'Newsies' and the role of the American free press

July 5, 2012

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Fourth of July often conjours up thoughts of freedom, flags and fireworks. But at a special Paper Machete performance, writer Kim Bellware spoke on a slightly less optimistic topic: the importance and meaning of an independent press. Read an excerpt below or listen above:

It was twenty years ago that Disney made Newsies, the amazing musical based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899. It starred Christian Bale and Bill Pullman, which was a bold move for the directors. The musical, heavy on choreographed dance scenes, put on full display both actors’ utter inability to dance or carry a tune. But as delightful as it was to hear the Welsh-born Bale poorly imitate a Brooklyn accent, it was more fun to see Joseph Pulitzer (played by Robert Duvall) cast as the villain, the heartless newspaper mogul making his hay on the backs of orphans and homeless kids.

In one “truthy” scene with Duvall, he swings his magnifying glass over a copy of Hearsts’ New York Journal, with a large black headline: "NUDE CORPSE ON RAILS -- NOT CONNECTED TO TROLLEY STRIKE. He bellows at his editor:

“Hearst is killing us in the circulation war—and you give me headlines that would put a whirling dervish to sleep!”

As history goes on to tell, both men upped their eyeball-grabbing headline game, laying down the blueprint that would later be pimped and perfected by 2.0 moguls like Arianna Huffington, Rupert Murdoch and Nick Denton.

So now, our free press includes this:

Huffington Post, December 21, 2011: Wayne Mitchell Dies After Eating Cocaine Hidden In Brother's Butt

Fox News, August 5, 2011: Obama's Hip-Hop BBQ Didn't Create Jobs;

Gawker: January 26, 2012: Penguin Sh*** On Senate Floor

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