Lying by Telegraph
Dayton Daily Journal, May 29, 1861
It is an old and true saying, that a lie well stuck to, is as good as the truth. For a time, at least, a lie answers as well as the truth, especially if it comes by telegraph. If it is published it sells with as much rapidity and is read with as much zest as if it was the unadulterated truth.
The perpetration of that great lie about the capture of Sewell's Point, leads us to make a few reflections upon this too common species of lying. The telegraph has often been termed the "tell-lie-graph," by persons who were unable to distinguish between the liar and the bearer of lies. The telegraph company is a common carrier, and is no more responsible for the canards which are sent over it than the post office or express company is responsible for any falsehoods carried by them. They are all of them open to the public. In regard to the news transmitted by telegraph, the telegraph company is in no wise responsible. It receives and transmits news for the associated press for a certain contract price. The news matter is made up by agents of the associated press, or by special agents of such papers, as prefer exclusive and special telegrams. The telegraph company acts in the capacity of a common carrier only.
The lying is all done by the news agents, but very often they no doubt, are the victims of others, and are as badly sold as are the reading public.
At Washington City the news agents catch at every floating rumor and without waiting to hear the confirmation, they rush to the telegraph office and give lightning wings to everything they think may or ought to be true, and we have no doubt in a majority of cases they telegraph whatever will sell, without much regard to its truth or falsity. Thus it is that the country is flooded with unfounded rumors and downright lies, almost daily by telegraph. We are unable to suggest a remedy to this lying by telegraph, unless the members of the associated press throughout the country will speak out upon this subject, and insist upon the employment of truth telling reporters at the great emporiums of news, who shall be prohibited from telegraphing anything without a reasonable foundation, if positive confirmation cannot be had, and in all doubtful news to qualify it with words which shall class it among simple rumors, which may be weighed by the readers as well as the reporter.
The news of the capture of Sewell's Point was a splendid lie. It gave Butler's loss so exact, eighty-four killed and wounded. It gave such a gratifying loss upon the part of the rebels and by way of a clincher said the war department had received a similar report, that scarcely any one doubted its truth. There was much exultation over the fact, that the New England boys had so completely flaxed out the gasconading hot blooded Virginians.
Alas! what a let clown to get a telegram on Sunday night announcing that there was no truth in the reported capture of Sewell's Point.
Now, we do solemnly protest against this system of lying by telegraph. It is a gross outrage upon the people, who have a right to the truth, who are willing to pay for the truth, and who love the truth, whether it be good or bad.
We hope that those who can apply the proper remedies to this growing evil, will do so, before the press of the country looses the confidence of and is visited with the scorn and contempt of the people.