Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Henry Morgan and Freedom of the Press

Political commentary wasn’t the focus of Henry Morgan’s radio and TV shows. His goal was to ridicule what he saw as stupid—radio and TV shows, generally. But satirists are keen observers by nature and Morgan put his powers of observation to work in what amounts to an essay about the news media.

Morgan didn’t express his opinions on his programme. He picked a more appropriate venue. It was later that John Crosby of the New York Tribune, one of Morgan’s champions in the press, printed what the comedian had to say, verbatim and in totum, in his column of May 23, 1950.

The names have changed in 62 years but Morgan’s points and conclusion are still relevant and accurate, and restricted to no particular country.

Comedian Says His Bit About Press
Henry Morgan, a sardonic, sometimes misguided, but always honest man, lumbered to his feet before reporters, columnists, editors and publishers at the annual dinner of the New York chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalistic fraternity, and delivered a speech. It lasted all of a minute and a half, a fine length for a speech, and it was a fine speech.
In that minute and a half, Morgan, one of the more thoughtful radio comedians, summarized his opinion of the American press. This is a difficult assignment for radio comedian. His listeners—reporters, columnists, editors and publishers—could crucify the man in print if they didn’t like what he said. A radio comedian needs the support of the press. He’d have great difficulty existing without it. Still, Henry spoke his mind about us freely and, while there were some barbs in this small essay, it was on the whole a flattering and (I hope) intelligent estimate. I’d like to pass it along.
“I was asked here this evening,” said Morgan, “mainly because it’s common knowledge that I am am authority on this stuff. A number of people here work on newspapers. That isn’t nearly as bad as what I do. I have to read them. Some people produce radio programs. I have it much worse than they do. I work for them—newspapers and radio—the two greatest influences of our time, I figure. You see before you the creature you have made. I am the average warped man.
“Because of you people in this room I believe Owen Lattimore is a Communist. I also believe he is not a Communist. Because of you people I believe F.D.R. was a genius and also that he ruined the country. I believe that there is more crime in this country than ever before and that our police are the best in the world.
“I believe that Eisenhower would make a great President except that I have read that military men don’t make good Presidents and besides he will run if enough pressure is brought, he will not run, he can’t run, he refuses to run, he doesn’t want the job, you can talk him into it, he’s trying very hard to make it look as though he doesn't want it, he’s happy at Columbia, he’s miserable, he’s got a cold, he feels great.
“You have made it possible for me to take seven cents and buy, in one package, a new picture of President Truman, my horoscope for the day, 15 comic strips and the stock market reports. And I’ve read some terrible things about you. You work for money. Advertising dictates your policy. The department stores dictate your editorials. Don’t you think you’d be happier with some other system? Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a bureau of some kind supervise your work? Then, if the bureau didn’t like it, you could adjust or get killed.
“Still in all it’s better than having people point at you and say: ‘There’s a man who works for money.’ Somehow it’s getting to be very un-American to work for money. It’s also un-American not to work and to live on unemployment insurance. It’s un-American to have social security and it’s un-American to have such a small amount of social security.
I strongly suspect that this is all your fault.
“In short, you people in this room have put me, the average man, in a peculiar position. I now have to make up my mind for myself. As long as you keep doing that, as long as you keep forcing the man in the street to make up his mind for himself, that’s as long as we’ll have the only working definition of democracy that’s worth a damn.
“Thank you.”

No comments:

Post a Comment