WORLD Magazine / Telling the Truth / Appendix C
The Decline of American Journalism

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A recent study by New York University Professor Paul Vitz found that the vast majority of elementary and high school textbooks go to great lengths to avoid reference to religion. Vitz found American history textbooks defining pilgrims as "people who make long trips" and fundamentalists as rural people who "follow the values or traditions of an earlier period." One textbook listed three hundred important events in American history, but only three of the three hundred had anything to do with religion. A world history textbook left out any mention of the Protestant Reformation. A literature textbook changed a sentence by Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer from "Thank God" to "Thank goodness."[1]

Standard journalism history textbooks provide similar distortions in their accounts of early nineteenth-century newspapers. Two chapters in the most-used textbook, Emery and Emery’s The Press and America, deal with the 1800-1833 era of American journalism without once mentioning the Christian worldview that then characterized many major American newspapers and magazines. [2] The textbook does not even mention the New York Christian Advocate, in 1830 the weekly with the largest circulation in the country, or the Boston Recorder, which had the second largest circulation in that city. [3]

Other twentieth-century textbooks have similar blinders. [4] They ignore comments by early nineteenth-century press-watchers who noted, "Of all the reading of the people three-fourths is religious . . . of all the issues of the press three-fourths are theological, ethical and devotional." They do not mention that New York City alone boasted fifty-two magazines and newspapers that called themselves Christian, or that from 1825 to 1845 over one hundred cities and towns had explicitly Christian newspapers. [5] The facts, though, are irrefutable, once they are dug up: In the early nineteenth century, American journalism often was Christian journalism.

In those days, many Christian newspapers covered everything from neighborhood disputes to foreign affairs. They did not restrict themselves to church activities. The Boston Recorder, for example, included news of everyday accidents, crimes, and political campaigns. Its circulation success allowed one editor to conclude that the Recorder had gained "the attention of the public" and "stirred up the minds of Christians to duty" [6]

Recorder cofounder Nathaniel Willis was an experienced journalist. Born in 1780, he edited the Eastern Argus, a partisan newspaper in Maine, during the early years of the new century. In 1807, though, Willis’ life changed. He went to hear what he thought would be a political speech by a minister, but the minister went back to biblical basics. Willis, in his own words, "was much interested, and became a constant hearer. The Holy Spirit led me to see . . . that the Bible is the Word of God–that Christ is the only Saviour, and that it is by grace we are saved, through faith." [7]

The new vision changed Willis’ life. First he "began to moderate the severity of party spirit in the Argus, and extracted from other papers short articles on religious subjects." He wanted to make the Ads an explicitly Christian newspaper, but local politicians who had backed the newspaper were opposed. Willis gave up the Ads and moved to Boston. He opened up a print shop there and investigated the journalistic marketplace.

Some newspapers, Willis found, were largely political and commercial, others largely church public-relations organs specializing in ecclesiastical news. Willis closely analyzed three religious weeklies in particular and would not even count them as newspapers, for "A proper newspaper . . . contains secular news, foreign and domestic, and advertisements." With coeditor Sidney Morse, Willis then produced the first issue of the Boston Recorder on January 3, 1816. According to the Prospectus published that day, the Recorder was to be a newspaper with "the earliest information of all such events as mankind usually deem important," rather than a set of abstract sermonettes. [8]

Willis stuck to his plan, and did not consider it lacking in piety. He knew that news stories could be written in a way showing the consequences of sin and the need for Christ. For example, an article in 1819 headlined "Shocking Homicide" reported that a man had killed his own son after being "for a long time troubled with irreligious fears, and a belief that his sins were too numerous to be pardoned." [9] An 1820 article criticized Admiral Stephen Decatur for fighting a duel for fear of being declared a coward: He forgot "that there is no honor, which is valuable and durable, save that which comes from God." [10]

For Willis, in his own words, all kinds of stories provided "occasion to record many signal triumphs of divine grace over the obduracy of the human heart, and over the prejudices of the unenlightened mind." The Recorder, he wrote, was a record of "these quickening influences of the Holy Spirit." [11]

Christian-run newspapers in other cities had similar formats and success. The Baltimore Chronicle, in its international coverage, described the troubles of one king: "A bloody cloud now swims before his vision, distilling blood instead of rain; the agitated monarch sees nothing but mangled limbs and bleeding bodies . . . If Divine Providence had intended to have produced a living instance of the worthlessness of human grandeur, could a more awful example have been afforded?" The Portland Gazette, for its local coverage, described how two persons were killed by lightning within a house, for want of a lightning rod. It then concluded, "By such events, as well as by a multitude of electrical experiments, Providence is teaching us." [12]

Christian newspapers through the mid-nineteenth century attempted to provide a biblical worldview on all aspects of life. One Ohio newspaper declared in 1858 that the Christian newspaper should be a provider of not "merely religious intelligence, but a news paper, complete in every department of general news, yet upon a religious, instead of a political or literary basis." Another, the Northwestern Christian Advocate, proclaimed in 1860, "Let theology, law, medicine, politics, literature, art, science, commerce, trade, architecture, agriculture–in fine, all questions which concern and secure the welfare of a people–be freely discussed and treated, and this, too, for God, for Jesus Christ, and the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom among men." [13]

Overall, many early Christian journalists showed an awareness of how the Bible uses bad news to show us the wages of sin and to prepare us for understanding the necessity of the Good News. The journalists knew that general statements about man’s corruption were far less gripping than coverage with specific detail of the results of sin and misery.

A Great Christian Newspaper:
The New York Times
Harvard, Yale and other universities founded by Christians now preach an atheistic gospel. A similar story could be told of some of the great newspapers of the land, including the New York Times, established in 1851 by Henry Raymond, a Bible-believing Presbyterian.[14] The Times became known for its accurate news coverage and for its exposure in 1871 of both political corruption (the "Tweed Ring") and abortion practices. Tales of the Times’ political exposés may be found in journalism history textbooks. [15] The abortion story is ignored, but it had a far greater long-range impact, one that shows how significant Christian journalism could be. [16]

Abortion was officially illegal but nevertheless rampant in New York City from the 1840s through the 1860s. Times editorials complained that the "perpetration of infant murder . . . is rank and smells to heaven." [17] But little was being done about it until the Times sent one of its reporters, Augustus St. Clair, to carry on an undercover investigation of Manhattan’s abortion businesses. For several weeks St. Clair and "a lady friend" visited the most-advertised abortionists in New York, posing as a couple in need of professional services. The result was an August 23, 1871, story headlined "The Evil of the Age." [18]

The story began on a solemn note: "Thousands of human beings are murdered before they have seen the light of this world, and thousands upon thousands more adults are irremediably robbed in constitution, health, and happiness." St. Clair then skillfully contrasted powerlessness and power. He described the back of one abortionist’s office: "Human flesh, supposed to have been the remains of infants, was found in barrels of lime and acids, undergoing decomposition." He described the affluence of a typical abortionist: "The parlors are spacious, and contain all the decorations, upholstery, cabinetware, piano, book case, etc., that is found in a respectable home." [19]

St. Clair also listed leading abortionists by name and noted their political connections: "You have no idea of the class of people that come to us," one abortionist said. "We have had Senators, Congressmen and all sorts of politicians, bring some of the first women in the land here." St. Clair concluded with a call for change: "The facts herein set forth are but a fraction of a greater mass that cannot be published with propriety. Certainly enough is here given to arouse the general public sentiment to the necessity of taking some decided and effectual action." [20]

When the Times laid out the basic facts public interest evidently was aroused, but a specific incident still was needed to galvanize readers. Tragically for a young woman, providentially for the anti-abortion effort, an ideal story of horror arrived within the week. St. Clair published his exposé on August 23; on August 27 a Times headline at the top of page 1 read: "A Terrible Mystery."

General facts of the story were miserable enough: The nude body of a young woman was found inside a trunk in a railway station baggage room. An autopsy showed her death had been caused by an abortion. The Times, though, provided evocative specific detail: "This woman, full five feet in height, had been crammed into a trunk two feet six inches long. . . . Seen even in this position and rigid in death, the young girl, for she could not have been more than eighteen, had a face of singular loveliness. But her chief beauty was her great profusion of golden hair, that hung in heavy folds over her shoulders, partly shrouding the face. . . . There was some discoloration and decomposition about the pelvic region. It was apparent that here was a new victim of man’s lust, and the life-destroying arts of those abortionists." [21]

Details of the exciting "trunk murder" detective story were played out in the Times during the next several days, as police searched for the perpetrator. Meanwhile, the Times reminded readers every day that this particular incident showed what went on "in one of the many abortion dens that disgrace New York, and which the Times had just exposed as ‘The Evil of the Age.’" [22] The police arrested one of the abortionists whose advertisements had been quoted in St. Clair’s story, and the Times followed with an editorial, "Advertising Facilities for Murder." An editorial quoted St. Clair’s article, discussed the death of the "golden-haired unfortunate," and asked whether "the lives of babes are of less account than a few ounces of precious metal, or a roll of greenbacks?" [23]

The Times also printed a superbly written follow-up by St. Clair. "A Terrible Story from Our Reporter’s Note-Book" revealed how St. Clair, in his undercover research for the exposé, had visited several weeks earlier the accused abortionist’s Fifth Avenue office, with its "fine tapestry carpet" and "elegant mahogany desk." St. Clair described one of the patients he had seen: "She seemed to be about twenty years of age, a little more than five feet in height, of slender build, having blue eyes, and a clear, alabaster complexion. Long blonde curls, tinted with gold, drooped upon her shoulders, and her face wore an expression of embarrassment at the presence of strangers." [24]

St. Clair then quoted the abortionist’s reply when St. Clair asked what would happen to the aborted infant: "Don’t worry about that, my dear Sir. I will take care of the result. A newspaper bundle, a basket, a pail, a resort to the sewer, or the river at night? Who is the wiser?" On his way out, St. Clair glimpsed once again the beautiful young woman he had seen on his way in. This time, as a fitting conclusion to his story, he drove the point home: "She was standing on the stairs, and it was the same face I saw afterward at the Morgue." [25]

The abortionist was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. The Times insisted, though, that legal action by itself was not enough; only a change of heart among New Yorkers would bury the abortion business for several generations. Providentially, New Yorkers had been "grievously shocked by the terrible deeds of the abortionists," the Times could report, and it was clear that abortion would no longer receive approval. [26] Abortion continued to be considered disgraceful until the 1960s, when a much-changed New York Times and other newspapers began pushing pro-abortion positions.

A reading of the New York Times through the mid-1870s shows that editors and reporters wanted to glorify God by making a difference in this world. They did not believe it inevitable that sin should dominate New York City or any other city. They were willing to be controversial. One Times anti-abortion editorial stated, "It is useless to talk of such matters with bated breath, or to seek to cover such terrible realities with the veil of a false delicacy . . . From a lethargy like this it is time to rouse ourselves. The evil that is tolerated is aggressive."

The editorial concluded that "the good . . . must be aggressive too." [27]

Sunset for Christian Journalism
Aggressive journalism by Christians disappeared soon after one of its major successes, for four particular reasons and two underlying causes.

First, looking at the New York Times specifically, one generation died or departed. Owners and editors who knew not Joseph emerged. The newspaper’s slogans became "It Does Not Soil the Breakfast Cloth" and "All the News That’s Fit to Print." Evil unfit for breakfast table discussion or considered unfit to print was ignored and thereby tolerated. Several generations later, it was embraced. [28]

Second, many Christian publications began to prefer "happy talk" journalism. They ran stories about individuals who seemed overwhelmingly decent, cooperative, responsible, and benevolent. Such coverage hardly left the impression that man is a fallen creature desperately in need of Christ. The refusal to cover evil also led to a certain dullness of copy, because without real villains there is little real drama. The Central Christian Herald once ran the following news report: "There is literally nothing stirring." [29]

Third, many Christian publications refused to meet the communication demands of an increasingly fast-paced marketplace. There is a place for both popular and elite publications, and there is always a need for careful scholarship, even when short attention spans become typical. Some Christian magazines, though, seemed to pride themselves on unnecessary verbiage. The classic statement of literary arrogance was offered by the editor of one very dull magazine, Spirit of the Pilgrims, when he announced that "extended and labored articles" were the best kind. Readers who "are uninterested in communications of this nature," the editor wrote, "may as well give up their subscription and proceed no farther with us." Spirit of the Pilgrims soon went out of business. [30]

Fourth, denominational infighting was on the rise. Some newspapers spent much of their space attacking their brethren. Other newspapers, noting that splits had resulted from differences on key issues such as slavery, thought that divisions could be resolved if Christian newspapers steered away from controversial issues.

Overall, however, the problem was not particular villains, but two underlying theological trends. One was anti-Christian, one operated within Christendom; but they worked together to provoke journalistic retreat.

The outside trend is obvious: During the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century, American society generally was casting aside the Christian principles on which it had been founded. Every area of American life was affected by this shift.

The Boston Recorder, located in the New England cockpit of theological liberalism, was hit very early by the great slide. It held its own against Unitarianism, which had captured Harvard College. Recorder editorials frequently explained the fallacy of believing in man’s natural goodness, and complemented those editorials with stories showing the outworkings of original sin.[31] But in the mid-1830s, a new attack emerged from a peculiar merger of materialism and pantheism.

The threat had been building for a long time. Rousseau, Kant and other purveyors of intellectual romanticism–the idea that man’s reason did not have to operate within God’s revelation, but could actually create truth out of its own resources–had long been read at Harvard and absorbed by Unitarian ministers. But Harvard’s alternative to Christianity seemed cold until 1836. In that year Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay "Nature" appeared, and the Transcendental Club, composed of young Unitarian preachers, began meeting at the parsonage of George Ripley, who later became an editor of the New York Tribune.

Emerson laid out the Transcendentalist challenge in "Nature," and more precisely in his 1838 speech at the Harvard Divinity School. Christianity, he said, speaks "with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus," instead of emphasizing "the moral nature of man, where the sublime is." Humanity, Emerson proclaimed, "is drinking forever the soul of God" and becoming Godlike itself. Speak no further of man’s sin and his responsibility before God, Emerson suggested: Man is God, or at least part of God, because a little bit of godstuff is sprinkled everywhere. [32]

If God is pantheisically everywhere, though, God is nowhere. Theoretical pantheism could merge nicely with practical materialism. Transcendental thinking was spread in magazines such as The Dial and then popularized through non-Christian newspapers and the new public school systems set up by Unitarian Horace Mann and his disciples. There was no need to report on "God’s providence" if news events arose from a combination of natural chance and man’s godlike skill. The movement away from Christianity was heightened after midcentury when Charles Darwin provided a convenient way to satisfy the long-felt desire of haughty hearts. [33]

Following the traumatic Civil War, even editors of some Christian publications succumbed to intellectual trendiness. For example, editor Lyman Abbott of the Christian Union, a large-circulation weekly newspaper of the 1870s, decided that the Bible was fable rather than fact. He became known for attacking God’s sovereignty in the name of Darwin. With the support of others who were similarly swayed, Abbott eventually took Christianity out of the magazine’s title as well as its pages, with the name becoming Outlook in 1893. By that time, other anti-Christian doctrines–Marxism, Freudianism, and a general emphasis on "science" as mankind’s savior–had kicked in also, or soon would. [34]

And yet, just as those trends were gaining power, a counterinfluence was developing. The period of great advances for anti-Christian thought also was a great era of revivals. During the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century God used great evangelists such as Charles Finney and Dwight Moody to expound the gospel of grace to millions. Many were saved through their preaching. Many also learned, as Proverbs 1:7 notes, that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" and wisdom. They thus were kept from believing in evolutionary or Marxist scriptures. [35]

Revivalism, though, did not particularly help those Christian newspapers that were endeavoring to cover every aspect of God’s creation and perhaps "stir up the mind of Christians to duty" The great revivalists’ focus on evangelism tended to be specifically individualistic: Worldview was not stressed. Furthermore, many Christians began to believe that the general culture inevitably would become worse and worse. They thought that little could be done to stay the downward drift. Christian publications should cover church news, they thought, and ignore the rest of the world. [36]

The anti-Christian trend and separatistic Christian reaction combined to end the Christian presence in newsrooms. As journalists who had embraced materialism and/or pantheism advanced in newspaper and magazine work, Christians who embraced separatistic revivalism retreated. Some Christian newspapers may have died after being overrun, but many evacuated the social realm without ever engaging the invading forces.

The general result of the two underlying movements was that the Reformational idea of Christ as Lord of all of life was neglected. Relations of ministry and laity, and of sabbatical and general church activities, also were affected. Calvin and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation had argued that good work outside the pulpit glorified God as much as the activities of the ministry proper. [37] But as views of inevitable cultural decay began to grip nineteenth-century American Protestantism, some editors began to consider journalism inferior to preaching. The editor of one Ohio newspaper said that "the work of a Christian minister" was far more important than the work of an editor. [38]

As Christian publications became less significant, selection of editors became more haphazard. Often those who could, preached, while those who could not, edited–and the latter knew that they were considered second-class Christians. One minister thrown into an editor’s chair in Cincinnati wrote: "I had never seen a newspaper made up. . . . I was stunned by the cry of ‘copy!’ ‘copy!’" That newspaper ceased publication when a follow-up editor took a vacation and never came back. The editor of the Southern Christian Advocate proclaimed that it was better to "wander through the earth on foot, preaching Christianity, than to be the editor of a religious newspaper." [39]

Sometimes it even seemed that a sense of "Whew! Glad I’m saved!" had replaced a strong sense of God’s sovereignty over all areas of human life. The theological vision of social defeatism and separatism had some immediate practical consequences. With many Christian journalists hiding their light under a bushel, the newspaper field was wide open for the triumph of "yellow journalism" at the end of the nineteenth century, and the expulsion of God from the front page early in the twentieth. [40] By 1925, Christians often were voiceless, except in publications that largely preached to the choir.

The almost total dominance of major newspapers by non-Christians showed up in the way that news stories generally, and major news stories with obvious theological dimensions in particular, were covered. There were many examples of biased coverage, but one of the most striking involved coverage of a 1925 trial that divided believers in the biblical account of creation from those who had made their peace with materialism or pantheism or some combination of the two. [41]

Journalistic Monkeys
Two faiths were in conflict at that Dayton, Tennessee, "monkey trial." The New York Times, greatly changed from the 1870s, editorialized for "faith, even of a grain of mustard seed, in the evolution of life. . . ." Realizing that there were only two ways upward from sin and misery–God’s grace or man’s evolution–a Times editorial stated that evolution offered the most hope: "If man has evolved, it is inconceivable that the process should stop and leave him in his present imperfect state. Specific creation has no such promise for man." [42]

That faith ran up against Christian faith in God’s sovereignty and the hope offered by Christ’s sacrifice. Tennessee legislators passed a law forbidding the teaching of evolution as scientific truth. The battle was joined when one young Dayton teacher, John T. Scopes, responded to an American Civil Liberties Union plea for someone to agree to be the defendant in a test case, with the ACLU paying all legal expenses. Clarence Darrow, the most famous lawyer of the era and an atheist, was hired to head the defense. William Jennings Bryan, thrice-defeated Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State, and a fundamentalist Christian, became point man for the prosecution.

The issue and the superstars brought out the journalists. Over one hundred reporters were dispatched to the trial. They wired 165,000 words daily to their newspapers during the twelve days of extensive coverage in July 1925. In theory, trial coverage could have been an opportunity to illuminate the theological debate that lay behind the creation vs. evolution issue. But in practice, with few if any Christians among those reporters, the position established early on by columnist H. L. Mencken went apparently unchallenged: "On the one side was bigotry, ignorance, hatred, superstition, every sort of blackness that the human mind is capable of. On the other side was sense." [43]

Journalists from major city newspapers saw the story as one of evolutionist intelligence vs. creationist stupidity. Nunnally Johnson, who covered the trial for the Brooklyn Eagle and then became a noted Hollywood screenwriter, remembered years later, "For the newspapermen it was a lark on a monstrous scale. . . . Being admirably cultivated fellows, they were all of course evolutionists and looked down on the local fundamentalists." Such ridicule was not merely a function of geography or politics. Both liberal and conservative newspapers lambasted the creationists. Journalists constantly attacked the theology of the creationists, perhaps because it was something their cultures had only recently "outgrown." [44]

The New York Times even noted at one point "a certain unexpectedness in the behavior and talk of the Dayton people. The unexpectedness comes from the absence in these Dayton people of any notable dissimilarity from people elsewhere except in their belated clinging to a method of Scriptural interpretation that not long ago was more than common in both North and South." The Times writer in those two sentences understood that fundamentalist beliefs were far from bizarre. In fact, it was the newer method of scriptural interpretation that had been regarded as bizarre in Times Square as well as Tennessee only a short time before. [45]

The Christian exile from mainline journalism–the absence of salt–led to poor reporting. The evolutionists, without anyone to check them, wrote that Christians were trying to make one pro-evolution book "a book of evil tidings, to be studied in secret."46 This was nonsense: Hundreds of pro-evolution writings were on sale in Dayton. Even a drugstore had a stack of materials representing all positions. John Butler, the legislator who introduced the anti-evolution bill, had a copy of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species for his teenage children to read. He told reporters, "I am not opposed to teaching of evolution, but I don’t think it ought to be taught in state-supported schools." [47]

The key issue, clearly, was not free speech, but parental control over school curricula. Even in Tennessee, Christian parents were already beginning to sense that their beliefs were being excluded from schools they were funding. William Jennings Bryan spoke for them when he said he "never advocated teaching the Bible in public schools," but believed "There is no reason why school children should not hear of Bible characters as well as other characters. In other words, there is no reason why the reading of the Bible should be excluded while the reading of books about other characters in history, like Confucius, should be permitted." [48]

Tennessee legislators saw their anti-evolution bill not as a way of putting Christian religion into the schools, but of forbidding proselytization for what they saw as a trendy but unproved evolutionary faith. Tennessee Governor Peay opposed the uncritical acceptance of evolutionary material "that no science has established." [49] One anti-evolutionary organization called itself the Defenders of True Science versus Speculation, contending that evolution "is a theory not yet approved by science," particularly since species-transitional fossils ("missing links") had not been found. "Demonstrated truth," Bryan insisted, "has no terrors for Christianity" [50]

Journalists, instead of explaining that, wrote leads such as, "Tennessee today maintained its quarantine against learning." The battle was "rock-ribbed Tennessee" vs. "unfettered investigation by the human mind and the liberty of opinion of which the Constitution makers preached." Reporters regularly attacked Christian faith and "this superheated religious atmosphere, this pathetic search for the ‘eternal truth.’" [51]

One journalist described Scopes, the teacher-defendant, as an imprisoned martyr, "the witch who is to be burned by Dayton." (Actually, Scopes did not spend a second in jail and was regularly invited to dinner by Dayton Christians.) If the creationists were to win, another wrote, "The dunce cap will be the crown of office, and the slopstick will be the sceptre of authority." Residents of Dayton were "the treewise monkeys" who "see no logic, speak no logic and hear no logic." When William Jennings Bryan Jr., an attorney, arrived for the trial, a columnist wrote, "Junior is bound to be a chip off the old blockhead. . . . Like father, like son, and we don’t like either." [52]

Dayton jurors, who following the trial gave thoughtful accounts of the proceedings, were described in one New York headline: "Intelligence of Most of Lowest Grade." It seemed that "All twelve are Protestant churchgoers." [53]

There was not even accurate coverage of the debates between creationists and evolutionists. For instance, when Bryan debated Darrow’s associate Dudley Malone on July 16, the court transcript shows strong and intelligent orations by both sides. Bryan, within Christian presuppositions, made a sophisticated and coherent argument. He stressed the evolutionary theory’s lack of scientific proof and emphasized its inability to answer questions about how life began, how man began, how one species actually changes into another, and so on. He pointed out the irreconcilability of Darwinian doctrines of extra-species evolution with the biblical account of creation, original sin, and the reasons for Christ’s coming. [54]

Malone stated the evolutionist position in a similarly cohesive way. Both sides apparently did well. But journalists wrote that Bryan’s speech "was a grotesque performance and downright touching in its imbecility." [55] Bryan coverage by a variety of reporters was laden with sarcastic biblical allusions: "Dayton began to read a new book of revelations today. The wrath of Bryan fell at last. With whips of scorn . . . he sought to drive science from the temples of God and failed." [56] According to the Chicago Tribune’s news coverage, the debate proved that "the truth as applied to man’s origin was not locked in a book in the days of Moses." [57]

Overall, most major newspaper reporters produced so many unobservant stories that it often seemed as if they were closing their eyes and not even seeing the trial at all. The ultimate in this came when one New York scribe, under a headline "Scopes Is Seen as New Galileo at Inquisition," wrote that the "sultry courtroom in Dayton, during a pause in the argument, became hazy and there evolved from the mists of past ages a new scene. The Tennessee judge disappeared and I racked my brain to recognize the robed dignitary on the bench. Yes, it was the grand inquisitor, the head of the inquisition at Rome. . . . I saw the Tennessee Fundamentalist public become a medieval mob thirsty for heretical blood. . . . [It was] 1616. The great Galileo was on trial." [58]

It seemed that most reporters in Dayton, even when they tried to be fair–some had no such intention–could not help seeing the atheistic side as plausible and the Christian view as "nonsensical." The life and beliefs of one of the best of the Scopes trial reporters, Raymond Clapper, shows the pattern. In 1912, ready to enter college, he was leading Presbyterian church meetings in Kansas. But after four years at the University of Kansas, he chose "a more reasonable belief." By 1923 Clapper and his wife had "discarded the orthodox teachings of our youth. We could not believe the Old Testament prophets, whose teachings no doubt fitted well the savage age in which they lived but suited our world no better than the Greek oracles. The story of Christ we thought was moving and beautiful but we could not accept the virgin birth or the resurrection." [59]

Before Clapper arrived in Dayton to cover the trial, his mind already was made up: He believed that "the whole case of fundamentalism [was] ridiculous." It was no surprise, then, when Clapper’s stories argued that "Fundamentalist justice has plugged up the ears of this Tennessee mountain jury." Olive Clapper, his wife, argued that "Unbelievable as the trial was to intelligent people, it did have value because the end result was greater enlightenment of people on the subject of evolution." Clapper had done his best to provide that enlightenment. [60]

The Clapper story could be repeated many times: Journalists who were or had become opposed to the Bible wanted to teach readers the anti-Christian "truth" as they saw it. There was no one to counterbalance their emphases, because Christians no longer had much of a presence in American journalism. Yes, there were denominational magazines and church newsletters, but coverage of major events such as the Scopes trial was in the hands of those who might be ever watching but never seeing. [61]

Mainline news coverage in the United States is still in those hands.

NEXT » Appendix D: A Christian Journalism Revival?
« PREVIOUS Appendix B: McDowall's Defense of Biblical Sensationalism
   1. Paul Vitz, Religion and Traditional Values in Public Textbooks (Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education, 1986). For comments on Vitz’s study, see Newsweek, July 28, 1986, p. 20; Saturday Evening Post, July-August 1986, p. 16; Christianity Today, January 17, 1986, p. 49; Christianity Today, March 7, 1986, p. 15.

   2. Edwin and Michael Emery, The Press and America, fifth edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984), pp. 109-138.

   3. Roberta Moore, Development of Protestant Journalism in the United States, 1743-1850 (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University, 1968), p. 237.

    4. Frank Luther Mott’s American Journalism, revised edition (New York: Macmillan, 1950) has one paragraph on p. 206 about the "religious newspapers" of the 1801-1833 period. According to Mott, about one hundred such publications, scattered across the country, covered both secular events and church activities: The newspapers were "a phenomenon of the times" and "often competed successfully with the secular papers." Mott noted that "many of these papers were conducted with great vigor and ability."

Mott did not go into detail, but his brief mention was more than these newspapers have received in other journalism history textbooks written in the twentieth century, such as James M. Lee, History of American Journalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917); George H. Payne, History of Journalism in the United States (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1920); or Sidney Kobre, Development of American Journalism (Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Co., 1969). A history written in the late nineteenth century, Frederic Hudson, Journalism in the United States from 1690 to 1872 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1873), is also unsympathetic to the Christian press, but at least provides some information. A monograph by Wesley Norton, Religious Newspapers in the Old Northwest to 1861 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1977), and dissertations by Moore and Kenberry, provide useful records.

   5. Howard Kenberry, The Rise of Religious Journalism in the United States (unpublished dissertation, University of Chicago, 1920), p. 35.

    6. New York Observer, June 23,1849, p. 98.

   7. Puritan Recorder, October 21,1858; quoted in Hudson, p. 290. Willis had had no particular theological interests and did not attend church, "but spent my Sabbaths in roving about the fields and in reading newspapers."

   8. Boston Recorder, January 3, 1816, p. 1.

   9. Ibid., September 11, 1819, p. 147. (The Recorder produced four-page issues but numbered its pages consecutively throughout the year.)

10. Ibid., April 22, 1820, p. 57.

11. Ibid., December 23, 1817, p. 202; August 25,1826, p. 136. The Recorder is one of my favorite old newspapers; Chapters Four, Ten, and Eleven (on objectivity, sensationalism and crusading) provide more examples of Recorder news coverage.

12. Contents of the early publications could be almost as varied as those of newspapers. One early Christian magazine became a bit carried away in describing its variety: The New England Magazine contained, according to the editors, "Relations Wonderful, and Psalm, and Song,/Good Sense, Wit, Humour, Morals, all ding dong;/Poems and Speeches, Politicks, and News,/What Some will like, and other Some refuse;/Births, Deaths, and Dreams, and Apparitions, too . . . To Humour Him, and Her, and Me, and You" (Kenberry, p. 64).

13. Presbyterian of the West, December 30, 1858; Northwestern Christian Advocate, November 28, 1860; quoted in Norton, p. 2.

14. For details on Raymond, see New York Times. June 19, 1869, p. 4 (obituary); June 22, p. 1 (funeral); June 28, p. 8 (eulogy); also see Francis Brown, Raymond of the Times (New York: Norton, 1951), and Augustus Maverick, Henry J. Raymond and the New York Press for Thirty Years (Hartford: Hale, 1870).

15. See Emery and Emery, p. 215. When Raymond died in 1869 he was succeeded by his long-time partner George Jones in the business management of the Times and, after two short-lived appointments, by Louis Jennings as editor; both Jones and Jennings were Christians. When Jones turned down a $5 million bribe offered him by Boss Tweed, he said the Devil never again would offer him so high a price.

16. One pro-abortion article cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision suggests that newspaper stories contributed to a long-lasting abortion setback: See Cyril C. Means, "The Law of New York Concerning Abortion and the State of the Foetus, 1664-1968: A Case of Cessation of Constitutionality," New York Law Forum, Fall 1968, pp. 458-490.

17. New York Times, November 3,1870, p. 4.

18. Ibid., August 23, 1871, p. 6.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., August 27, p. 1. The young lady was later identified as Alice Mowlsby, a poor orphan who lived with her aunt in Patterson, New Jersey

22. Ibid., August 28,29,30, p. 8. A boy who had helped carry the trunk into the station tried to find a man and a mysterious lady who had delivered the trunk. Readers daily absorbed the strategy of the detective in charge, Inspector WaIling, who "issued orders which practically put every policeman in the force upon the case."

23. Ibid., August 29, p. 8; August 30, p. 4.

24. Ibid., August 30, p. 8.

25. Ibid. What would be called today a "free press vs. fair trial" issue does emerge here: With one of its own reporters giving a firsthand account, the Times sometimes seemed to be convicting the abortionist in the press.

26. Ibid., December 8, 1871, p. 2. The Times did recommend passage of a bill "far-reaching enough to catch hold of all who assist, directly or indirectly, in the destruction of infant life," and gave its recommendation one additional populist thrust: "The people demand it." The New York legislature of 1872 passed tough new anti-abortion laws, with easier rules of evidence and a maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment. Enforcement also was stepped up.

27. Ibid., November 3, 1870, p. 4.

28. The New York Times continued to run anti-abortion stories through the remainder of the century. Chapter Eleven has more discussion of the overall anti-abortion campaign.

29. Central Christian Herald, September 2, 1852; quoted in Norton, p. 32.

30. Quoted in Kenberry, p. 158.

31. See p. 208 of each Recorder volume during the 1820s for a list of such articles. See also Recorder, January 27, 1837, p. 14.

32. Emerson’s address is published in many books, including Volume 5 of the Harvard Classics, ed. Charles Eliot (New York: Collier, 1937), pp. 25-42.

33. This chapter has room to mention only in passing the major theological and social developments; it does not attempt to be anything more than a quick overview. For general discussions of the period, see Perry Miller, The Life of the Mind in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965), and Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972). For a discussion of Unitarianism and the public schools, see Samuel Blumenfeld, Is Public Education Necessary? (Boise: Paradigm, 1985). For a discussion of the impact of evolutionism, see appendices to Gary North, The Dominion Covenant (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1982), pp. 245-454.

34. Abbott’s books include The Evolution of Christianity (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900); The Other Room (New York: Grosset, Dunlap, 1903); Christianity and Social Problems (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1896); and Reminiscences (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915).

35. This discussion of Christian trends is, again, just a quick overview. For further information and perspective, see George Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970); Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957); James E Findlay Jr., Dwight L. Moody American Evangelist, 1837-1899 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969); John Woodbridge, Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch, The Gospel in America (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979).

36. As historian George Marsden has noted in Fundamentalism and American Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1980), the 1860-1900 period brought with it "a transition from a basically ‘Calvinistic’ tradition, which saw politics as a significant means to advance the kingdom, to a ‘pietistic’ view of political action as no more than a means to restrain evil." This movement led to what Marsden calls the "Great Reversal" early in the twentieth century, with social concerns becoming suspect among revivalist evangelicals. Meanwhile, the older Reformed concern for social action was transmuted into a "social gospel" clung to by many who no longer held to the biblical gospel.

37. See Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983; first published in 1899). Also see Henry Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), and John T McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (London: Oxford University Press, 1954). Primarily see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 edition, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John I McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960).

38. Norton, p. 38.

39. Just as the Boston Recorder had been one of the first to see the entire society as a journalistic mission field, so it was one of the first to drop out under the twin pressures of Boston transcendentalism and the tendency to turn inwards. Circulation during the 1840s was stagnant at a time when non-Christian newspapers were soaring. A Recorder editorial in 1848 suggesting "encouraging prospects" for the newspaper was belied by both appearance and context. Type size was smaller, typography was muddy, and page size had decreased; those pages were filled with monthly, quarterly and annual reports of various church groups, indicating clearly that the Recorder had died as a newspaper and had become a public relations organ. In 1849 the Recorder officially merged with the Puritan, a ten-year-old newspaper. Examination of one advertisement in the last issue of the Recorder, though, makes the agreement seem more like a subscription list buyout than a merger. The little notice, placed by the Recorder itself, offered "the type and other printing materials which are now used in this office–the whole comprising all the fixtures of a weekly newspaper establishment" (Recorder, January 7, 1848, p. 2; May 4, 1849, p. 71).

40. An interesting test arose in 1899 and 1900, when international attention was focused on the battle in South Africa between Boers and British. Race was not an issue at the time, since neither side spoke much of the black inhabitants; the issue was social Darwinist "progress," and to the New York Times the Boers seemed least likely to succeed, due to their fundamentalist religious beliefs. "Poor, hidebound, Bible reading, otherwise illiterate Boers," the New York Times sniffed. The Boers’ religion, according to the Times, makes them a "very stubborn people . . . in a state of arrested development. They are not much different from the Dutch of this island two centuries ago. That is to say, they are simple minded, Bible reading, God-fearing people" with an "idiotic-heroic attitude" (August 24, 1899, p. 6; August 10, 1899, p. 6).

41. New York Times, July 26, 1925, Section Il, p. 4. Leslie H. Allen, ed., Bryan and Darrow at Dayton: The Record and Documents of the Bible Evolution Trial (New York: Russell & Russell, 1925), p. 1, conveniently assembles materials against which press reports may be checked.

42. The importance of the Dayton trial, for both prosecution and defense, lay in the chance to debate the issues of the case. The judicial proceedings themselves were not of great interest. The case was open-and-shut, deliberately designed for conviction on obvious law-breaking so that the decision could be appealed to the United States Supreme Court for a ruling on the act’s constitutionality. (Ironically, although Scopes was convicted, as planned by the ACLU, and although the anti-evolution law itself was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Tennessee Supreme Court also overturned the conviction on a technicality involving the imposition of a $100 fine without jury approval.)

43. Baltimore Sun, July 9,1925, p. 1. Mencken attacked the Dayton creationists (before he had set foot in the town) as "local primates . . . yokels . . . morons . . . half-wits." Mencken put aside his typical amusement with life to ride Paul Revere-like through the land with dire warnings about the trial: "Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led a by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience" (Baltimore Sun, July 18, 1925, p. 1).

Mencken’s intolerance was parallel to that of many anti-evolution spokesmen. Columbia University dean Henry H. Rusby demanded that universities not recognize degrees from universities that did not accept evolution. A leading liberal minister, Charles Francis Potter, argued that "educated and enlightened men ought not to rest until the possibility of such dense mental darkness is removed." The New York Times then editorialized against "the mental and moral infection which has been let loose upon the land. . . . (New York Times, July 12, 1925, section l, p. 2; Arkansas Gazette, June 16, p. 2). Fundamentalists had some justification for believing that they were being told not "live and let live," but "your diseased religion does not deserve to exist."

44. Acid-tongued Westbrook Pegler, who covered the trial briefly, admired Mencken and imitated his coverage, but noted years later concerning the creationists, "They were intelligent people, including a fair proportion of college graduates. Nevertheless, the whole Blue Ridge country was ridiculed on religious grounds by an enormous claque of supercilious big town reporters. Such ridicule was not primarily a function of politics; it underlay the politics of liberal and conservative newspapers. The liberal New York Times editorialized that the creationist position represented a "breakdown of the reasoning powers. It is seeming evidence that the human mind can go into deliquescence without falling into stark lunacy" (July 13, p. 16). The conservative Chicago Tribune sneered at fundamentalists looking for "horns and forked tails and cloven hoofs" (July 19, p. 5).

45. New York Times, July 20,1925, p. 14.

46. Arkansas Gazette, July 18, 1925, p. 5.

47. Baltimore Sun, July 10, 1925, p. 1. Also see Atlanta Constitution, July 9, p. 10.

48. Arkansas Gazette, July 12, p. 1. Also see Arkansas Gazette, June 23, p. 1, and June 28, p. 1; Washington Post, July 16, 1925, p. 6.

49. Arkansas Gazette, June 27, 1925, p. 1.

50. Atlanta Constitution, July 2, 1925, p. l; July 8, 1925, p. 22.

51. New York American, July 18, 1925, p. 1; July 14, p. 1; Arkansas Gazette (New York Times/Chicago Tribune news service), July 16, 1925, p. 3.

52. New York American, July 13, 1925, p. 1; July 15, p. 4; July 16, p. 2; July 17, p. 2.

53. New York American, July 12, 1925, p. 1; see also Arkansas Gazette, July 11, p. 1.

54. See Allen, loc. cit.

55. Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1925, p. 1.

56. Arkansas Gazette, July 12, 1925, p. 1; July 13, p. 1; July 17, p. 3.

57. Chicago Tribune. See also Arkansas Gazette, July 14, p. 5.

58. New York American, July 14, 1925, p. 1. One more bizarre twist to the trial deserves mentioning: the last Bryan-Darrow confrontation arose unexpectedly on the final day of the trial. Many reporters were off swimming or carousing, with the result that other reporters, after telegraphing their own stories, hastily rewrote parts and sent them to the missing reporters’ newspapers in order to cover for their friends. Scopes himself was asked by several reporters to write parts of the new articles; so journalistic coverage of the trial concluded with a bizarre touch: the defendant reporting on his own case under someone else’s byline. See John T. Scopes and James Presley, Center of the Storm: Memoirs of John T. Scopes (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), p. 183.

59. Olive Clapper, One Lucky Woman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), pp. 34,51,109.

60. Ibid., p. 99.

61. The Atlanta Constitution editorialized about the trial coverage’s potential effect: "Thousands of columns of newspaper debate have been published under Dayton date lines in the past two weeks, and from it all the cause of the religion of Jesus Christ has not been helped, but the world has been broadcast with the seeds of doubt and skepticism, and only the future can tell what the harvest will be . . . among the millions of people who congest the bumper ground between science and the Bible there may be thousands who will now find themselves drifting into the easy-going channels of agnosticism" (July 22, 1925, p. 6).