Read GOOD NEWS AND HARD WORK - NEWS AND GOVERNMENT - CHAPTER V of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


Our American President, if one merely reads what the Constitution says about him, is a rather weak-looking character.

The founders of the country did not intend him to be anybody in particular-if it could be helped.  They were discouraged about allowing governments to be efficient.  Not very much that was constructive to do was handed over to him.  And the most important power they thought it would do for him to have was the veto or power to say “No.”

Possibly if our fathers had believed in liberty more they would have allowed more people to have some; or if they had believed in democracy more, or trusted the people more, they would have thought it would do to let them have leaders, but they had just got away.  They felt timid about human nature and decided that the less constructive the government was and the less chance the government had to be concrete, to interpret a people, to make opportunities and turn out events, the better.

Looked at at first sight no more elaborate, impenetrable, water-tight arrangement for keeping a government from letting in an idea or ever having one of its own or ever doing anything for anybody, could have been conceived than the Constitution of the United States, as the average President interprets it.

Each branch of the government is arranged carefully to keep any other branch from doing anything, and then the people, every four years, look the whole country over for some new man they think will probably leave them alone more than anybody-and put him in for President.

Looking at it narrowly and by itself, all that a President selected like this could ever expect in America to put in his time on, would seem to be-being the country’s most importantly helpless man-the man who has been given the honour of being a somewhat more prominent failure in America than any one else would be allowed to be.

He stops people for four years.  Other people stop him for four years.  Then with a long happy sigh, at the end of his term, he slips back into real life and begins to do things.

This has been the more or less sedately disguised career of the typical American President.  Merely reading the Constitution or the lives of the Presidents, without looking at what has been happening to the habits of the people in the last few years, we might all be asking to-day, “What is there that is really constructive that President Wilson can do?” What is there that is going to prevent him, with all that moral earnestness dammed up in him, that sense of duty, that Presbyterian sense of other people’s duties-what is there that is going to prevent him, with his school-book habits, his ideals, his volumes of American history, from being a teachery or preachery person-a kind of Schoolmaster or Official Clergyman to Business?


The one really important and imperative thing to the people of this country to-day is News.  In spite of newspapers, authors, College presidents, Bank presidents, Socialist agitators, Bill Heywoods, and Trusts, the people are bound to get this news, and any man who is so placed by his prominence that he can scoop up the news of a country, hammer its news together into events the papers will report, express news in the laws, build news into men who can make laws and unmake laws, any man who is so placed that directly or indirectly he takes news, forces it in by hydraulic pressure where people see it doing things, who takes news and crowds it into courts, crowds news into lawyers and into legislatures, pries some of it even into newspapers, can have, the ordinary American says to-day, as much leeway in this government as he likes.

The ordinary American has never been able to understand the objection important people have-that nearly everybody has (except ordinary people) to news-especially editors and publishers.

It is an old story.  Every one must have noticed it.  One set of people in this world, always from the beginning, trying to climb up on the housetops to tell news, and another set of people hurrying up always and saying, “Hush, Hush!” Some days it seems, when I read the papers, that I hear half the world saying under its breath, a vast, stentorian, “Shoo! shoo!  SHSH!  SHSH!”

Then I realize I live in an editor’s world.  I am expected to be in the world that editors have decided on the whole to let me be in.

Of course I did not know what to do at first when this came over me.

I naturally began to try to think of some way of cutting across lots, of climbing up to News.

I looked at all the neat little park paths, with all those artistic curves of truth on them the editors have laid out for me and for all of us.  Then I looked at the world and asked myself, “Who are the men in this world, if any, who are able to walk on the Grass, who cut across the little park paths when they like?”

And as fate would have it (it was during the Roosevelt administration), the first two men I came on who seemed to be stamping about in the newspapers quite a little as they liked were the Prime Minister of England and the President of the United States.

Just how much governing can a President do?

How many columns a day is he good for, how many acres of attention every morning in the papers of the country-all these white fields of attention, these acres of other people’s thoughts, can he cover?

How many sticks a day can he make compositors set up of what he thinks?

How many square miles of the people’s thoughts can he spread out at breakfast tables, lift up in a thousand thousand trolleys before their faces?

I have seen the white fields of attention filled with the footprints of his thoughts, of his will, of his desires!

I have seen that the President is the Editor of that vast, anonymous, silent newspaper, written all the night, written all the day, and softly published across a country-the newspaper of people’s thoughts.

I have seen the vision of the forests he has cast down, ground into headlines, into editorials, into news.  Mountains and hills are laid bare to say what he thinks.  Thousands of presses throb softly and the white reels of wood pulp fly into speech.  Thousands of miles of paper wet with the thoughts of a people roll dimly under ground in the night.

The President is saying Look! in the night!

The newsboys hasten out in the dawn.  They cry in the streets!