The Telegraph Disabled
New York Evening Day-Book, April 23, 1861
The telegraph has been out of order a few days, and we do not know but it would be a good idea to keep it out of order. It does not pretend to tell the truth any more, and has not for a year past, and between that and the reckless newspapers, one-half of this disturbance has been caused. Who believes, for instance, that Virginians insulted the statue of Washington by placing a negro across it at Richmond? Yet this is one of its stories, and is gravely repeated by newspapers that ought to know better, and for no other object, apparently, than to widen the breach now existing. Then, too, how constantly the telegraph reporter at Baltimore has assured the public that the "Union feeling" was predominant in Baltimore, and that no trouble would or could occur there, and yet notwithstanding all the offices that Lincoln has given to them, the people felt so outraged at the passage of the Massachusetts troops, that they seem to have arisen en masse. It is said that even the Cabinet at Washington were taken by surprise at this state of feeling, and we are sure it astonished many in these parts. Now, it is well known that Baltimore city has always sympathized with the South less than the State; and if such be the feeling in the city, what must it be in the State?
But all this time the people have been kept in the dark as to the real state of public feeling in Maryland, by the false reports of the telegraph. It should be recollected that the telegraphic reporter has, in modern newspaper business, almost entirely taken the place of ordinary general reporters. Now, suppose all those reporters are selected and appointed with certain political proclivities, cannot any one see the consequence? The reports of the associated press find their way into every newspaper from Maine to Texas and California. It is the most potent engine for affecting public opinion, the world ever saw. Its influence is greater than a thousand newspapers. It gives the first impression of an occurrence, and all depends upon that very first impression, for few people ever busy themselves to inquire whether the report be correct or not, and few have the means to verify it, if they desire to do so.
In this way the public have been misled and deluded. Jefferson said in his day that "he pitied the man who, after having read the newspapers all his life, died with the impression that he knew something of what had been going on in the world in his day;" and if such a remark were approximately true of newspapers, what shall we say of telegraph reports? No news is better than false, wicked and exasperating news, and yet such is the height of passion and feeling, that it is difficult to get any other. Besides, it is said the government now regulates all the despatches. So let the people remember, when they read telegraph reports, that they are to be taken cum grano salis.