The most surprising thing is how familiar it all feels.
Not the cover price: 2 cents. Nor the mobs of Chicagoans who waited in the streets at midnight to throw their pennies at harried newsboys and strip bundles of newspapers off the trucks before they stopped rolling. Certainly not the mayor and the governor and the three newsreel cameras on hand to watch the presses roll.
|The known world, according to Col .McCormick|
The Sun was a paper with a purpose: to support President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his conviction that we had to get involved in a war that Americans wanted to avoid. A Gallup poll found 88 percent of Americans were against fighting the Nazis. What debate there was focused on how much we should help our allies and how prepared we should be -- half felt we needed to mobilize for the inevitable; the other half felt that doing so would only antagonize Mr. Hitler.
In Chicago, Col. Robert McCormick ran his Tribune as the voice of isolation, a kind of 1940s Fox News. The Trib was "savage in its attacks upon all liberals and everyone with whom it disagreed" according to media critic Oswald Garrison Villard, who noted the Tribune endorsed the Klu Klux Klan while taking a dim view of these unwashed foreigners some thought we ought to shed American blood to protect.
"On international questions the Tribune has generally been cynical, reactionary, militaristic and jingo," Villard noted in 1943, explaining how McCormick's idea of sane foreign policy was to annex Mexico "without hesitation" in order to "impose our superior morality upon the Mexicans," and that a United Nations was unnecessary since other countries could merely join the U.S. as new states — white countries, of course.
The Trib was only the most extreme of the four Chicago papers. At the august Daily News, the publisher, Frank Knox, backed the Make Europe Pay War Debts Committee, a front group secretly backed by the German government, insisting, in a very Trumpian fashion, that European nations settle the $14 billion they still owed the U.S. from WWI before any further assistance was considered. The Chicago Times was a scrappy, pro-FDR tabloid, but considered a photo-driven lightweight. And the American was a Hearst rag obsessing over ax murders and love nests.
Into this strode our unlikely hero, Marshall Field III. Inheritor of nearly $200 million in 1940 dollars, he had a 13,000-acre plantation in South Carolina, a six-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue, a summer home in Maine, a yacht, a third wife, and a guilty liberal conscience. In 1940, he founded PM, a New York city newspaper that raised eyebrows by being printed on quality paper stock and refusing to accept advertising.
A newspaper needs a name, and a contest was held. The winner, Russell Trenholme, received $5,000 for "The Chicago Sun," explaining his entry: "When morning comes you look for two things to make your world right: you look for the sun and sunlight, and you look for your morning paper for the truth of what's going on in the world."
The paper was greeted with delight in Washington. "Isn't this wonderful?" FDR gushed, waving a copy — and with fanatical opposition by the Trib, which not only threatened news vendors who dared carry it, but blackballed the Sun from joining the Associated Press, a case that went up to the Supreme Court.
Others were less hostile, though noting that neither international news nor editorial direction were what made or broke a newspaper.
"The future of the Chicago Sun might ultimately depend upon some little comic-strip twirp presenting as much nauseating morality . . . as Little Orphan Annie," Edwin A. Lahey wrote in the Daily News.
That first issue sold 263,000 copies. Three days later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That edition sold 896,000 copies, but the Sun's main reason for being vanished overnight, as the Tribune spun on a dime and was as enthusiastic for war as it had been for accommodating Hitler.
The Sun soldiered on, though it never made money, a reminder that hard times in the newspaper business are not new either (the Villard quote comes from a 1943 book entitled "The Disappearing Daily"). The Sun merged with the Times early in 1948, making this paper, through its second bloodline, older than the Tribune, since the Times is a descendent of the Chicago Journal, founded in 1844.
One more point before we let the Sun set for another 25 years.
The headline on that first edition of the Sun, a broadsheet, was "REVOLT GROWS IN SERBIA."
The Tribune's headline that day was: "F.D.R.'S WAR PLANS!"
An isolationist Army captain had stolen contingency plans from the War Plans Division and passed them on to arch-isolationist Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, who gave them to the Tribune, which brandished them as "irrefutable evidence that that American intervention in the war was planned and imminent." The Germans adjusted their own strategy accordingly.
Which eerily echoes WikiLeaks, with one very, very important distinction. After the war plans were published, the White House was asked what action would be taken against those publishing the state secrets.
"Your right to print the news is, I think, unchallenged and unquestioned," White House press secretary Stephan Early said. "It depends entirely on the decision of the publisher and editor whether publication is patriotic or treasonable."