“Bang Into 1932” (E35)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, February 6, 1932
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


Bang indeed. 1932 finds our media critic in fine Fawkesian form as he tears into a new outbreak of nationalist hysteria, this time focused on the Pacific. Naturally, Benchley finds Hearst’s blowhard organs (Journal, American and Mirror) in the vanguard of this crusade to foment anti-Japanese sentiment, but the issue takes on additional urgency when more cautious papers like the New York Times see fit to wade into the miasma stirred up by fantasies of a potential “race war” in Hawaii. The triggering incident for this escalation of editorial blood pressures around the country appears to have been a random street assault dubbed “The Honolulu Murder Case”. Fawkes disdains delving into the details of the case, keying his analysis to the wild jingoistic oats sown from made to order material which involved “national honor, race hatred, Anchors Aweigh, and a multitude of unprintable, but easily indicated, details of criminal assault.”

The author links the Mirror’s point of view on this case to an approving editorial on Lynch Law which appeared in the paper on the same day as its puerile Pacific reportage (January 12, 1932). Fawkes comes right out and calls the Hearst entity a Klan paper, or just about; but he baits his wryest barb for the Times, which “touched a new low in news value” with a non-story about Honolulu residents Mr. and Mrs. William Laurens Van Alen, who called some relatives in Pennsylvania to tell them that they were fine and nothing had happened to them.

Moving on from the sabre-rattlers, Benchley heckles the holiday editions of various papers all attempting to convince their readers that every American woke up happy and well fed on Christmas morning, 1931, even if there were a few less presents under the tree that year. We also get some animus aimed at yet another totally unnecessary addition to the roster of Sunday papers (the ever-offensive Mirror) and a discussion of the miserable state of collective bargaining in the journalistic field, where all glory comes posthumously.

The final paragraphs of the piece deal with The Journal’s odd write-up on Democratic Presidential hopeful Newton D. Baker, which neglected to inform its readers of the politician’s revised 1932 stance against joining the League of Nations. Of course, since this statement was made at a press conference, every other paper in America splashed the news on page 1, as Baker had been an ally of Woodrow Wilson and was expected to be at odds with Hearst’s preferred candidate (isolationist John Nance Garner) on this issue. Read multiple papers, Fawkes concludes, no matter how much it hurts.

Favourite Moment:
“A good reporters’ union might suggest that a little more money, or a little more security, during life would be welcomed in exchange for half a column of obituary recognition, but a good reporters’ union seems to be out of the question, Journalism being a Career and not a Job.”

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