header image

The partisan press then and now

Posted by: | December 8, 2011 | No Comment |

George Washington's official presidential portrait. (Courtesy of warfilm.wikia.com)

George Washington did not have to appeal to PETA for votes.

PETA, one of the largest animal rights groups in the United States, is just one of many interest groups or parties that can have press influence.  However, the party press comes from much simpler roots.

The emergence of a clear party press in America was during Washington’s presidency.  During this time, the idea Washington warned about in his farewell address was evolving.  The idea was a two-party system in America, in this case the Federalists and Jefferonians.

Each party’s leader would go to a news publication that shared both the party’s ideas and would print these ideas for the right price.  For the Federalists, their leader was Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  For the Jeffersonians, their leader was Washington’s Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson.

The Federalists wanted a strong federal government while the Jeffersonians advocated states’ rights.  Hamilton worked mainly through, “The Gazette of the United States” to get the Federalists’ message across, sometimes writing his own pieces under a pseudonymn.

Jefferson and his main partner, James Madison, used allies in the main cities throughout the colonies to publish their ideas.

At the time, most of these publications were weekly or biweekly.  Imagine in today’s political environment, if news emerged only once or twice a week.  That would make the 13 percent Congressional approval rating look polite.

These two parties jostled for both the legislative and executive branch. Both were essential in early America in order to pass and implement policy.  While the Federalists had the first two presidencies, they were for the most part mediocre.  However, the Jeffersonians then put together three successful presidencies because of their appeal to the common man.  They did not talk down to the common man like many Federalist publications.

Here in the HBO miniseries, “John Adams,” Hamilton and Jefferson are shown arguing about a central bank.  (Starts at 0:35).


As time went on though, more interests started to come up.  As the 19th century got toward its midpoint, slavery became the biggest issue.  Now the press had to choose between being an abolitionist or a pro-slavery publication.

After the American Civil War, policies shifted towards large business monopolies, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Now press interests were not just focused on the reconstruction of the nation, but its businesses as well.

Both World Wars brought a majority of the nation and press together.  Both the government and press engaged in propoganda in order to sell war bonds to necessarily fund the military.  A great example of this was the explosion of patriotism that came from the flag raising on Iwo Jima.  Seeing six young men together on foreign soil raising the nation’s flag had a profound morale impact on all those working hard at home to see their efforts and support were paying off.

The flag raising at Iwo Jima is still an iconic image today, 66 years after it was taken. (Courtesy of iwojima.com)

In the contemporary press though, there are now countless parties in the press compared to its minimal Federalist and Jeffersonian origins.  Now there are animal rights parties, environmental protection parties, Second Amendment parties, and many more.

However, in its simplest terms, the original political party press does not have direct affiliation to an administration, but has a political leaning.  The best local example is, “The Washington Post” tends to have a more liberal slant while, “The Washington Times” has a more conservative slant.  As discussed often in class, the advancements in technology are what make the Party Press completely different today than it was two centuries ago.

Today, party pieces are published by the second let alone once or twice a week.  Also, there isn’t just one source to go to.  With the emergence of the citizen journalist, the amount of party press traffic can be overwhelming.  In the end, history is consistent in that it is up to the reader to decide what to read and what to believe.

under: Comm 455
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *