The Masses

Max Eastman

Two articles related to the Associated Press libel suit against The Masses

Published: The Masses, January 1914, April 1914
Transcribed:Sally Ryan for in 2000

Indicted for Criminal Libel

Our readers will wish to know these facts:

Last summer, after a number of publications, including Collier’s Weekly and The Independent, had delicately intimated that the Associated Press gave the country no fair amount of the struggle between labor and capital in West Virginia, THE MASSES decided to look into the case. It decided that if this thing were true, it ought to be stated without delicacy.

The result was a paragraph explicitly and warmly charging the Associated Press with having suppressed and colored the news of that strike in favor of the employers. Accompanying the paragraph was a cartoon presenting the same charge in a graphic form.

Upon the basis of this cartoon and paragraph, William Rand, an attorney for the Associated Press, brought John Doe proceedings against THE MASSES in the Municipal Court of New York. Justice Breen dismissed the case.

Rand then went to the District Attorney. And the District Attorney considered the case serious enough to receive the attention of the Grand Jury. He secured an indictment of two editors of THE MASSES for criminal libel. Max Eastman and Arthur Young were arraigned on December 13, pleaded not guilty, and were each released on $1,000 bail. The date for the trial is not set. The penalty for criminal libel may be one year in prison, $5,000 fine, or both.

We do not invite your solicitude over the fate of these two editors of THE MASSES. But we do invite you to arouse yourselves against any attempt to put down by force of legal procedure the few free and independent critics of the Associated Press. The hope of democratic civilization lies in the dissemination of true knowledge, and every man must be free to keep vigilance over the sources of knowledge. The Associated Press boasts of supplying news to one-half the population of this country. And if that boast is true, or if it remotely approximates the truth, then a criticism of the Associated Press is a criticism of the very heart of the hope of progress for mankind in America. And if the Associated Press proves powerful enough—as it may, for it is the biggest political force we have—to silence such criticism, we may as well forget all about the New Haven Railroad, and the Telephone Trust, and the Standard Oil Trust, and the Steel Trust, and the Money Trust, and every other problem of combination that confronts us, for they are little or nothing by comparison with a sovereign control of true knowledge.

In our effort to secure a just decision of this case and the principles involved in it, we expect the support of every man and woman who believes in democratic civilization and the freedom of the press.

If you control or influence any avenue of publicity in the country, go out and help us get the case before the public. And if you know any other way to contribute to a legal struggle, do not pause or postpone it. The issue is not ours, it is yours.

The defense is in the hands of Gilbert E. Roe, 55 Liberty street, New York, a former law partner of Senator La Follette and a distinguished fighter against Privilege.


—January 1914


We print below a defense of the Associated Press which appeared in the New York Times of March 7, and a reply to that editorial by Mr. Amos Pinchot. This reply was sent to the Times, but was not printed there. It appeared later in the columns of the New York Sun. We offer our readers the choice between the two views of the Associated Press and its activities.

The Times Editorial

The men who centuries ago fought and won the great fight for freedom of speech and of the press were stout and worthy champions of the liberties of the people. Nowadays those who bawl loudest for freedom of speech are persons who make or wish to make the unworthiest use of the privilege. When men or women inciting mobs to riot and pillage come into collision with the police we always hear much prating about freedom of speech.

The freedom of speech and of the press found defenders of the “free press protest meeting” held in Cooper Union Thursday evening, under the management of the Liberal Club. Mr. Lincoln Steffens was there and spoke. There were feminists and suffragists. But Mr. Amos E. Pinchot was the star of the evening. The meeting was called as a measure of protest against the Federal indictment for criminal libel that has been found against Max Eastman and Art Young, the editor and the cartoonist of a Socialist publication, THE MASSES. These men published in their paper a cartoon representing Mr. Frank B. Noyes, President of The Associated Press, as poisoning the waters of public opinion by causing to be sent out false and distorted news to the newspapers served by that organization. This cartoon was examined by a Federal Grand Jury, adjudged to be libelous, and an indictment for criminal libel was brought. Mr. Amos E. Pinchot insisted that a protest should be made against the use of the Federal District Attorney’s office for the muzzling of those who criticised The Associated Press monopoly. In a matter of criminal libel the office of the public prosecutor can be "used” only when the prosecutor finds a case for submission to the Grand Jury, and the Grand Jury in its finding represents not the prosecutor but the people. Mr. Pinchot should understand that this is not an Associated Press suit; it is a Government suit, an action brought by the people to punish the lawless.

The speakers at the Cooper Union meeting, and others besides, insist that there should be an investigation of The Associated Press. The indictment of Eastman and Young makes certain that an investigation will be had, a thorough, searching, and perfectly impartial investigation. The Socialists who perpetrated the libel will have every opportunity in the world to show that Mr. Noyes does in fact poison the news, mislead the public, and pervert its notions of current affairs. If The Associated Press has guilty secrets they will get full publicity. What more can be asked by the volunteer defenders of the press against an odious monopoly? The surface appearance of the transaction is that The Associated Press has courted an investigation of the most far-reaching kind.

Mr. Pinchot is a careless man. He made this statement:

“I have had a long acquaintance with The Associated Press. I am perfectly willing to stand behind the charge made by Eastman and Young that The Associated Press does color and distort the news, that it is not impartial, and that it is a monopolistic corporation, not only in constraint of news but in constraint of truth.”

It is not necessary to say that Mr. Pinchot does not know what he is talking about and to apply unpleasant epithets to him and to his utterance. He is confuted and made ridiculous by the facts of the case. The condition he describes is impossible, it could not arise and continue in The Associated Press. This is made clear by an admirable statement of the matter which we take from the editorial columns of The Springfield Republican. Referring to the charge that The Associated Press has power to color the news, and so determine “in what form and to what extent the news of the world shall be given from day to day to the average citizen,” The Republican says:

“But The Republican knows from actual experience and from many years’ study of the daily press of the United States that the worst abuses of news publication are perpetrated by the reporters of individual newspapers in their local field or by the special correspondents directly serving them at a distance. The more papers a reporter or a correspondent serves—papers with interests and sympathies far from uniform—the closer he approximates usually to impartial presentation of facts. And that is precisely the position of the news-gathering representatives of The Associated Press.”

Anybody but a Socialist champion of freedom of the press would find this statement convincing. All sorts of newspapers are served by The Associated Press—Republican, Democratic, Bull Moose, Independent, pro-Bryan, anti-Bryan, some that insist that the corporations are too much abused, and others insisting that they are not abused enough—in short, newspapers representing every shade of opinion. Now, if Mr. Noyes should attempt to use his dyestuffs on the news served to all these papers there would be a deafening uproar and tumult all over the country. The Associated Press would be split into fragments and the views openly expressed of its management would make the cartoon of THE MASSES look like an expression of confidence and esteem. If there were a church press association and the management should serve purely Methodist news or Dutch Reformed news to the subscribers, the case would be an exact parallel to that alleged by THE MASSES and declared by Mr. Pinchot on knowledge to exist. Mr. Pinchot has no such knowledge. He bears false witness and foolishly butts his head against a rough stone wall. If the assailants of The Associated Press would now and then find something true to say about it, if they would base their arguments on some other structure than one built up of glaring falsehoods and owlish stupidities, their antics would be more interesting.


To the Editor of the Sun—Sir: The subjoined letter in reply to an editorial article in defense of the Associated Press and in condemnation of its critics was sent to the New York Times on March 7, but has not been made public by that newspaper:

To-day’s Times publishes an editorial over a column long defending the Associated Press as to the indictments against the editors of THE MASSES and attacking myself and others who “insist that there should be an investigation of the Associated Press.”

The Times says that the Associated Press could not possibly color the news, because it serves all kinds of newspapers—"Republican, Democratic, Bull Moose, Independent, etc."—so that if it was not impartial “there would be a deafening uproar and tumult all over the country.” I do not think that this is either an impressive argument or a fair statement of the case.

As a matter of fact there has been a tumult of protest against Associated Press news coloring throughout the country. And with this protest newspaper owners who are members of the Associated Press and dependent upon it for their information are in many instances heartily sympathetic. Within the last month I have talked with a number of editors of newspapers that are members of the Associated Press. They assured me that the charges of suppression and misrepresentation made by THE MASSES are well within the truth. They, each of them, expressed the sincere hope that there would be a searching investigation which would result in a change of policy.

These gentlemen, however, are not free to state their opinion of the Associated Press openly, either in their papers or otherwise. For, under the bylaws of the Associated Press, they would at once be subject to fines or other discipline. Moreover, Section I of Article II provides that the corporation shall have the right to expel a member "for any conduct on his part, or on the part of any one in his employ or connected with his newspaper, which in its absolute discretion it shall deem of such a character as to be prejudicial to the interest and welfare of the corporation and its members, or to justify such expulsion. The action of the members of the corporation in such regard shall be final and there shall be no right of appeal or review of such action.”

The Sun to-day reprints an editorial from the Peoria Star, which describes how membership in the Associated Press is restricted. It says: “Membership is restricted in each city, and no new member can be taken in except by consent of every member in the city belonging to the trust. In some places membership is held at an exorbitant figure running up into hundreds of thousands of dollars. * * * It can readily be seen that this is the worst possible monopoly, because the newspapers belonging to it are obliged to print what the management desires, and they are prohibited from criticising any of its acts.”

When, in addition to this, we note that the ultimate control of the Associated Press does not lie in the vote of the newspapers belonging to it but in its bond ownership we realize that partiality and news coloring can be indulged in by the Associated Press, even though, as the Times says, all sorts of newspapers are served by it.

No newspaper can itself gather all its news. It must depend on some news agency for its information. The Associated Press is the only great news-providing agency that serves morning newspapers. To the morning newspapers it is more important than the railroads are to industrial organizations. For, while railroads merely transport the product of industry, the Associated Press both gathers and transports the material of which newspapers are made.

The Associated Press is certainly a monopoly. It is a monopoly controlling the distribution of a vital necessity of civilization, controlling the price at which this necessity shall be sold; and it goes still further than other trusts in monopolistic power, for it exercises an absolute discrimination as to whom its products shall be sold to.

The Times editorial, in denouncing those who hold that the District Attorney’s office shall not be used by the Associated Press, seems to me to be inclined to cover up the real issue. It does not mention that two criminal indictments were brought against Eastman and Young for publishing the same editorial and cartoon.

In the first indictment the figure depicted as poisoning the reservoir of public news and labelled “The Associated Press” is alleged to refer, as in fact it was meant to refer, to the Associated Press, a corporation. In a trial under such an indictment there would naturally be admitted the broadest evidence upon the questions whether the Associated Press colors news and exercises a monopolistic control over the distribution of information to the public. In a trial upon such an indictment a searching investigation into the policy and organization of the Associated Press, its attitude toward labor and capital, its control by bond ownership, etc., would be inevitable.

But it seems that the Associated Press is unwilling to appear in court as a complainant in such a trial. For, just thirty-three days after Eastman and Young were indicted and admitted to $1,000 bail each, Mr. Noyes again complained to the District Attorney, and they were again indicted. This time, however, the figure in the cartoon labeled “The Associated Press” is alleged to be a picture of Mr. Noyes, and the charge in this indictment is not that the Associated Press is libelled, but that Mr. Noyes personally is libelled. The Assistant District Attorney in charge of the case now expresses his intention of dismissing the first indictment, and only trying Eastman and Young on the second. He contends that upon the trial of the second indictment evidence in regard to suppression and coloring of news by the Associated Press shall be inadmissible, and the trial shall be limited to the narrow question as to whether Mr. Noyes and the dignity of the people the of the County of New York were injured by the publication of this cartoon.

It would seem as if this was an unfortunate change of ground, because it is much more important for the public to discover whether the Associated Press is guilty of news coloring and monopolistic practices than whether Mr. Noyes and the public have been harmed by the publication of Art Young’s picture.

I sincerely hope that all this agitation, the indictments of Eastman and Young, the mass meeting of protest, the discussions and recriminations in the papers and, finally, the approaching trial in the criminal courts, will have some beneficial and constructive outcome. It is perfectly clear to those who have thought of the question calmly that this outcome must inevitably be along legislative lines. The nature of the Associated Press, its control over the distribution of news and the size and scope of its operations demand that it shall be considered a common carrier in the sense that rail roads are common carriers. Its service must be open to all those who can pay for it, its control known and all of its operations conducted with the fullest publicity.

The initial and necessary step in this programme is an investigation which will go deeply into very important questions involved. Many people have hoped that in the trial of Eastman and Young such an investigation could be secured.

I hope that in spite of the by-laws of the Associated Press, which I realize would, under ordinary circumstances, prohibit your publishing what I have written, you may decide that the present situation would justify you in doing so.


New York, March 9.