The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Brass Check - some AP badness from an earlier generation...

One has to bear in mind that Upton Sinclair's tome is agitprop and therefore no more worthy of credence than, say, anything on the front page of today's New York Times.

But he tells a good tale, even if he's nothing if not strenuous about doing it...

We're back [1] to May 16 1914 in a pretty rootin'-tootin' Colorado bought and paid for by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, a creature of John D Rockefeller's. The miners have been on strike for months, and, on April 20 1914, the Colorado State Militia [2] fired on and, set fire to, a miners' camp at Ludlow, the so-called Ludlow Massacre.

General mayhem ensured and Woodrow Wilson was obliged to send Federal troops to Colorado to keep order (shades of Eisenhower, Little Rock, 1957...) He was anxious to get them out again as soon as possible, and sent Governor Elias Milton Ammons a blistering wire reminding him of his responsibilities in keeping order in his own state.

The CF&I-led machine of whom the distinctly un-Miltonic Ammons was the puppet were keen that the Colorado Legislature should adjourn on schedule, and not be delayed by small matters of Presidential telegrams. Still more, that Wilson should see no need to intervene in the strike and twist corporate arms to reach a settlement.

So a reply to Wilson was sent in Ammons' name soothing him that
a committee on mediation on the present strike has been provided for and appointed.

Which was untrue.

Enter State Senator Helen Ring Robinson [3] who raised the presidential wire on the floor of the Senate, before being quickly shut up.

Sinclair - out in Colorado on the case - met Robinson, who asked him
if I could not do something to make this matter clear to the country. Could I, for example, find out if the Associated Press had gotten the point straight?

Having checked with the House Journal that the reply to Wilson's wire was indeed untrue, Sinclair tried to get the news out. (He takes the trouble to wire Wilson, too!)

The local Associated Press member, the Rocky Mountain News - having fallen out with the mining companies (a baksheesh problem?) - ran with the story. But AP did not.

Eventually, he went direct to the AP office in Denver with a letter:

Yesterday I sent President Wilson a telegram, which I believed and still believe was of vital public importance. A copy of this telegram was put into your hands last night by the "Rocky Mountain News" and was refused by you. I now offer you a second telegram, bearing upon this subject. At the same time I offer for your inspection a copy of the House Journal in order that you may verify the truth of the statements contained in my telegram to President Wilson. I shall first, in a personal interview, politely request you to send this telegram over your wires. If you refuse to do so, I shall--in order to put you upon record--place this letter in your hands and request you to sign the statement below. If you refuse to sign it, I shall understand that you refuse to send out this telegram over your wires, and I shall proceed to send it to the papers myself, and I shall subsequently take steps to make these circumstances known to the public.

Needless to say, the AP man refused, and Sinclair did what he had threatened to do: 20 papers were wired collect, and only five refused the story!

However, when it came to getting papers to criticise AP over the business of the Wilson wire, Sinclair got no joy.

(The tone of outrage gets a bit wearing: after the tenth time he's proved to himself that the press are amoral money-grubbers, he still rants on about the fact.)

I have to say that the Colorado strike in general, and the Ludlow Massacre in particular, had passed me by. I'm surprised by the nationwide hoo-ha that apparently resulted: surely, in those days, miners' strikes and lead-poisoning went together like a horse and carriage?

(It was scarcely safer back at work - apparently, US coal-mining deaths peaked in 1907 at 3,242.)

Even the great house of Rockefeller - which, one might have thought, had the cash to exterminate an entire county and hush it up afterwards - came under assault.

We have online, for instance, New York Times pieces of John D Rockefeller Jr , only son of old man Rockefeller, appearing before the federal Commission on Industrial Relations.

And a long piece (PDF) on Ur-PR man Ivy Lee and his efforts to deflect the flak that the Rockefellers were getting as a result of the Colorado Coal Strike.

A 2001 report (PDF) from the Rockefeller Archive Center has a piece by Thomas G Andrews on The Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-14 and Its Context in the History of Work, Environment, and Industrialization in Southern Colorado [4]

(A human interest snippet from a page on the history of Huerfano County:
The complicated tragedy of Ludlow did result eventually in better working conditions and wages for the miners. The mines involved were owned by the eastern-based Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. And devout Baptist John D. Rockefeller Jr., chairman of CF&I, came to Pueblo and spent Saturday night dancing with the miners' wives.

And do any photos survive?)

  1. The book is here in DOC; the story starts at Chapter XXVI.

  2. Its ranks swelled by operatives of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.

  3. The second ever female state senator - the first was Martha Maria Hughes Cannon of Utah.

  4. More on Andrews' project.

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