indifference.
When I say “can be,” I am speaking
literally. What men believed about the
constitution of heaven became a matter
of indifference when heaven disappeared
in metaphysics; but what they believe
about property, government, conscrip-
tion, taxation, the origins of the late war,
or the origins of the Franco-Prussian
War, or the distribution of Latin culture
in the vicinity of copper mines, consti-
tutes the difference between life and
death, prosperity and misfortune, and it
will never on this earth be tolerated as
indifferent, or not interfered with, no
matter how many noble arguments are

36

What Modern Liberty Means

made for liberty, or how many martyrs
give their lives for it. If widespread
tolerance of opposing views is to be
achieved in modern society, it will not
be simply by righting the Debs’ cases
through the courts, and certainly not by
threatening to upset those courts if they
do not yield to the agitation. The task
is fundamentally of another order, re-
quiring other methods and other theories.

The world about which each man is I
/supposed to have opinions has become
so complicated as to defy his powers of
understanding. What he knows of events
that matter enormously to him, the pur-
poses of governments, the aspirations of
peoples, the struggle of classes, he knows
at second, third, or fourth hand. He
cannot go and see for himself. Even the
things that are near to him have become
too involved for his judgment. I knowj
of no man, even among those who devote
37

Liberty and the News

all of their time to watching public af-
fairs, who can even pretend to keep
track, at the same time, of his city gov-
ernment, his state government, Congress,
the departments, the industrial situation,
and the rest of the world. What men
who make the study of politics a voca-
tion cannot do, the man who has an hour
(

|a day for newspapers and talk cannot
possibly hope to do. He must seize

; catchwords and headlines or nothing.

This vast elaboration of the subject-
matter of politics is the root of the whole
problem. News comes from a distance;
it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable
confusion; it deals with matters that are
not easily understood; it arrives and is
assimilated by busy and tired people who
must take what is given to them. Any
lawyer with a sense of evidence knows
how unreliable such information must
necessarily be.

38

What Modern Liberty Means

The taking of testimony in a trial is
hedged about with a thousand precau-
tions derived from long experience of
the fallibility of the witness and the
prejudices of the jury. We call this, and
rightly, a fundamental phase of human
liberty. But in public affairs the stake
is infinitely greater. It involves the lives
of millions, and the fortune of every-
body. The jury is the whole community,
not even the qualified voters alone. The
jury is everybody who creates public
sentiment chattering gossips, unscrupu-
lous liars, congenital liars, feeble-mind-
ed people, prostitute minds, corrupting
agents. To this jury any testimony is
submitted, is submitted in any form, by
any anonymous person, with no test of
reliability, no test of credibility, and no
penalty for perjury. If I lie in a lawsuit
involving the fate of my neighbor’s cow,
I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million
39

Liberty and the News

readers in a matter involving war and
peace, I can lie my head off, and, if I
choose the right series of lies, be entirely
irresponsible. Nobody will punish me if
I lie about Japan, for example. I can
announce that every Japanese valet is a
reservist, and every Japanese art store a
mobilization center. I am immune.
And if there should be hostilities with
Japan, the more I lied the more popular
I should be. If I asserted that the Jap-
anese secretly drank the blood of chil-
dren, that Japanese women were un-
chaste, that the Japanese were really not
a branch of the human race after all, I
guarantee that most of the newspapers
would print it eagerly, and that I could
get a hearing in churches all over the
country. And all this for the simple
reason that the public, when it is de-
pendent on testimony and protected by
.no rules of evidence, can act only on the
40

What Modern Liberty Means

excitement of its pugnacities and its
hopes.

The mechanism of the news-supply J
has developed without plan, and there is
no one point in it at which one can fix
the responsibility for truth. The fact is
that the subdivision of labor is now ac-
companied by the subdivision of the
news-organization. At one end of it is
the eye-witness, at the other, the reader.
Between the two is a vast, expensive
transmitting and editing apparatus. This
machine works marvelously well at times,
particularly in the rapidity with which
it can report the score of a game or a
transatlantic flight, or the death of a
monarch, or the result of an election.
But where the issue is complex, as for^i
example in the matter of the success of
a policy, or the social conditions among
a foreign people, that is to say, where
the real answer is neither yes or no, but

Liberty and the News

subtle, and a matter of balanced evi-
dence, the subdivision of the labor in-
volved in the report causes no end of
derangement, misunderstanding, and
even misrepresentation.

Thus the number of eye-witnesses cap-
able of honest statement is inadequate
and accidental. Yet the reporter mak-
ing up ‘his news is dependent upon the
eye-witnesses. They may be actors in the
event. Then they can hardly be expected
to have perspective. Who, for example,
if he put aside his own likes and dislikes
would trust a Bolshevik’s account of
what exists in Soviet Russia or an exiled
Russian prince’s story of what exists in
Siberia? Sitting just across the frontier,
say in Stockholm, ‘how is a reporter to
write dependable news when his wit-
nesses consist of emigres or Bolshevist
agents?

At the Peace Conference, news was
42

What Modern Liberty Means

given out by the agents of the conferees
and the rest leaked through those who
were clamoring at the doors of the Con-
ference. Now the reporter, if he is to
earn his living, must nurse his personal
contacts with the eye-witnesses and privi-
leged informants. lf he is openly hos-
tile to those in authority, he will cease
to be a reporter unless there is an op-
position party in the inner circle who can
feed him news. Failing that, he will
know precious little of what is going on. J

Most people seem to believe that, when
they meet a war correspondent or a spe-
cial writer from the Peace Conference,
they have seen a man who has seen the
things he wrote about. Far from it.
Nobody, for example, saw this war.
Neither the men in, the trenches nor the
commanding general. The men saw
their trenches, their billets, sometimes
they saw an enemy trench, but nobody,
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Liberty and the News

unless it be the aviators, saw a battle.
What the correspondents saw, occasion-
ally, was the terrain over which a battle
had been fought; but what they reported
day by day was what they were told at
press headquarters, and of that only what
they were allowed to tell.

At the Peace Conference the reporters
were allowed to meet periodically the
four least important members of the
Commission, men who themselves had
considerable difficulty in keeping track
of things, as any reporter who was pres-
ent will testify. This was supplemented
by spasmodic personal interviews with
the commissioners, their secretaries, their
secretaries’ secretaries, other newspaper
men, and confidential representatives of
the President, who stood between him
and the impertinences of curiosity. This
and the French press, than which there
is nothing more censored and inspired, a
44

What Modern Liberty Means

local English trade-journal of the ex-
patriates, the gossip of the Crillon lobby,
the Majestic, and the other official ho-
tels, constituted the source of the news
upon which American editors and the
American people have had to base one
of the most difficult judgments of their
history. I should perhaps add that there
were a few correspondents occupying
privileged positions with foreign govern-
ments. They wore ribbons in their but-
ton-holes to prove it. They were in
many ways the most useful correspond-
ents because they always revealed to the
trained reader just what it was that their
governments wished America to believe.
The news accumulated by the reporter
from his witnesses has to be selected, if
I for no other reason than that the cable
facilities are limited. At the cable office
several varieties of censorship intervene.
The legal censorship in Europe is po-
45

Liberty and the News

litical as well as military, and both
words are elastic. It has been applied,
not only to the substance of the news, but
to the mode of presentation, and even to
the character of the type and the position
/*bn the page. But the real censorship
on the wires is the cost of transmission.
This in itself is enough to limit any ex-
pensive competition or any significant in-
dependence. The big Continental news
agencies are subsidized. Censorship
operates also through congestion and the
resultant need of a system of priority.
Congestion makes possible good and bad
service, and undesirable messages are not
infrequently served badly.

When the report does reach the edi-
tor, another series of interventions oc-
‘curs. The editor is a man who may
know all about something, but he can
hardly be expected to know all about
everything. Yet he has to decide the

What Modern Liberty Means

question which is of more importance
than any other in the formation of opin-
ions, the question where attention is to
be directed. In a newspaper the heads/
are the foci of attention, the odd cor-
ners the fringe; and whether one aspect
of the news or another appears in the
center or at the periphery makes all the
difference in the world. The news of
the day as it reaches the newspaper of-
fice is an incredible medley of fact, prop-
aganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes,
and fears, and the task of selecting and
ordering that news is one of the truly
sacred and priestly offices in a democ-

A **”T

racy. For the newspaper is in all literal- ‘
ness the bible of democracy, the book
iout of which a people determines its con-
duct. It is the only serious book most
people read. It is the only book they
read every day. Now the power to de-
termine each day what shall seem impor-
47

Liberty and the News

tant and what shall be neglected is a
power unlike any that has been exercised
since the Pope lost his hold on the secu-
lar mind.

The ordering is not done by one man,
but by a host of men, who are on the
whole curiously unanimous in their se-
lection and in their emphasis. I Once you
know the party and social affiliations of
a newspaper, you can predict with con-
siderable certainty the perspective in
which the news will be displayedjj This
perspective is by no means altogether
deliberate. Though the editor is ever so
much more sophisticated than all but a
minority of his readers, his own sense of
relative importance is determined by
rather standardized constellations of
ideas* He very soon comes to believe
that his habitual emphasis is the only
..,; possible one.

Why the editor is possessed by a par-

What Modern liberty Means

ticular set of ideas is a difficult question
in social psychology, of which no ade-
quate analysis has been made. But we
shall not be far wrong if we say thatjhe
; deals with the news in reference to the
prevailing mores of his social group.J
These mores are of course in a large
measure the product of what previous
newspapers have said; and experience
shows that, in order to break out of this
circle, it has been necessary at various
times to create new forms of journalism,
such as the national monthly, the criti-
cal weekly, the circular, the paid adver-
tisements of ideas, in order to change the
emphasis which had become obsolete and
habit-ridden.

Into this extremely refractory, and I
think increasingly disserviceable mech-
anism, there has been thrown, especially
since the outbreak of war, another mon-
key-wrench propaganda. The word, of
49

Liberty and the News

course, covers a multitude of sins and a
few virtues. The virtues can be easily
separated out, and given another name,
{ either advertisement or acivocacv. Thus,
I if the National Council of Belgravia
wishes to publish a magazine out of its
own funds, under its own imprint, advo-
cating the annexation of Thrums, no one
will object. But if, in support of that
advocacy, it gives to the press stories that
are lies about the atrocities committed
in Thrums; or, worse still, if those stories
seem to come from Geneva, or Amster-
dam, not from the press-service of the
National Council of Belgravia, then Bel-
gravia is conducting propaganda. If,
after arousing a certain amount of inter-
est in itself, Belgravia then invites a
carefully selected correspondent, or per-
haps a labor leader, to its capital, puts
him up at the best hotel, rides him
around in limousines, fawns on him at

What Modern Liberty Means

banquets, lunches with him very confi-
dentially, and then puts him through a
conducted tour so that he shall see just
what will create the desired impression,
then again Belgravia is conducting prop-
aganda. Or if Belgravia happens to
possess the greatest trombone-player in
the world, and if she sends him over to
charm the wives of influential husbands,
Belgravia is, in a less objectionable way,
perhaps, committing propaganda, and
making fools of the husbands.

Now, the plain fact is that out of the
(troubled areas of the world the public ..
receives practically nothing that is not ‘
propaganda. Lenin and his enemies con-
trol all the news there is of Russia, and
no court of law would accept any of the
testimony as valid in a suit to determine
the possession of a donkey. I am writ-
ing many months after the Armistice.
The Senate is at this moment engaged

Liberty and the News

in debating the question whether it will
guarantee the frontiers of Poland; but
what we learn of Poland we learn from
the Polish Government and the Jewish
Committee. Judgment on the vexed is-
sues of Europe is simply out of the ques-
tion for the average American; and the
more cocksure he is, the more certainly
|is he the victim of some propaganda.

These instances are drawn from for-
eign affairs, but the difficulty at home,
although less flagrant, is nevertheless
real. Theodore Roosevelt, and Leonard
Wood after him, have told us to think
nationally. It is not easy. It is easy
to parrot what those people say. who live
in a few big cities and who have consti-
tuted themselves the only true and au-
thentic voice of America. But beyond
that it is difficult. I live in New York
and I have not the vaguest idea what
Brooklyn is interested in. It is possible,
52

What Modern Liberty Means

with effort, much more effort than most
people can afford to give, for me to know
what a few organized bodies like the
Non-Partisan League, the National Se-
curity League, the American Federation
of Labor, and the Republican National
Committee are up to; but what the un-
organized workers, and the unorganized
farmers, the shopkeepers, the local bank-
ers and boards of trade are thinking and*
feeling, no one has any means of know-
ing, except perhaps in a vague way
at election time. To think nationally
means, at least, to take into account the
major interests and needs and desires of
this continental population; and for that
each man would need a staff of secre-
taries, traveling agents, and a very ex-
pensive press-clipping bureau.

We do not think nationally because
the facts that count are not systemati-
cally reported and presented in a form
53

Liberty and the News

we can digest. Our most abysmal igno-
rance occurs where we deal with the im-
migrant. If we read his press at all, it
is to discover “Bolshevism” in it and to
blacken all immigrants with suspicion.
For his culture and his aspirations, for
his high gifts of hope and variety, we
have neither eyes nor ears. The immi-
grant colonies are like holes in the road
which we never notice until we trip over
them. Then, because we have no cur-
rent information and no background of
facts, we are, of course, the undiscrim-
inating objects of any agitator who
chooses to rant against “foreigners.”

Now, men who have lost their grip
(upon the relevant facts of their envir-
onment are the inevitable victims of
agitation and propaganda. The quack,
the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist,
can flourish only where the audience is
deprived of independent access to infor-
54

What Modern Liberty Means

mation. But where all news comes at
second-hand, where all the testimony is
uncertain, men cease to respond to truths,
and respond simply to opinions. The
environment in which they act is not the
realities themselves, but the pseudo-en-
vironment of reports, rumors, and
guesses. The whole reference of thought
comes to be what somebody asserts, not
what actually Is. Men ask, not whether
such and such a thing occurred in Rus-
sia, but whether Mr. Raymond Robins
is at heart more friendly to the Bolshe-
viki than Mr. Jerome Landfield. And
so, since they are deprived of any trust-
worthy means of knowing what is really
going on, since everything is on the plane
of assertion and propaganda, they be-
lieve whatever fits most comfortably with
their prepossessions. ^

That this breakdown of the means of
public knowledge should occur at a time
55

Liberty and the News

of immense change is a compounding of
the difficulty. From bewilderment to
panic is a short step, as everyone knows
who has watched a crowd when danger
threatens. At the present time_a nation
easily acts like a crowd. Under the in-
fluence of headlines and panicky print,
the contagion of unreason can easily
spread through a settled community. For
when the comparatively recent and un-
stable nervous organization which makes
us capable of responding to reality as it
is, and not as we should wish it, is baf-
fled over a continuing period of time, the
“^ … ,

more primitive but much stronger m-

j stincts are let loose.

War and Revolution, both of them
founded on censorship and propaganda,
are the supreme destroyers of realistic
thinking, because the excess of danger
and the fearful overstimulation of pas-
sion unsettle disciplined behavior. Both

56

What Modern Liberty Means

breed fanatics of all kinds, men who, in
the words of Mr. Santayana, have re-
doubled their effort when they have for-*”
gotten their aim. The effort itself has
become the aim. Men live in their ef-
fort, and for a time find great exaltation.
They seek stimulation of their effort
rather than direction of it. That is why
both in war and revolution there seems
to operate a kind of Gresham’s Law of
the emotions, in which leadership passes
by a swift degradation from a Mirabeau
to a Robespierre; and in war, from a
high-minded statesmanship to the depths
of virulent, hating jingoism.

The cardinal fact always is the loss of
contact with objective information. Pub-
lic as well as private reason depends
upon it. Not what somebody says, not
what somebody wishes were true, but
what is so beyond all our opining, con-
stitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And
57

Liberty and the News

a society which lives at second-hand will
commit incredible follies and counte-
nance inconceivable brutalities if that
contact is intermittent and untrust-
worthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that
flourishes where discrimination fails,
and only those who are at grips with
things themselves are impervious to it.
For, in the last analysis, the demagogue,
whether of the Right or the Left, is, con-
sciously or unconsciously an undetected

i liar.

r Many students of politics have con-
cluded that, because public opinion was
unstable, the remedy lay in making gov-
ernment as independent of it as possible.
The theorists of representative govern-
ment have argued persistently from this
premise against the believers in direct
legislation. But it appears now that,
while they have been making their case
against direct legislation, rather success-

58

What Modern Liberty Means

fully it seems to me, they have failed
sufficiently to notice the increasing mal-
ady of representative government.

Parliamentary action is becoming no-
toriously ineffective. In America cer-
tainly the concentration of power in the
Executive is out of all proportion either
to the intentions of the Fathers or to the
orthodox theory of representative gov-
ernment. The cause is fairly clear. Con-
gress is an assemblage of men selected
for local reasons from districts. It brings
to Washington a more or less accurate
sense of the superficial desires of its con-
stituency. In Washington it is supposed
to think nationally and internationally.
But for that task its equipment and its
sources of information are hardly better ‘
than that of any other reader of the news-
paper. Except for its spasmodic investi-
gating committees, Congress has no par-
ticular way of informing itself. But the \
59

Liberty and the News

Executive has. The Executive is an elab-
orate hierarchy reaching to every part of
the nation and to all parts of the world.
It has an independent machinery, fallible
and not too truthworthy, of course, but
nevertheless a machinery of intelligence.
It can be informed and it can act, where-

>-4

as Congress is not informed and cannot
act.

Now the popular theory of represen-
tative government is that the representa-
tives have the information and therefore

-4

create the policy which the executive ad-
ministers. The more subtle theory is that
the executive initiates the policy which
the legislature corrects in accordance
with popular wisdom. But when the leg-
islature is haphazardly informed, this
amounts to very little, and the people
themselves prefer to trust the executive
which knows, rather than the Congress
which is vainly trying to know. The re-
60

What Modern Liberty Means

suit has been the development of a kind
of government which has been harshly
described as plebiscite autocracy, or gov-
ernment by newspajpers. Decisions in
tfie modern state tend to be made by the
interaction, not of Congress and the exec-
utive, but of public opinion and the
executive. r

Public opinion for this purpose finds
itself collected about special groups
which act as extrajhegal organs of gov-
ernment. There is a labor nucleus, a
farmers’ nucleus, a prohibition nucleus,
a National Security League nucleus, and
so on. These groups conduct a continual
electioneering campaign upon the un-
formed, exploitable mass of public opin-
ion. Being special groups, they have
special sources of information, and what
they lack in the way of information is
often manufactured. These conflicting
pressures beat upon the executive depart-
61

Liberty and the News

merits and upon Congress, and formulate
the conduct of the government. The
government itself acts in reference to
these groups far more than in reference
to the district congressmen. So politics
as it is now played consists in coercing
and seducing the representative by the
threat and the appeal of these unofficial
groups. Sometimes they are the allies,
sometimes the enemies, of the party in
, power, but more and more they are the
[“energy of public affairs. Government
tends to operate by the impact of con-
trolled opinion upon administration.
This shift in the locus of sovereignty has
placed a premium upon the manufacture
of what is usually called consent. No
wonder that the most powerful news-
paper proprietor in the English-speak-
ing world declined a mere government
post.

No wonder, too, that the protection of
62

What Moaern Liberty Means

the sources of its opinion is the basic
problem of democracy. Everything else
depends upon it. Without protection
against propaganda, without standards
of evidence, without criteria of emphasis,
the living substance of all popular deci-
sion is exposed to every prejudice and
to infinite exploitation. That is why I
have argued that the older doctrine of
liberty was misleading. It did not as-
sume a public opinion that governs. Es-
sentially it demanded toleration of opin-
ions that were, as Milton said, indiffer-
ent. It can guide us little in a world
where opinion is sensitive and decisive, j

The axis of the controversy needs to
be shifted. The attempt to draw fine
distinctions between “liberty” and “li-
cense” is no doubt part of the day’s work,
but it is fundamentally a negative part.
It consists in trying to make opinion re-
sponsible to prevailing social standards,

63

Liberty ‘and the News

whereas the really important thing is to
try and make opinion increasingly re-
sponsible ^o_the_f acts. There can be no
liberty for a community which lacks the
information by which to detect lies.
Trite as the conclusion may at first seem,
it has, I believe, immense practical con-
sequences, and may perhaps offer an es-
cape from the logon^afchy into which the
contests of liberty so easily degenerate.

It may be bad to suppress a particu-
lar opinion, but the really deadly thing
is to suppress the news. In time of great
insecurity, certain opinions acting on un-
stable minds may cause infinite disaster.
Knowing that such opinions necessarily
originate in slender evidence, that they
are propelled more by prejudice from
the rear than by reference to ‘realities,
it seems to me that to build the case for
liberty upon the dogma of their unlim-
ited prerogatives is to build it upon the

What Modern Liberty Means

poorest foundation. For, even though
we grant that the world is best served by
the liberty of all opinion, the plain fact
is that men are too busy and too much
concerned to fight more than spasmodi-
cally for such liberty. When freedomjjf
opinion is revealed as freedom oi-ewor,
illusion, and misinterpretation, it is vir-
tually impossible to stir up much inter-
est in its behalf. It is the thinnest of all
abstractions and an over-refinement of
mere intellectualism. But people, wide
circles of people, are aroused when their
curiosity is baulked. The desire to know,
the dislike of being deceived and made
game of, is a really powerful motive,
and it is that motive that can best be en-
listed in the cause of freedom.

What, for example, was the one most
general criticism of the work of the
Peace Conference? It was that the cove-
nants were not openly arrived at This

65

Liberty and the News

fact stirred Republican Senators, British
Labor, the whole gamut of parties from
the Right to the Left. And in the last
analysis lack of information about the
Conference ‘was the origin of its diffi-
culties. Because of the secrecy endless
suspicion was aroused; because of it the
world seemed to be presented with a
series of accomplished facts which it
could not reject and did not wish alto-
gether to accept. It was lack of infor-
mation which kept public opinion from
affecting the negotiations at the time
when intervention would have counted
most and cost least. Publicity occurred
when the covenants were arrived at, with
all the emphasis on the at. This is what
the Senate objected to, and this is what
alienated much more liberal opinion
than the Senate represents.

In a passage quoted previously in this
essay, Milton said that differences of
66

What Modern Liberty Means

opinion, “which though they may be
many, yet need not interrupt the unity
of spirit, if we could but find among us
the bond of peace.” There is but one t
kind of unity possible in a world as di-
verse as ours. It is unity of method,
rather than of aim; the unity of the dis-
ciplined experiment. There is but one I
bond of peace that is both permanent
and enriching: the increasing knowledge
of the world in which experiment oc-
curs. With a common intellectual meth-
od and a common area of valid fact,
differences may become a form of co-
operation and cease to be an irreconcil-
able antagonism.

That, I think, constitutes the meaning
of freedom for us. We cannot success-
fully define liberty, or accomplish it, by
a series of permissions and prohibitions.
For that is to ignore the content of opin-
ion in favor of its form. Above all, it

Liberty and the News

is an attempt to define liberty of opinion
in terms of opinion. It is a circular and
sterile logic. A useful definition of lib-
erty is obtainable only by seeking the
principle of liberty in the main business
of human life, that is to say, in the pro-
cess by which men educate their response
and learn to control their environment.
In this view liberty is the name we give
to measures by which we protect and in-
crease the veracity of the information
upon which we act.

68

LIBERTY AND THE NEWS

THE debates about liberty have
hitherto all been attempts to de-
termine just when in the series from
Right to Left the censorship should in-
tervene. In the preceding paper I ven-
tured to ask whether these attempts do
not turn on a misconception of the prob-
lem. The conclusion reached was that,
in dealing with liberty of opinion, we
were dealing with a subsidiary phase of
the whole matter; that, so long as we
were content to argue about the privi-
leges and immunities of opinion, we were
missing the point and trying to make
bricks without straw. We should never
succeed even in fixing a standard of tol-
erance for opinions, if we concentrated

Liberty and the News

all our attention on the opinions. For
they are derived, not necessarily by rea-
son, to be sure, but somehow, from the
stream of news that reaches the public,
and the protection of that stream is the
critical interest in a modern state. In
going behind opinion to the information
which it exploits, and in making the val-
idity of the news our ideal, we shall be
fighting the battle where it is really be-
ing fought. We shall be protecting for
the public interest that which all the
special interests in the world are most
anxious to corrupt.

As the sources of the news are pro-
tected, as the information they furnish
becomes accessible and usable, as our
capacity to read that information is edu-
cated, the old problem of tolerance will
wear a new aspect. Many questions
which seem hopelessly insoluble now will
cease to seem important enough to be
70

Liberty and the News

worth solving. Thus the advocates of a
larger freedom always argue that true
opinions will prevail over error; their
opponents always claim that you can fool
most of the people most of the time.
Both statements are true, but both are
half-truths. _True opinions can prevail
only if the facts to which they refer are
known ; if they are not known, false ideas
‘are just as effective as true ones, if not
a little more effective.!

The sensible procedure in matters af-
fecting the liberty of opinion would be
to ensure as impartial an investigation
of the facts as is humanly possible. But
it is just this investigation that is denied
us. It is denied us, because we are de-
pendent upon the testimony of anony,
mous and untrained and prejudiced wit-
nesses; because the complexity of the
relevant facts is beyond the scope of our
hurried understanding; and finally, be-

Liberty and the News

cause the process we call education fails
so lamentably to educate the sense of evi-
dence or the power of penetrating to the
‘/ controlling center of a situation. The
task of liberty, therefore, falls roughly
under three heads, protection of the
sources of the news, organization of the
news so as to make it comprehensible,
. and education of human response.

We need, first, to know what can be
; done with the existing news-structure, in
order to correct its grosser evils. How
far is it useful to go in fixing personal
responsibility for the truthfulness of
news? Much further, I am inclined to
think, than we have ever gone. We
ought to know the names of the whole
staff of every periodical. While it is not
necessary, or even desirable, that each
article should be signed, each article
should be documented, and false docu-
mentation should be illegal. An item of
72

Liberty and the News

news should always state whether it is
received from one of the great news-
agencies, or from a reporter, or from a
press bureau. Particular emphasis
should be put on marking news supplied
by press bureaus, whether they are lab-
eled “Geneva,” or “Stockholm,” or “Ely
Paso.”

One wonders next whether anything
can be devised to meet that great evil of
the press, the lie which, once under way,
can never be tracked down. The more
scrupulous papers will, of course, print
a retraction when they have unintention-
ally injured someone; but the retraction
rarely compensates the victim. The law
of libel is a clumsy and expensive instru-
ment, and rather useless to private indi-
viduals or weak organizations because
of the gentlemen’s agreement which ob-
tains in the newspaper world. After all,
the remedy for libel is not money dam-
73

Liberty and the News

ages, but an undoing of the injury/
Would it be possible then to establish
courts of honor in which publishers
should be compelled to meet their ac-
cusers and, if found guilty of misrepre-
sentation, ordered to publish the cor-
rection in the particular form and with
the prominence specified by the finding
of the court? I do not know. Such
courts might prove to be a great nuis-
ance, consuming time and energy and at-
tention, and offering too free a field for
individuals with a persecution mania.

Perhaps a procedure could be devised
which would eliminate most of these in-
conveniences. Certainly it would be a
great gain if the accountability of pub-
lishers could be increased. They exer-
cise more power over the individual than
is healthy, as everybody knows who has
watched the yellow press snooping at
keyholes and invading the privacy of
74

Liberty and the News

helpless men and women. Even more
important than this, is the utterly reck-
less power of the press in dealing with
news vitally affecting the friendship of
peoples. In a Court of Honor, possible
perhaps only in Utopia, voluntary asso-
ciations working for decent relations
with other peoples might hale the jingo
and the subtle propagandist before a tri-
bunal, to prove the reasonable truth of
his assertion or endure the humiliation
of publishing prominently a finding
against his character.

This whole subject is immensely diffi-
cult, and full of traps. It would be well
worth an intensive investigation by a
group of publishers, lawyers, and stu-
dents of public affairs. Because in some
form or other the next generation will
attempt to bring the publishing business
under greater social control. There is
everywhere an increasingly angry disil-
75

Liberty and the News

lusionment about the press, a growing
sense of being baffled and misled; and
wise publishers will not pooh-pooh these
omens. They might well note the his-
tory of prohibition, where a failure to
work out a programme of temperance
brought about an undiscriminating taboo.
The regulation of the publishing busi-
ness is a subtle and elusive matter, and
only by an early and sympathetic effort
to deal with great evils can the more sen-
sible minds retain their control. If pub-
lishers and authors themselves do not
face the facts and attempt to deal with
them, some day Congress, in a fit of tem-
per, egged on by an outraged public
opinion, will operate on the press with
an ax. For somehow the community
,must find a way of making the men who
‘publish news accept responsibility for an
honest effort not to misrepresent the
facts.

Liberty and the News

But the phrase “honest effort” does not
take us very far. The problem here is
not different from that which we begin
dimly to apprehend in the field of gov-
ernment and business administration.
The untrained amateur may mean well,
but he knows not how to do well. Why
should he? What are the qualifications
for being a surgeon? A certain mini-
mum of special training. What are the
qualifications for operating daily on the
brain and heart of a nation? None. Go
some time and listen to the average run
of questions asked in interviews with
Cabinet officers or anywhere else.
” I remember one reporter who was de-
tailed to the Peace Conference by a lead-
ing news-agency. He came around every
day for “news.” It was a time when
Central Europe seemed to be disinte-
grating, and great doubt existed as to
whether governments would be found
77

Liberty and the News

with which to sign a peace. But all that
this “reporter” wanted to know was
whether the German fleet, then safely in-
terned at Scapa Flow, was going to be
sunk in the North Sea. He insisted
every day on knowing that. For him it
was the German fleet or nothing. Fi-
nally, he could endure it no longer. So
he anticipated Admiral Reuther and an-
nounced, in a dispatch to his home pa-
pers, that the fleet would be sunk. And
when I say that a million American
adults learned all that they ever learned
about the Peace Conference through this
reporter, I am stating a very moderate
figure.

He suggests the delicate question
raised by the schools of journalism: how
. far can we go in turning newspaper en-
terprise from a haphazard trade into a
disciplined profession? Quite far, I
imagine, for it is altogether unthinkable

78

Liberty and the News

that a society like ours should remain
forever dependent upon untrained acci-
dental witnesses. It is no answer to say
that there have been in the past, and that
there are now, first-rate correspondents.
Of course there are. Men like Brails-
ford, Oulahan, Gibbs, Lawrence, Swope,
Strunsky, Draper, Hard, Dillon, Lowry,
Levine, Ackerman, Ray Stannard Baker,
Frank Cobb, and William Allen White,
know their way about in this world. But
they are eminences on a rather flat pla-
teau. The run of the news is handled
by men of much smaller caliber. It is
handled by such men because reporting
is not a dignified profession for which
men will invest the time and cost of an
education, but an underpaid, insecure,
anonymous form of drudgery, conducted
on catch-as-catch-can principles. Merely
to talk about the reporter in terms of his
real importance to civilization will make
79

Liberty and the News

newspaper men laugh. Yet reporting is
a post of peculiar honor. Observation
must precede every other activity, and
; the public observer (that is, the report-
er) is a man of critical value. No amount
of money or effort spent in fitting the
right men for this work could possibly
be wasted, for the health of society de-
pends upon the quality of the informa-
tion it receives.

Do our schools of journalism, the few
we have, make this kind of training their
object, or are they trade-schools designed
to fit men for higher salaries in. the ex-
isting structure? I do not presume to
answer the question, nor is the answer of
great moment when we remember how
\ small a part these schools now play in
actual journalism. But it is important
to know whether it would be worth while
to endow large numbers of schools on
the model of those now existing, and
80

Liberty and the News

make their diplomas a necessary condi-
tion for the practice of reporting. It is
worth considering. Against the idea lies
the fact that it is difficult to decide just
what reporting is where in the whole
mass of printed matter it begins and ends.
No one would wish to set up a closed
guild of reporters and thus exclude in-
valuable casual reporting and writing.
If there is anything in the idea at. all,
it would apply only to the routine serv-
ice of the news through large organiza-
tions.

Personally I should distrust too much
ingenuity of this kind, on the ground
that, while it might correct certain evils,
the general tendency would be to turn
the control of the news over to unenter-
prising stereotyped minds soaked in the
traditions of a journalism always ten
years out of date. The better course is
to avoid the deceptive short cuts, and
81

Liberty and the News
+

make up our minds to send out into re-
porting a generation of men who will by
sheer superiority, drive the incompetents
out of business. That means two things.
It means a public recognition of the dig-

i nity of such a career, so that it will cease
to be the refuge of the vaguely talented.
With this increase of prestige must go a
professional training in journalism in
which the ideal of objective testimony

( is cardinal. The cynicism of the trade
needs to be abandoned, for the true pat-
terns of the journalistic apprentice are
not the slick persons who scoop the news,
but the patient and fearless men of sci-
ence who have labored to see what the
world really is. It does not matter that
the news is not susceptible of mathemati-
cal statement. In fact, just because news
is complex and slippery, good reporting
requires the exercise of the highest of the
scientific virtues. They are the habits of
82

Liberty and the News

ascribing no more credibility to a state-
ment than it warrants, a nice sense of the
probabilities, and a keen understanding
of the quantitative importance of partic-
ular facts. You can judge the general
reliability of any observer most easily by
the estimate he puts upon the reliability
of his own report. If you have no facts
of your own with which to check him,
the best rough measurement is to wait
and see whether he is aware of any limi-
tations in himself ; whether he knows that
he saw only part of the event he de-
scribes; and whether he has any back-
ground of knowledge against which he
can set what he thinks he has seen.

This kind of sophistication is, of
course, necessary for the merest pretense
to any education. But for different pro-
fessions it needs to be specialized in par-
ticular ways. A sound legal training is
pervaded by it, but the skepticism is

Liberty and the News

pointed to the type of case with which
the lawyer deals. The reporter’s work
is not carried on under the same condi-
tions, and therefore requires a different
specialization. How he is to acquire it
is, of course, a pedagogical problem re-
quiring an inductive study of the types
of witness and the sources of information
with whom the reporter is in contact.

Some time in the future, when men
have thoroughly grasped the role of pub-
lic opinion in society, scholars will not
hesitate to write treatises on evidence for
the use of news-gathering services. No
such treatise exists to-day, because po-
litical science has suffered from that
curious prejudice of the scholar which
consists in regarding an irrational phe-
nomenon as not quite worthy of serious
study.

Closely akin to an education in the
tests of credibility is rigorous discipline

Liberty and the News

in the use of words. It is almost impos-
sible to overestimate the confusion in
daily life caused by sheer inability to
use language with intention. We talk
scornfully of “mere words.” Yet through
words the whole vast process of human
communication takes place. The sights
and sounds and meanings of nearly all
that we deal with as “politics,” we learn,
not by our own experience, but through
the words of others. If those words are
meaningless lumps charged with emo-
tion, instead of the messengers of fact, all
sense of evidence breaks down. Just so
long as big words like Bolshevism,
Americanism, patriotism, pro-German-
ism, are used by reporters to cover any-
thing and anybody that the biggest fool
at large wishes to include, just so long
shall we be seeking our course through a
fog so dense that we cannot tell whether
we fly upside-down or right-side-up. ItJ

85

Liberty and the News

is a measure of our education as a peo-
ple that so many of us are perfectly con-
tent to live our political lives in this
fraudulent environment of unanalyzed
words. For the reporter, abracadabra is
fatal. So long as he deals in it, he is
gullibility itself, seeing nothing of the
world, and living, as it were, in a hall
of crazy mirrors.

Only the discipline of a modernized
logic can open the door to reality. An
overwhelming part of the dispute about
“freedom of opinion” turns on words
which mean different things to the cen-
sor and the agitator. So long as the
meanings of the words are not disso-
ciated, the dispute will remain a circular
wrangle. Education that shall make
men masters of their vocabulary is one
of the central interests of liberty. For

such an education alone can transform the
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Liberty and the News

dispute into debate from similar pre-
mises.

A sense of evidence and a power to
define words must for the modern re-
porter be accompanied by a working
knowledge of the main stratifications and
currents of interest. Unless he knows
that “news” of society almost always
starts from a special group, he is doomed
to report the surface of events. He will
report the ripples of a passing steamer,
and forget the tides and the currents and
the ground-swell. He will report what
Kolchak or Lenin says, and see what
they do only when it confirms what he
thinks they said. He will deal with the
flicker of events and not with their mo-
tive. There are ways of reading that
flicker so as to discern the motive, but
they have not been formulated in the
light of recent knowledge. Here is big
work for the student of politics. The

Liberty and the News

good reporter reads events with an in-
tuition trained by wide personal experi-
ence. The poor reporter cannot read
them, because he is not even aware that
there is anything in particular to read,
r And then the reporter needs a general
sense of what the world is doing. Em-
phatically he ought not to be serving a
cause, no matter how good. In his pro-
fessional activity it is no business of his
to care whose ox is gored. To be sure,
when so much reporting is ex parte, and
hostile to insurgent forces, the insurgents
in self-defense send out ex parte report-
ers of their own. But a community can-
not rest content to learn the truth about
the Democrats by reading the Repub-
lican papers, and the truth about the Re-
publicans by reading the Democratic pa-
pers. There is room, and there is need,
for disinterested reporting; and if this
sounds like a counsel of perfection now,

Liberty and the News

it is only because the science of public
opinion is still at the point where as-

“” – . f

tronomy was when theological interests
proclaimed the conclusions that all re- V
search must vindicate.

While the reporter will serve no cause^
he will possess a steady sense that the
chief purpose of “news” is to enable
mankind to live

future. He will know that the world
is a process, not by any means always
onward and upward, but never quite the
same. As the observer of the signs of
change, his value to society depends upon
the prophetic discrimination with which $
he selects those signs.

But the news from which he must pick
and choose has long since become too
complicated even for the most highly
trained reporter. The work, say, of the
government is really a small part of the
day’s news, yet even the wealthiest and

Liberty and the News

most resourceful newspapers fail in their
efforts to report “Washington.” The
high lights and the disputes and sensa-
tional incidents are noted, but no one can
keep himself informed about his Con-
gressman or about the individual depart-
ments, by reading the daily press. This
failure in no way reflects on the news-
papers. It results from the intricacy and
unwieldiness of the subject-matter.
Thus, it is easier to report Congress than
it is to report the departments, because
the work of Congress crystallizes crudely
every so often in a roll-call. But ad-
ministration, although it has become
more important than legislation, is hard
to follow, because its results are spread
over a longer period of time, and its ef-
fects are felt in ways that no reporter
can really measure.

Theoretically Congress is competent
to act as the critical eye on administra-
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Liberty and the News

tion. Actually, the investigations of
Congress are almost always planless
raids, conducted by men too busy and

too little informed to do more than catch 1 ,

f

the grosser evils, or intrude upon good
work that is not understood. It was a
recognition of these difficulties that was
the cause of two very interesting experi-
ments in late years. One was the .estab-
lishment of more or less semi-official in- *
stitutes of government research; the
other, the growth of specialized private
agencies which attempt to give tech-
nical summaries of the work of various
branches of the government. Neither
experiment has created much commo-
tion: yet together they illustrate an idea
which, properly developed, will be in-
creasingly valuable to an enlightened \
public opinion.

Their principle is simple. They are
expert organized reporters. Having no

Liberty and the News

horror of dullness, no interest in being
dramatic, they can study statistics and
orders and reports which are beyond the
digestive powers of a newspaper man or
of his readers. The lines of their growth
would seem to be threefold: to make a
current record, to make a running analy-
sis of it, and on the basis of both, to sug-
gest plans.

Record and analysis require an ex-
perimental formulation of standards by
which the work of government can be
tested. Such standards are not to be
evolved off-hand out of anyone’s con-
sciousness. Some have already been
worked out experimentally, others still
need to be discovered; all need to be re-
fined and brought into perspective by
the wisdom of experience. Carried out
competently, the public would gradually
learn to substitute Qijecthte criteria for
gossip and intuitions. One can imagine
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Liberty and the News

a public-health service subjected to such
expert criticism. The institute of re-
search publishes the death-rate as a
whole for a period of years. It seems
that for a particular season the rate is
bad in certain maladies, that in others
the rate of improvement is not suffi-
ciently rapid. These facts are compared
with the expenditures of the service,
and with the main lines of its activity.
Are the bad results due to the causes
beyond the control of the service? do
they indicate a lack of foresight in ask-
ing appropriations for special work? or
in the absence of novel phenomena, do
they point to a decline of the personnel,
or in its morale? If the latter, further
analysis may reveal that salaries are too
low to attract men of ability, or that
the head of the service by bad manage-
ment has weakened the interest of his

staff.

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Liberty and the News

When the work of government is ana-
lyzed in some such way as this, the re-
porter deals with a body of knowledge
that has been organized for his appre-
hension. In other words, he is able to
report the “news,” because between him
and the raw material of government
there has been interposed a more or
less expert political intelligence. He
ceases to be the ant, described by Wil-

*= ‘ J t- *r

liam James, whose view of a building
was obtained by crawling over the cracks
in the walls.

These political observatories will, I
think, be found useful in all branches
of government, national, state, munici-
pal, industrial, and even in foreign af-
fairs. They should be clearly out of
reach either of the wrath or of the favor

‘JftJUMMBt- -tf *

of the office-holders. They must, of

course, be endowed, but the endowment

should be beyond the immediate control

94

Liberty and the News

of the legislature and of the rich patron.
Their independence can be partially
protected by the terms of the trust; the
rest must be defended by the ability of
the institute to make itself so much the
master of the facts as to be impregnably
based on popular confidence.

One would like to think that the uni-
versities could be brought into such a
scheme. Were they in close contact with
the current record and analysis, there
might well be a genuine “field work” in
political science for the students; and
there could be no better directing idea
for their more advanced researches than
the formulation of the intellectual
methods by which the experience of
government could be brought to usable
control. After all, the purpose of study-
ing “political science” is to be able to act
more effectively in politics, the word
effectively being understood in the largest
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Liberty and the News

and, therefore, the ideal sense. In the
universities men should be able to think
patiently and generously for the good of
society. If they do not, surely one of
the reasons is that thought terminates in
doctor’s theses and brown cjuarterlies,
and not in the critical issues of politics.
On first thought, all this may seem
rather a curious direction for an inquiry
into the substance of liberty. Yet we
have always known, as a matter of com-
mon sense, that there was an intimate

connection between “liberty” and the use

“ff

of liberty. Every one who has examined

the subject at all has had to conclude

that tolerance per se is an arbitrary line,

and that, in practice, the determining

factor is the significance of the opinion to

be tolerated. This study is based on an

avowal of that fact. Once it is avpjved,

U there seems to be no way of evading the

. | conclusion that liberty is not so much

96

Liberty and the News

permission as it is the construction of a
system of information increasingly inde-
pendent of opinion. In the long run it
looks as if opinion could be made at v/.
once free and enlightening only by trans-
ferring our interest from “opinion” to the
objective realities from which it springs.
This thought has led us to speculations
on ways of protecting and organizing
the stream of news as the source of all
opinion that matters. Obviously these
speculations do not pretend to offer a
fully considered or a completed scheme.
Their nature forbids it, and I should be
guilty of the very opinionativeness I
have condemned, did these essays claim
to be anything more than tentative in-
dications of the more important phases J
of the problem.

Yet I can well imagine their causing
a considerable restlessness in the minds
of some readers. Standards, institutes,
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Liberty and the News

university research, schools of journal-
ism, they will argue, may be all right,
but they are a gray business in a vivid
world. They blunt the edge of life ; they
leave out of account the finely irrespon-
sible opinion thrown out by the creative
mind; they do not protect the indispens-
able novelty from philistinism and op-
pression. These proposals of yours, they
will say, ignore the fact that such an ap-
paratus of knowledge will in the main
be controlled by the complacent and the
traditional, and the execution will inevit-
ably be illiberal.

There is force in the indictment.
And yet I am convinced that we shall
accomplish more by fighting for truth
than by fighting for our theories. It is a
better loyalty. It is a humbler one, but
it is also more irresistible. Above all it
is educative. For the real enemy is ig-
norance, from which all of us, conserva-

Liberty and the News

tive, liberal, and revolutionary, suffer.
If our effort is concentrated on our de-
sires, be it our desire to have and to
hold what is good, our desire to remake
peacefully, or our desire to transform
suddenly, we shall divide hopelessly
and irretrievably. We must go back of
our opinions to the neutral facts for unity *
and refreshment of spirit. To deny this,
it seems to me, is to claim that the mass
of men is impervious to education, and
to deny that, is to deny the postulate of
democracy, and to seek salvation in a
dictatorship. There is, I am convinced,
nothing but misery and confusion that
way. But I am equally convinced that
democracy will degenerate into this dic-
tatorship either of the Right or of the
Left, if it does not become genuinely
self-governing. That means, in terms of
public opinion, a resumption of that con-
tact between beliefs and realities which
99

i

Liberty and the News

we have been losing steadily since the
small-town democracy was absorbed into
Ithe Great Society.

I* The administration of public infor-
|’mation toward greater accuracy and more

; ‘ successful analysis is the highway of
liberty. It is, I believe, a matter of first-
rate importance that we should fix this
in our minds. Having done so, we may
be able to deal more effectively with the
traps and the lies and the special interests
which obstruct the road and drive us
astray. Without a clear conception of
what the means of liberty are, the

; struggle for free speech and free opinion
easily degenerates into a mere content of
opinion.

But realization is not the last step,

^though it is the first. We need be under

no illusion that the stream of news can

be purified simply by pointing out the

value of purity. The existing news-struc-

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Liberty and the News

ture may be made serviceable to democ-
racy along the general lines suggested,
by the training of the journalist, and by
the development of expert record and
analysis. But while it may be, it will not
be, simply by saying that it ought to be.
Those who are now in control have too
much at stake, and they control the source
of reform itself.

Change will come only by the drastic
competition of those whose interests are
not represented in the existing news- *
organization. It will come only if or-
ganized labor and militant liberalism set v. ‘
a pace which cannot be ignored. Our
sanity and, therefore, our safety depend
upon this competition, upon fearless and
relentless exposure conducted by self-
conscious groups that are now in a min-
ority. It is for these groups to under-
stand that the satisfaction of advertising
a pet theory is as nothing compared to

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Liberty and the News

the publication of the news. And having
realized it, it is for them to combine
their resources and their talent for the
development of an authentic news-service
which is invincible because it supplies
what the community is begging for and
cannot get.

All the gallant little sheets expressing
particular programmes are at bottom
vanity, and in the end, futility, so long
as the reporting of daily news is left in
untrained and biased hands. If we are
to move ahead, we must see a great in-
dependent journalism, setting standards
for commercial journalism, like those
which the splendid English cooperative
societies are setting for commercial busi-
ness. An enormous amount of money, is
dribbled away in one fashion or another
on little papers, mass-meetings, and what
not. If only some considerable portion
of it could be set aside to establish a

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Liberty and the News

central international news-agency, we
should make progress. We cannot fight
the untruth which envelops us by parad-
ing our opinions. We can do it only by
reporting the facts, and we do not de-
serve to win if the facts are against us.

The country is spotted with benevo-
lent foundations of one kind or another,
many of them doing nothing but pay
the upkeep of fine buildings and sine-
cures. Organized labor spends large
sums of money on politics and strikes
which fail because it is impossible to se-
cure a genuine hearing in public opinion.
Could there be a pooling of money for
a news-agency? Not, I imagine, if its
object were to further a cause. But sup-
pose the plan were for a news-service in
which editorial matter was rigorously
excluded, and the work was done by men

who had already won the confidence of
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Liberty and the News

the public by their independence? Then,
perhaps.

>-. At any rate, our salvation lies in two
things: ultimately, in the infusion of the
news-structure’ by men with a new
training and outlook; immediately, in
the concentration of the independent
forces against the complacency and bad
service of the routineers. We shall ad-
vance when we have, learned humility;
when we have learned to seek the truth,
to reveal it and publish it; when we
care more for that th^n for the privi-
lege of arguing about ideas in a fog of
uncertainty.