The news today about attacks on newsmen, the freedom of seech and the struggle against tyranny has evolved from the past wherever opposition voices are raised. Some voices are not very polite, as witnessed by the good folks of Waco, Texas in 1898.
Extra, Extra, Read all about it!
As the title hints at, this essay is about news, newspapers, and those who write the news.
Modern newspapers and magazines are rapidly taking a turn towards the digital form, but the words held therein have not changed, or the attitudes of those who write poisonous letters to the Editor.
In the 1890’s there rose up in Texas, a magazine named The Iconoclast. It was produced by William C. Brann.
He was a good writer, but had such outrageous opinions that his opponents were driven to furious foaming at the mouth style in their letters to the editor.
A shining example was this little quote concerning the women wanting to have the vote.
“The female suffragette is still suffering….She rises in all the glory of her tailor- made bloomers and demands the ballot…The Iconoclast is the ladies paper… It is in favor of giving women not only everything she wants, but everything she thinks she wants…Give her the ballot—the box; the earth and the fullness thereof. Let her parade in torchlight processions, run for office and buy votes in blocks-of –five…. She could scarce make a worse mess of representative government than have the men…
But might it not be best? Woman is particularly adapted to modern politics—she can talk from cradle to grave without getting tired….But great reforms move slowly. For long years yet the female suffragist who wants protection from the sterner sex will have to depend on her face.”
His little diatribe is one of the milder opinion pieces, but still sounds eerily modern to our ears as we fight for rights not only to have votes counted, but jobs secured in a man’s world and access to health and privacy matters without the interference of religious nuts.
The Iconoclast was the Rush Limbaugh publication of its age in that there were 90,000 subscribers and for the three years that it was in publication was the cutting edge of nasty bombast.
Words can be such sharp weapons, and since this is a modern blog, I cannot quote any of the more vicious terms used in the paper. This man let loose invective against African Americans with a fervor that would slap a libel suit on him quicker than a cobra strike. His attitude towards women was again medieval and full of snarky male chauvinist piggery.
His full range of colorful invective was launched against his political targets, calling Grover Cleveland “a beer soaked gob of grease.” I think morbid obesity was prevalent in some of our past presidents, but now it would not be prudent to attack anyone for their weight. (Except in the case of Christie perhaps?)
He claimed that Baylor University was “full of ministers and Magdalene’s” which was the same as calling the female students whores. Oh wait, where have I heard that in modern times connected with politics and politicians?
The most damaging utterances probably came dealing with the Bible.
Here is a direct quote concerning those who read and take the Bible literally, something that still happens today.
“He that accepts it (the Bible) in its entirety- gulps it down like an anaconda absorbing an unwashed goat; who makes no attempt to separate the essential from the accidental…may like the ass which Balaam rode, open its mouth to speak; but he never saw the Angel of the Lord; he utters the words of emptiness and ignorance.”
Mr. Brann lived in Waco Texas, and suffered several bodily attacks because of his publishing such inflammatory stories and comments. In those days, one could stroll the streets of Waco and Laredo with a six gun strapped to the thigh, ready and waiting to defend oneself.
I don’t know if gun fights were prevalent over matters of honor or card cheating, but in a fore-shadowing of today’s events, Mr. Brann was attacked by Tom Davis and shot in the back several times while walking down the sidewalk with a friend.
Instead of toppling over and succumbing to this cowardly attack, Mr.Brann in turn drew his six shooter and proceeded to empty it into Mr. Davis who did die on that same sidewalk.
Various others were injured in this shootout, and Mr. Brann was taken away to the doctor’s office, and died a few days later.
We think that with the advent of religious Fatwas that killing newsmen and firebombing newspaper buildings is a new phenomenon.
This event took place on April 1, 1898, but feels like it could have happened yesterday.