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What Made The ‘World’ Great?
It exposed corruption. It hired drunks. Good writing was rewarded. No wonder every newspaperman wanted to work there.
October/november 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 6
Pulitzer had no intention of abandoning his newspaper to other hands. He found a solution of sorts but, except for three short visits, never again went to his beloved Pulitzer Building. Instead, he made elaborate arrangements with a corps of six secretary-companions who picked up preshipped batches of the World at every stop along the route of his travels, read every line of every news story to him, and took dictation of an endless flow of telegrams, cables, and letters that praised or scolded the handling of every major article and editorial. These secretary-companions had to go through a rigorous process before he accepted them. Not only did he demand that they have pleasant voices, a cheerful manner, and refrain from the forbidden noises, they also were put through a stiff interrogation on the arts, the sciences, political affairs, literature, and world problems. By this system he continued to edit the World closely from his numerous homes: at Bar Harbor, Maine; Lakewood, New Jersey; Jekyll Island, Georgia; abroad in Paris and London; from his yacht Liberty . Stanford White designed a marble palace for him on East Seventy-third Street in New York, but street noises made it so unbearable to Pulitzer that he had a windowless, completely soundproof annex built in back. There he worked and slept; it became known as the “vault.”
To keep private all telegraphed and cabled messages, Pulitzer created twenty thousand code names and words. He dubbed himself “Andes.” J. P. Morgan was “Gadroon,” Woodrow Wilson was “Melon,” Tammany Hall was “Greyhound,” and President Cleveland was “Graving.” A typical coded message read: “Continue Mohican assistant Gruesome making Gushless Gruesome during Glorify’s vacation.” This translated as: “Continue Charles Lincoln as assistant managing editor, making Oliver K. Bovard managing editor during J. J. Spurgeon’s vacation.”
Pulitzer never did get on with Theodore Roosevelt, especially after disclosing that TR had accepted a campaign contribution of $125,000 from J. R Morgan.
“Grammarite” was Frank I. Cobb, chief editorial writer, who came from the Detroit Free Press after catching the eye of a World scout whom Pulitzer had sent around the country to study big-city editorials and meet the writers. Before hiring Cobb, Pulitzer probed him on everything from his education and politics to the technique of consuming soup noiselessly.
Once Cobb went to work, he was promptly subjected to a stream of caustic critiques. “I hope Cobb will improve with age,” Pulitzer wrote. “The first two editorials you sent as excellent specimens of irony… were to my mind or taste very poor. Flippancy … triviality, frivolity are not irony—please underscore these few words and put them in Cobb’s brain. ” Cobb, outraged, was ready to quit, but stayed on—ultimately as Pulitzer’s favorite—until his death nineteen years later.
As the crusades went on, Pulitzer complained to the English publisher Alfred Harmsworth: “I am the loneliest man in the world. People who dine at my table one night might find themselves arraigned in my newspaper the next morning.” This was the case when his cherished friend Sen. Chauncy Depew got involved in a financial scandal.
Pulitzer did make one compassionate concession to an old enemy. One day a wistful note came to him from J. P. Morgan, who was extremely sensitive about his huge strawberrylike nose. Could the cartoonist McDougall moderate his treatment of the Morgan nose? Pulitzer, sensitive about his own large nose, asked the astonished artist to go easy.
Politically, Pulitzer leaned toward the Democrats but did not hesitate to foster and support Republicans. In 1905, when the World uncovered huge frauds among the three leading insurance companies, he urged that the young lawyer Charles Evans Hughes, a Republican, be put in charge of a state investigation. His backing ultimately led Hughes to become governor of New York, secretary of state, chief justice of the United States, and very nearly President. Hughes said later that the attitude of the World perplexed him greatly “because it always seemed to speak from principle and conviction, never from personal motive. ”