“The traditions of the Middle Ages, at least, included certain principles that led to the protection of the poorer and more ignorant classes; the Church of the Middle Ages also protected the poor and the ignorant according to its lights. It may be questioned, however, whether this new force, the press, has yet even considered the function of protecting the ignorant as among its most sacred privileges. And by this protection there is no intention here to imply a conspiracy to withhold truth from the uncultivated or to distort facts for their digestion; what is meant is that necessary vigilance and caution which, if observed by all editors and publishers of journals and periodical literature, would induce them to regard as a public crime, as an unsocial act, the inculcation upon those who are ill-equipped for self-guidance of any notions, sentiments or points of view concerning life and human relationships that were not sound, proper or healthy, not to mention noble.
“Unlike that other force, the Church, the press was ushered in with scant ceremony, almost imperceptibly. It grew to omnipotence with but a fraction of the solemnity and pomp which attended the development of the Church; hence, too, it has come to ripeness, to the zenith of its power, without any of that centralized organization, without any of that self-conscious administration of its enormous powers for good and evil, and assuredly without any of that insight into the immensely sacred responsibility of its functions, which characterized the Church from the beginning.
“Now, its shrieking headline, its catchpenny exaggerations, its hysterical falsehoods do not even savour of sanity. How, then, could it be suspected of a sense of responsibility? Sensationalism as a money-making method, ruthless and frequently thoughtless attacks on the existing order, without any guarantee of being able to supply a better order in the place of the one attacked, abuse of language as method, as the journalistic technique for all occasions, and the determination not to enlighten, but to dazzle, dumbfound, scare, thrill and excite at all cost, willy-nilly, après moi le deluge – these are among the characteristics of the modern press and indicate the direction in which its power is tending.
“To overthrow or to curb this power has again and again too great a task even for the most popular government. It is invincible, impregnable. The ‘freedom of the press’ may mean the freedom to abuse the credulity and the ignorance of the masses, but powerful claims are not frustrated by exact definition, however condemnatory.
“There is only one way of curbing the wantonness of the press and of bringing it to a sense of responsibility with which its power ought to have inspired it, and that is to make the masses who are its readers capable of reading it critically, capable of detecting its flagrant abuse of language and of nailing to the counter its flame-words, its decoy-cries, its whole apparatus of sensationalism. And the only means to this end is to give to the masses a knowledge of their own language.”
▪ John V. Day (ed.), The Lost Philosopher – Anthony M Ludovici (Educational Translation and Scholarship Foundation Inc., 2003) extract from pages 74 to 75.