The press gang: Corruption and the independent press in the grant era

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1 Scopus citations


The enhanced power of the American press after the Civil War dramatically altered the relationship between newsmen and politicians. Not only did it enhance the latter's power to shape coverage; it permitted the former to manufacture news and issues as never before. And manufacture it they did–sometimes out of the whole cloth, sometimes out of a tissue of circumstantial and misleading allegation. Out of reporters' new diligence and sense of their own craft, out of editors' sense of hubris at their new influence came a readiness to suspect the worst of officials, and to print it. Out of the newsmen's new-found emphasis on political corruption emerged an adversarial relationship with lawmakers and Presidents which undermined public confidence in the probity, even the competence, of elected officials. The power of the "press gang" helped create an exaggerated impression of the postwar years as corrupt without parallel. It is an impression that persists in part because historians have taken the press at too near its face-value. As Mr. W. says in his letter to me: "A newspaper is very much like a kerosene lamp–a very brilliant and useful thing to have as long as it can be kept in proper order but just let it get a little out of fix, and the first thing one knows, she "busts" and lifts all within her reach higher than a sky-rocket.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-44
Number of pages16
JournalCongress and the Presidency
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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