“A Big Edition” (E45)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, November 21, 1931
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


A big edition indeed! Guy Fawkes covers a lot of ground in this 5-page installment of The Wayward Press. He begins with an expression of pity for American journalists forced to pretend that they understand or care about “international news”. Given a line on a good murder spree or their semi-annual Trial of the Century, those press boys could really kick up some copy, but with nothing much cooking on the domestic front in early November 1931, Fawkes finds them serving up second-hand statecraft scraps. The papers were abuzz that autumn with hearsay concerning French Prime Minister Pierre Laval’s fruitless confab with Herbert Hoover. Fawkes chides the media for churning out placeholder headlines and stories, all claiming to be on the cusp of big balance-of-power altering revelations, when, in fact, not even Laval knew what he was doing on this side of the Atlantic.

The author does a little digging in the London papers and finds them even more at sea in their reportage, with the Daily Express going furthest astray in their accounts of a “shocking” shipboard slip and fall by U.S. dignitary Henry Prince, which was supposed to have upset Monsieur et Madame Laval greatly and augured ill for discussions of a Franco-American Pact. In reality, RB asserts, Prince had the stomach flu and the Lavals weren’t anywhere near him when he took a tumble. This was no mistake on DE’s part – the paper simply understood that beleaguered Britons were eager for a little comedy relief in their foreign correspondence.

Fawkes makes short work of the New York City Aldermanic elections, described by various organs as indicative of a victory for Tammany or for the anti-corruption Seabury commission (definitely seems like the latter, in retrospect, given the imminent fate of Mayor James J. Walker) and the death of Thomas Alva Edison (he’s just happy the sportswriters weren’t asked to pile their purple clichés onto his pyre – if they had any words left in their artless arsenals after emptying them for their encomia to Knute Rockne). In between these segments, RB goes in for some multiple regression data analysis (comparing October 1930 circulation figures to the October 1931 numbers) in order to demonstrate that a sizable portion of the now-defunct World and Evening World readerships wound up falling to the Hearst papers, while a hefty percentage of the populace (188,196 to be exact) appears to have stopped reading entirely.

Things really heat up during the final two pages, as Fawkes holds up his end of two feuds initiated by The Wayward Press – one with The Sun, which has a rather distorted view of the meaning of the term “reading matter”; the other with Times Business Manager Louis Wiley, who pleads innocent to the charge of accepting press coverage payola from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Along the way, we also get an amusing play-by-play of a fall flare-up of nonsense numbering in the New York papers, several of which appeared to be trying to one-up each other by going far beyond the traditional “Three/Four/Five Star Final” formula for identifying their last gasps of the day. Fawkes tracks The Sun, The Post and The World-Telegram through their paces, observing nigh-exponential progress from the usual 5, to 14, to 16, to 118, to a truly preposterous edition number 219 shamelessly put forth by The Post.

Favourite Moment:
Now that we know The Times wasn’t paid for anything [re: stories about the Waldorf-Astoria], the thing is even less understandable than ever. The Herald Tribune at least got a great big advertisement for its pains.

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