The man famous for saying “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” writes about a free and a responsible press for The Nation.
A group of gentlemen operating under the official-sounding title of the Commission on Freedom of the Press has published a slender book called “A Free and Responsible Press” that may be a mild shock to Henry R. Luce, who in 1942 plunked down $200,000 to finance the group’s work. The membership of the commission, selected by Robert Maynard Hutchins, includes no types remotely resembling George Seldes or Upton Sinclair, and yet the book, subtitled “A General Report on Mass Communication: Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, and Books,” has little good to say about the American press of which Mr. Lace’s publications form so imposing a segment. Certain of the strictures even seem to have been set down with Time-Life operating procedure particularly in mind.
Of equal importance with reportorial accuracy are the identification of fact as fact and opinion as opinion, and their separation, so far as possible,” the commission says, high on its list of requirements for a free and responsible press. “This is necessary all the way from the reporter’s file, up through the copy and makeup desks and the editorial offices, to the final, published product.” And again “Sales talk should be plainly labeled as such whether for toothpastes or tariffs, cosmetics or cosmic reforms, devices for reducing waists or raising prices.”
Mr. Hutchins as chairman of the commission contributes a foreword in which he tells how the commission came to be, as a result of a brief conversation between Mr. Lace and him at a meeting of the board of William Benton’s Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.–Old Yales are always up to big things–and how the commission worked, banging out every line of the report after argument, so that it is a collective expression. He says the commission carried out no elaborate “research”–the quotation marks are his, as if he considered the word a neologism– and I was inclined to wonder uncharitably as I read the book what they had spent the $200,000 on; it contains some sound, unoriginal reflections, but nothing worth over one grand even at Ladies Home Journal rates. It does not shed as much light on our journalistic dilemma as Morris Ernst’s 1946 book, “The First Freedom,” or the even more exciting seventy-two-page pamphlet printed for the Senate Small Businesses Committee–Survival of a Free, Competitive Press,” which, you have to write to the committee to get, if there are any copies left.