ref: JF Ptak Science Books Post 1694
PM (short for "Picture Magazine, evidently) newspaper1--begun 18 June 1940 and ended 1948--was a very strong, left-wing newspaper in NYC, a short-lived newspaper with a long pedigree of contributors2. The "Memorandum" reproduced here, sent by the Managing Editor John P. Lewis "to the writing staff", was a powerful and interesting directive on how to present the news, and addressed the speech of President Roosevelt of the night before.
Lewis felt that here, at the beginning of the American end of the fighting war, was the appropriate place to set out a war strategy for reporting and publishing regarding information received from overseas, or unverified sources, or from dispatches from the countries against which we were fighting. He was clear and very concise--the whole of the memorandum fitting on one side of a single sheet of paper.
The Roosevelt speech of 9 December 1941 can be found here. Some interesting extras as follows:
"Your Government knows that for weeks Germany has been telling Japan that if Japan did not attack the United States, Japan would not share in dividing the spoils with Germany when peace came. She was promised by Germany that if she came in she would receive the complete and perpetual control of the whole of the Pacific area...This alone if true could be a justification for war with Germany."
"Our policy rested on the fundamental truth that the defense of any country resisting Hitler or Japan was in the long run the defense of our own country."
But the main thrust that Lewis was addressing was this:
"I cite as another example a statement made on Sunday night that a Japanese carrier had been located and sunk off the Canal Zone. And when you hear statements that are attributed to what they call "an authoritative source," you can be reasonably sure from now on that under these war circumstances the "authoritative source" is not any person in authority."
"Many rumors and reports which we now hear originate, of course, with enemy sources. For instance, today the Japanese are claiming that as a result of their one action against Hawaii they hare gained naval supremacy in the Pacific. This is an old trick of propaganda which has been used innumerable times by the Nazis. The purposes of such fantastic claims are, of course, to spread fear and confusion among us, and to goad us into revealing military information which our enemies are desperately anxious to obtain."
Lewis was quick to the point: "President Roosevelt's address Tuesday night gave the American people a quick lesson in phony reporting. After that address all any newspaper has to do to convict itself of falsifying is to say that it learned something from authoritative sources."
He continued: "The president laid down a very clear line on what people can believe and what they can disbelieve..." and then outlined four major points for his writers to follow:
"1. We will not pass on as news any communique about the conduct of the war from any hostile government without warning the reader that these are claims of an enemy government which wants to confuse us...
"2. We will never report anything from "Authoritative" sources or anonymous synonyms.
"3. On the actual conduct of the war, the only material which we will pass on as absolute fact is material from the American communiques."
"4. In covering war stories as well as other news, we will carefully segregate fact reporting from opinion reporting and editorial conclusions."
Lewis was also particularly demanding in his policy regarding personal opinion in news stories: "Where we want to express an editorial opinion, we will label it "Editorial."
And Lewis meant it, too. Unlike almost all newspapers, PM editorials were signed. The newspaper also took no advertising, hoping to keep the paper running on sales and subscriptions. And so it did, for eight years--not long by long-running standards of newspapers, but fairly long for the times, and for the type of business plan practiced.
In any event I enjoyed the crispness and clarity of Lewis' directive.
1. The publisher was Ralph Ingersoll (1980-1985), who before coming to PM was the managing editor of Time-Life, and who was also the business plan designer and then managing editor of Fortune magazine; and the silent partner in the whole thing was MArshal Fields III, who pretty much bankrolled the newspaper from a distance.
2. It was a very considerable staf. From Wiki: "Journalist I. F. Stone was the paper's Washington correspondent. His award-winning series on European Jewish refugees attempting to run the British blockade to reach the Jewish homeland in Mandatory Palestine became the book, Underground to Palestine. Staffers included theater critic Louis Kronenberger and film critic Cecelia Ager. Weegee, Margaret Bourke-White and Arthur Leipzig were the photographers. The sports writers were Tom Meany, Tom O’Reilly and George F. T. Ryall (who covered horse racing). Elizabeth Hawes wrote about fashions, and her sister Charlotte Adams covered food. Other distinguished writers who contributed articles included Erskine Caldwell, [Myril Axlerod], McGeorge Bundy, Saul K. Padover, James Wechsler (eventually the paper's editorialist); Penn Kimball, later dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism; Heywood Hale Broun; James Thurber; Dorothy Parker; Ernest Hemingway; Eugene Lyons; Ben Stolberg; Malcolm Cowley; future Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill and Ben Hecht.