“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” - A.J. Liebling
My father Bob Wilson took this to heart, and bought one and started his own newspaper, the Prairie Post of Maroa, Illinois in 1958, and ran it until he died in 1972. It never had a circulation of more than 2500 or so, but every week, he would fire off editorials at everyone and everything from local events to the actions of the nations of the world.
He may have been a Quaker peace activist in a Republican district, but his love and support of the farming communities garnered him enough respect that he eventually ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962, though he lost. (He might have tried again, had he not died of an accident while only 49.) Many of his views ring true today. And he might have been willing to change the ones that fell behind the times. Although raised in the casual racism of the 1920s and 1930s, at the age of 15 he took stock of what he was being taught and discarded much of it as being wrong, and lived his life with respect for all.
I decided to transcribe his old editorials (I may make a book for some of my relatives) and every once in a while I will repost one here, as a view of how the world has changed wildly, or remained stubbornly the same.
May 7, 1959
THAT LUCE TONGUE
We see that Mrs. Clare Booth Luce has finally gotten her comeuppance. She earned it with an amazing exhibition of ill-bred vindictiveness for someone who pretends to the dignity and responsibility of a foreign ambassadorship.
She and her husband, Henry Luce, of course, publish Time, Life, and Fortune. They have been slavish in the support of the present administration, and Washington has denied them nothing. When Mrs. Luce decided she was an ambassador, off she went to Italy. There she outraged the Italian people by such little gestures as presenting crucifixes to new schools; a privilege which it was common knowledge was accorded only to the Pope. The Pope is considered, in Catholic Italy, the earthly representative of God. Mrs. Luce was the representative of the United States Government. She seemed unable to make the distinction; but there is, at least to Italians, a difference.
She left that post after a “nervous illness.” She published a rambling explanation of her condition, in which she claimed she had been poisoned (Actually, this is what she wrote!) by minute quantities of arsenic in the paint on the ceiling of her bedroom, which flaked off as she slept. (With her mouth open, obviously)
So the Senate confirmed her as ambassador to Brazil. The discussion was enlivened by what Senator Dirksen claimed was a slip of the tongue when he apparently referred to Mrs. Luce as “an old bag of bones.” This is a little surprising, since Senator Dirksen is famous for not saying-with consummate skill-what he does not wish to say. His nickname around the capital, in fact, is “The Wizard of Ooze.”
In any case, the whole Senate roared with laughter. The Associated Press attempted to say they laughed “because it was ridiculous that anyone would use such words to describe the attractive 56-year-old Mrs. Luce.” We suggest they laughed for the same reason anyone would laugh, who had ever seen a picture of the lady in question.
The whole thing was over, and she had her appointment; but she was unable to restrain that Luce tongue which had given her a reputation for political viciousness. “The whole thing started five years ago”, she told the newspapers, “When Senator Morse was kicked in the head by a horse.” Senator Morse, as head of the Latin-American Affairs Committee, had led the fight against her confirmation because of the disastrous effect it would have had upon our already bad relations below the Equator.
The public reaction to this remark was such that she was forced to resign. You may be sure she will continue to be heard in her husband's magazines, however. Look for a vicious attack on Senator Morse, which is sure to come. And listen for the voice of Mrs. Luce, shrieking intemperately for war, a war from which there may emerge no magazines such as Time, Life, and Fortune; and perhaps no people to read them.
The Luces do not seem to be interested in trying to out-think the Russians, which we can do; in out-producing the Russians, which we can do; in out-negotiating the Russians, which we could do if we set our minds to it. The Luces seem interested only in killing Russians.
There are better ways. The performers of the Russian Bolshoi Ballet, recently in New York, were showered with gift certificates by the expensive stores... wait until word gets home of the plentiful and wondrous things enjoyed under the American System! And did you realize that in “Communist” Russia, they now pay interest on government bonds (the principle of capital investment) and they pay higher wages for higher production (the good old incentive system)? Shooting people settles nothing. The battle of ideas goes on; and to win, we must win THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF PEOPLE.
May 14, 1959
WELCOME TO ILLINOIS!
By the time this is being read in the homes across the Great North Prairie, the editor of your little paper will be in Peoria, attending the Spring Convention of the Illinois Press Association. He feels very much honored that he has been asked to serve on a panel explaining the advantages of cold type and offset printing. It is lithographic printing (not yet commonly used by newspapers) plus the grade of paper we use, which give The Prairie Post its “different” appearance.
At the evening meeting, the speaker will be Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas. Publishers sometimes invite speakers with whom they disagree; we believe in free speech, not merely for ourselves, but for others as well.
Of Governor Faubus, we believe it can be said without flattery that he is unquestionably the Chief Executive Officer of what is beyond a doubt one of the states of our great Union. He governs a land of great natural beauty, from Little Rock to Ashmore Landing (also known as Toadsuck Ferry) with citizens of deep and sincere convictions. It is a measure of the character of his people that, in Arkansas, even the renegades are great men.
We feel that most of the people in Illinois differ with our guest in important ways. Orval Faubus is different from us in a manner more profound than people of varied skin colors differ from each other. The pigment of the skin is an accident of birth; our beliefs and our actions make us what we are.
As a member of a minority group, however, the Governor or any Southerner will be surprised if he expects to be mistreated while in the North.
We sincerely hope that Governor Faubus enjoys his stay in Illinois. The South is famous for the hospitality which it extends to Northerners (white Northerners) who visit them; we hope when the Governor returns home he will recall that there is also something known as Northern Hospitality.