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Journalism Professor in The Atlantic on the Mid-Century Daily News’ Influence on President Trump  

Matthew PressmanProfessor Matthew Pressman has written a feature article in The Atlantic detailing the influence of the New York Daily News of the mid-century on President Donald Trump. Pressman, whose book, On Press: The Liberal Values That Shaped the News (Harvard University Press), received the 2019 PROSE Award from the Association of American Publishers, makes the point in The Atlantic that "the paper's current left-wing politics have obscured the fact that it helped fashion a brand of right-wing populism in the years just before the president's birth in 1946, and during his childhood, that Trump eventually rode to power."

In the article, “America’s Biggest Newspaper 70 Years Ago Sounded a Lot Like Trump Today,” Pressman  writes:

When Donald Trump was growing up in the 1950s, roughly half of the families in the New York metropolitan area read the New York Daily News. The tabloid was at the time the highest-circulation newspaper in America by far, selling more than 2 million copies each weekday and as many as 4 million on Sundays. In fact, no American newspaper has ever surpassed those numbers. But the News' dominance was greatest in white, non-Jewish outer-borough neighborhoods such as Jamaica Estates, where the Trumps lived. Given that the man of the house, Fred C. Trump, was a major advertiser in the News and frequently appeared in its real-estate columns in the 1940s and '50s, young Donald might have encountered it regularly—and, though adult Donald may not realize the connection, he sounds eerily like it now.

Pressman gives the reader a number of examples throughout the piece. He notes:

The overlap between Trump's rhetoric and the mid-century News is especially striking when it comes to United States foreign policy. Between 1946 and 1952, the Daily News editorial page and its politics column said dozens of times that Uncle Sam had turned into "Uncle Sap" or "Uncle Sucker," because "so-called allies" in NATO were raking in aid money from the U.S. and failing to pay enough for their own defense. Trump has hammered away at the same message since the early days of his campaign; last December he announced, "We're no longer the suckers, folks."

Pressman, who teaches the history of journalism at Seton Hall, dug into the historical origins of Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "America First." Pressman writes:

Even though immigration in the 1940s was at historic lows and subject to the strictest laws in American history, the News called for further restriction. Editorials said immigrants posed a danger to Americans, with one warning in 1945 that "foreigners … want to stream here in millions, share our comparative wealth, and pull down our standard of living." A 1943 editorial arguing against the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act pinpointed what the News saw as the problem: "Official Washington is infested with do-gooders who want to let the rest of the world in on [our] riches" and to "give away our country." That notion permeated the editorial page throughout the '40s and '50s. One editorial in 1957 blasted "do-gooders," "world savers," and "bleeding hearts" for their "giveaway convulsions"—their alleged desire to dish out billions of American taxpayers' dollars to "Socialist, semi-Socialist, or Fascist countries."

The News had yet another name for those "do-gooders." It labeled them "globalists," an obscure term that the News picked up from Representative Clare Boothe Luce (and Trump picked up from Steve Bannon). The News especially liked Luce's coinage "globaloney," which was part of the headlines for three separate editorials in 1943. The end goal of globaloney, the last of these editorials said, was for the U.S. to "buy the Presidency of the World by means of a worldwide WPA," or Works Progress Administration, the Depression-era jobs program, which would eventually bring "some kind of Socialism or Communism to the United States."

To head off the threat of globalist socialism, the News offered the same prescription as Trump for restoring the country's greatness: an "America first" policy. The paper's publisher, Joseph Medill Patterson, was a strong supporter of the isolationist America First Committee prior to the U.S. entry into World War II, and he continued to promote the slogan in the News long after it had become associated with anti-Semites and fascist sympathizers. In 1950, the tabloid's top political columnist, John O'Donnell, argued that "the America First philosophy was soundly right" all along.

"America first" retained a negative association when Trump adopted it during the 2016 campaign—but the candidate seemingly didn't care, presumably because he thought it captured a view of foreign relations focused narrowly on what the U.S. stands to gain. The News unapologetically promoted that way of seeing.

In addition, Pressman points out that the mid-century Daily News had a penchant for straight talk and creating nicknames for public figures. Pressman writes:

Trump may enjoy angering some people with the slogan "America first." His speech is often politically incorrect, blunt, and mildly profane, which apparently endears him to his base. The News employed the same technique: Its clear, plainspoken prose was a major selling point. The tabloid also used profanity and epithets for humor or titillation. Patterson even sent an internal memo in 1944 ordering the words "bastard" and "son of a bitch (no hyphens)" to be printed in full. In another Trumpian touch, the News gave insulting nicknames to its political opponents: Harry Truman was "High Tax Harry" or "Little Harry"; the Democratic White House adviser David Niles was "Devious Dave."

Read the full article in The Atlantic, "America's Biggest Newspaper 70 Years Ago Sounded a Lot Like Trump Today."

Categories: Arts and Culture , Nation and World

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  • Michael Ricciardelli
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