Arunansh B Goswami
An Indo-Israel friendship ambassador.

Joseph Pulitzer: Jew who lived the American dream

Joseph Pulitzer. Image Credits: Bureau of Engraving and Printing of USA via Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Media is considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy as per Scottish intellectual Thomas Caryle, democracy if dominated by the rich becomes plutocracy, and media being within and not outside the ambit of the structure of democracy, is not completely immune from the lustre, and allurement of capital in the hands of those who use to make politics a puppet show. The silence of media is bought by some  sometimes, also vice versa the amplified vituperation of media, targeted at their enemies is bought by some. As a result of greed sometimes media becomes a puppet in the hands of those who control it, if money starts controlling media, in one direction or the other, then society even if it turns into a kleptocracy has this fourth pillar of democracy at the bidding of the rich even though corrupt. An independent media is the hall mark of a healthy democracy, owners of media houses, may they be rich if cognisant of their responsibility, shall use media as a tool to further the ends of democracy that is empowerment of citizens, it is expected from them to stay away from politics, if that does not happen then at-least keep their two professions as a politician and as an owner of a media house separate. 

Increasingly the value of unbiased media is being plausibly acknowledged and appreciated by those who understand the likelihood of devastation to society and politics that things like fake news and deep fake technology may have, for instance in the latter where words are not hyperbolically, but literally put in the mouth of those who never said it, causing umbrage to the defamed, by one or many blighters out of animosity. Media can play a proactive role in the present age undergoing fifth Industrial Revolution, by combatting fake news and checking and calling out use of nefarious deep fakes, making people aware about the right information, because information is the fuel that drives modern democracy. The format and style of the two newspapers a Jewish migrant from Hungary to USA Joseph Pulitzer, owned, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York World, established the rules for layouts, features and photography that newspapers in this century have largely been content to imitate, and newspapers are not seemingly going to get extinct apparently any time soon. In this article the readers shall get to know the good and the bad things that modern media has, that are in some ways connected to this Jewish man, Joseph Pulitzer a man who is connected with both investigative journalism and yellow journalism. 

Hungarian Jews

Bust of Joseph Pulitzer in Mako Hungary. Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

Hungary has had a long Jewish history, in fact the founder of political form of Zionism, Theodore Herzl was born in Hungary and was also a journalist like Joseph Pulitzer. Hungary had a strong Jewish journalistic tradition, to use the words of Richard Zeltner Chesnoff, Hungarian Jewry produced three of the Western World’s most famous journalists/writers: Joseph Pulitzer, Theodore Herzl-father of modern Zionism and Arthur Koestler.  Hungarian Jewry also gave the world journalists like Agai Adolf, a genius satirists and a friend of Theodor Herzl, who worked as a reporter in the Neue Freie Presse. Agai wrote witty feuilletons and was the forefather of political Hungarian satire, as well as a children’s author another journalist part of the strong Jewish journalistic tradition of Hungary was, Legrady Karoly, founder of the Pesti Hirlap political newspaper that unlike other political newspapers reflected the public’s views rather than interests of politicians.

Fulop Pulitzer and Elize Berger who were both Jews, as per Hungarian historian Andras Csillag, were parents of Joseph Pulitzer. Fulop Pulitzer in 1838 married Elize Louise Berger, Joseph’s mother, who also came from a family of  Jews in Pest. In his will Fulop Pulitzer left to the local poorhouse and the Jewish hospital 10 florins each. In the Hungary of the eighteenth century, as is shown by local censuses of Jews, we can find Pulitzers (Politzers) living in several localities along the main roads that Moravian Jews followed to populate the country. In Nyitra County, formerly northwestern Hungary, for example, where trading contacts with Moravian Jews had been the most intensive, we can discover several Politzers in various places between 1730 and 1746. In the popular census of Mako for the year 1850, each member of the Pulitzer family is entered separately and unmistakably under the heading of Religion as “Israelitic” and under Nationality as “Jewish.” 

Joseph Pulitzer emigrated from Hungary and came to USA, Pulitzer, came to St. Louis and was closely associated with other St. Louis Jewish businessmen, including Joseph Weill and A.S. Aloe, father of Louis Aloe, and purchased the moribund St. Louis Dispatch through a proxy, Simon (Sam) Arnold, who like Pulitzer was Jewish and a Civil War veteran. In the late nineteenth century, as American antisemitism was approaching its peak, Pulitzer bore the handicap of being considered a Jew, without enjoying the spiritual advantages that adherents of Judaism can cultivate. The Hungarian immigrant youth – once a vagrant on the slum streets of St. Louis and taunted as “Joey the Jew”. Charles Anderson Dana, publisher of The Sun, frustrated by the success of   The World launched vicious personal attacks on him as “the Jew who had denied his race and religion.” The unrelenting campaign was designed to alienate New York’s Jewish community from The World. A former employ of Pulitzer, Leander Richardson wrote and it appeared in the reputable trade publication, “The Journalist.” “In all the multiplicity of Nature’s freaks, running from Albino Negroes to seven-legged calves, there is one curiosity that will always cause the observer to turn and stare. This freak is a red-headed Jew.”

Joseph Pulitzer, chromolithograph superimposed on composite front cover of his newspapers. Image Credits: Wikipedia.

Soon after Pulitzer had gained control over The World in 1883, the first news dispatches that were printed in the paper about Hungary were related to a sad but topical domestic issue. Following an anti-Semitic flare-up in society, pogroms against the Jewish population were threatening some parts of the country. This was duly reflected by front page news under the headline “Fatal Riots in Hungary”, while the report (received from Vienna) read in part: “Violent riots against the Hebrews began at Egerszeg, Hungary, on last Friday night. Two thousand peasants took part in the outbreak. They wrecked all the houses and shops of Hebrews in the place and shouted ‘Murder all Jews’. Troops were called out, but were unable to suppress the violence of the mob until they were reinforced….”

The Good and the Bad Things of Pulitzer’s Career

Joseph Pulitzer by William Allen Rogers. Image Credits: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. 45, 1901 via Wikimedia Commons.

As per the documentary Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the people, Joseph Pulitzer championed what he regarded as the sacred role of the free press in a democracy. Poor health would plague Pulitzer throughout his life inspite of that he worked very hard. Pulitzer promoted investigative reporting and in 1909 the New York World exposed a fraudulent payment of $40 million by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company. The federal government indicted Pulitzer for criminally libeling President Theodore Roosevelt and the banker John Pierpont Morgan. However, Pulitzer won an important victory for the freedom of the press when the courts dismissed the indictments. Pulitzer’s little-known Supreme Court victory in 1911 established important precedent for the First Amendment right to free speech and resonates strongly in today’s fraught political environment.

Newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, full-length, dressed as the Yellow Kid (a popular cartoon character of the day), each pushing against opposite sides of a pillar of wooden blocks that spells WAR. This is a satire of the Pulitzer and Hearst newspapers’ role in drumming up USA public opinion to go to war with Spain. Image Credits: Leon Barritt via Wikipedia.

A big disservice to his otherwise illustrious career that Pulitzer did was to indulge in Yellow Journalism, but what was it? Some say it was an old version of fake news, others call it sensationalism let us learn about it, as per the Office of the Historian department of state, United States of America “ The term originated in the competition over the New York City newspaper market between major newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. At first, yellow journalism had nothing to do with reporting, but instead derived from a popular cartoon strip about life in New York’s slums called Hogan’s Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault. Published in colour by Pulitzer’s New York World, the comic’s most well-known character came to be known as the Yellow Kid, and his popularity accounted in no small part for a tremendous increase in sales of the World. In 1896, in an effort to boost sales of his New York Journal, Hearst hired Outcault away from Pulitzer, launching a fierce bidding war between the two publishers over the cartoonist. Hearst ultimately won this battle, but Pulitzer refused to give in and hired a new cartoonist to continue drawing the cartoon for his paper. This battle over the Yellow Kid and a greater market share gave rise to the term yellow journalism.

Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasised sensationalism over facts. During its heyday in the late 19th century it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States. The rise of yellow journalism helped to create a climate conducive to the outbreak of international conflict and the expansion of U.S. influence overseas, but it did not by itself cause the war. After the four-month war, Pulitzer withdrew from what had become known as “yellow journalism.” The World became more restrained and served as the influential editorial voice on many issues of the Democratic Party. In the view of historians, Pulitzer’s lapse into “yellow journalism” was outweighed by his public service achievements. He waged courageous and often successful crusades against corrupt practices in government and business.


The Pulitzer Prize


Pulitzer Prize. Image Credits: Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) via Wikimedia Commons.

In May 1904, writing in The North American Review in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism, Pulitzer summarized his credo: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.” In his will, Pulitzer endowed the Columbia University School of Journalism (opened 1912) and established the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes, awarded annually since 1917. There are both good and bad things associated with the career of Joseph Pulitzer, since he himself wanted great journalists in the world, the younger generations should learn from the good things from his career and avoid his bad ones, maybe one day you may win the Pulitzer price for that!

About the Author
Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami is an advocate, historian and popular author based in India. He studied history at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, read law at Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, completed a diploma in International Environmental Law, and later joined the Bar Council of Delhi and Supreme Court Bar Association in India. Mr. Goswami has written around 200 articles for different prestigious publications, newspapers, magazines and journals around the world. He works as a consultant with Union Minister of Steel and Civil Aviation of India, Mr. J. M. Scindia and Mrs. Priyadarshini Raje Scindia titular Queen of the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior. Mr. Goswami has studied Israeli and Jewish History deeply and travelled extensively in Israel, and other parts of the world, to explore and research about sites associated with Jews.
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