From the Cincinnati Commercial
JOURNALISM – – The Independent and Party Press.
Public journals constitute, in this age, and country, too important an institution, to render it a master of indifference whether the principles upon which they are conducted are correct or otherwise. As they furnish the principal means by which tens of thousands are educated, and are the conduit through which knowledge of nearly all that takes place in the world is communicated to the public, it is obvious that there are certain qualities indispensable to their usefulness, and without which they must be not merely worthless, but absolutely noxious to all who come within their influence. These qualities may be comprised under the general head of Truth; being veracity in that which is historical, and impartiality in matters of opinion. Intelligence, also, in him who assumes the high mission of a public teacher, and courage and one who professes to be a public protector, or attributes so valuable that no one will admit that they can with any propriety, he dispensed with in a journalist of the 19th century.
There can be no question of higher importance than that which relates to the means by which the great arm of popular instruction may be made as efficient as possible. Furnishing, as it does, the materials of that practical opinion by which society is moved, and the world is governed, it is not merrily the dictator of the sentiment of to-day, but the very architect and constructor of the common mind, with effects destined to expand further into the future than the eye of the most profound prescience can penetrate. Upon the impulses which it communicates, will depend the interests of man, as a religious, social, and political being. As it fulfills or fails to fulfill its mission, will it contribute to his progress or his retro Grecian; and there is every reason to believe that precisely in proportion as the press is distinguished for its veracity and its impartiality, on the contrary, will be the good or evil influence which it will exercise in setting the future destiny of mankind.
If one were to inquire how the qualities of veracity and impartiality were with the greatest certainty to be secured, the readiest, most obvious, and most convincing answer would be, by a permanent and of vowed divorce of the journalist from the interest of all parties, sects, and cliques, whatsoever. It must be by the establishment of the press as an independent institution, planted deep in its own soil, and repudiating forever all claims upon any interest or body for a parasitic existence. In a moment the great truths which have been evolved by the practical wisdom of the 19th century, this is, by no means, the least significant. Journalism, which commenced its existence as the organ of power, and has grown into greatness as the mayor agent for the furtherance of the designs of party, is fast becoming emancipated, and is assuming an independent condition. The chains are falling from its limbs. It is beginning to open its eyes to the light of truth, and it is not venturing too much to predict that in the glories of its mature age, it will effectively throw into the shade the errors and weakness of its minority.
Independent journalism is still in its non-age, and it cannot be denied that it has among its antecedents, circumstances of not the most credible character. In order to avoid the ruinous competition of the party press, it has frequently been forced to take refuge in and in Maine and worthless neutrality, avoiding every topic which the wide sweep of politics and sectarianism might usurp or include, and suppressing every sentiment that could, by any possibility, common in conflict with any religious creed, party platform, or individual interests. Too often, also, in the hands of profligate men, the profession of independence has been but the cover to the grossest banality, whereby the public interest has been treacherously sacrifice, and the most ruthless attacks made upon personal honor and private character. — These well known facts have laid the independent press open to animadversion and advantage has been taken of them, to promulgate a wide charge of dishonesty against the non- party press of the country.
When the only substantial emoluments to the journalists were to the honors and rewards which were able to confer, it is not remarkable that the editorial profession should be found engaged in political service. — When the non-party prints condescends also to be nonpolitical, the natural consequence would be, that men ambitious of promotion would avoid all connection with so emaculate[sic] a contrivance. — When they condescend to become the mayor mercenaries of whomever was willing to pay the highest price for their services, honorable men would issue them as they would a pestilence. But it has now been proven that such illegitimate practices are as unprofitable as they are dishonorable — that a coward neutrality is distasteful to all — that banality never goes unsuspected and un-despised; and that a party of allegiance which blinds the journalist to the faults of his own sect, however enormous, and to the excellence of every other, however remarkable, is the surest road to a total loss of the respect and confidence of mankind.
However inefficient that portion of the press of country which assumes to be independent may have been, the practice of independent journalism may be said to have become fully established. — Putting its past shortcomings by the side of its success, and it proves most conclusively that the people are determined to sustain it wherever it can be found. It has ceased to be this reputable to stand for the country and for religion, instead of struggling to build up a party and effect. Many of the ablest conductors of public journals in the country, sick of prostituting that to a party which was created for mankind, have recently declared that hereafter they will know no platforms but the Word of God, and the Constitution; no section that does not include all that can be enlightened by learning, or benefited by legislation. The day of party journalism, if the signs of the times can be relied upon, is passing away; and woe to those gentlemen of the press who, when they cease to be copped Democrat [or] Whig, ceased to be anything.
The performances of party journalism, in the hands of a large majority of those to whom it is entrusted, has degenerated to a mayor business of puffery and detraction — puffery of the doctrines, leaders, measures, and men, of the party to which the editor belongs; the attractions of those of every other. — Habits and interests beget boldness in the utterance of falsehoods, both general and personal, against opponents indiscriminately; and precisely in the same degree generates cowardice in the suppression of everything in the shape of thruth [sic] that polls against friends. It sets up its own platform as the standard of political truth, its own men as the exemplars of political virtue, and its own pretty schemes as the great objects to be achieved, for the good of the human race. With a foundation thus laid, it’s honest utterance is a reiteration of forlorn fallacies, and unsound conventional isms, which it leaves only when it defends to actual falsehood and personal abuse.
As the natural and inevitable result of this state of things, the public offices of our country are placed in the hands of men who have no evidence of eminence to show but the testimony of a corrupt and venal party press, and whose most brilliant achievements, is submitted to the test of sound and rational criticism, would be full as likely to confer disgrace as honor. In fact, the very standard of right and wrong is disturbed and overthrown by the insane location which party journals are constantly watching their opportunity to bestow upon every act, however base, that has a shadowy exterior, and is calculated to catch the eye and mislead the opinion of the multitude. It is the exigences [sic] is a party, acting upon the press, that are permitted to control the entire foreign and domestic policy of the country; and the question of administrations is apparently to consider, not what will contribute to the peace, prosperity and happiness of the people at home, or ensure the honor and respectability of the nation abroad; but will war or peace with neighboring nations, insult or conciliation to the governments of Europe, or the tampering with this or that faction, the most likely to give one or another set of politicians the control of the next presidency?
A vicious party press, and a vicious political system are correlatives, each owing their support to the other. It is for the interest of the former to render the latter perpetual, and the existence of the latter depends on pond the continuance of the former. The tendency and aim of both is to render administration as corrupt as possible. Neither party or [sic] party press was ever known to expose its own abuses; while both are willing to admit and ready to charge that honesty in an opponent is out of the question. Just in proportion that a blind belief is given to either, men are misled; and he who expects anything but false estimates of men and measures, and a total oblivion of everything like a true standard of right and wrong from a press devoted to the building up of party; or anything but intense selfishness from a party sustained by such a press, may make up his mind to live and die without ever reaping a fruition to his desire.
 Maryland State Archives
Planter’s Advocate Collection
MSA SC 3415