Friday, November 20, 2015

After Truman defeated Dewey

Hotel President, Saturday, November 20, 1948: Two blocks and seventeen days from Truman's victory and journalism's loss.

Sixty-seven years ago tonight – just a couple of weeks after what we now consider the biggest screw-up in the history of American newspaper headlines – 300 or so journalists filed into a ballroom at the Hotel President expecting to hear something about what had gone wrong.

"The newspapers' big job was and is to tell the news," the evening's speaker told them. "And, looking at the press as a whole, I believe we came through with flying colors."

The man was E. Palmer Hoyt, editor and publisher of The Denver Post, speaking to members of the Missouri Press Association at their annual dinner. This was happening two blocks down Baltimore avenue from the Hotel Muehlebach, where Harry S. Truman had celebrated 17 days earlier, on the morning of November 3, 1948, the same day the Chicago Tribune's front page prematurely declared DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

The Tribune had gone to press before the returns were complete, but editors had decided to run with the widely expected outcome, as predicted in national polls.

•     •     •

Flogging the news media for perceived political bias is sort of an American tradition. In the last few decades most such criticism has come from Republicans finding a liberal Democratic slant in news coverage, a charge we've already heard in these early days of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's interesting to recall a time when print media ruled and when that shoe was on the opposite foot.

"The Republicans have nearly all the newspapers and magazines on their side," President Truman said in 1952, citing figures that showed only about 10 percent of the nation's 1700 or so daily newspapers supported him in 1948. "Newspapers – especially daily newspapers – have become big business, and big business traditionally has always been Republican."

•     •     •

As Election Day 1948 dawned, newspapers of all political stripes had predicted victory for New York Governor Thomas Dewey. The New York Times, which had endorsed Dewey, saw a probable 345 to 105 electoral-vote advantage for the Republican nominee. Like other news outlets, the Times had deferred to public opinion polls. The final Gallup Poll showed a 5 percentage-point edge for Dewey.

"We have never claimed infallibility," George Gallup had said a week before. "But next Tuesday the whole world will be able to see down to the last percentage point how good we are."

Not so good, actually. As it turned out, polling had stopped weeks too soon and did not track the last-minute swing in Truman's favor, which gave him a 4.5 percentage-point margin of victory. The news media also stopped too soon, apparently content with the truth of the polls.

Afterward The Kansas City Star editor, Roy Roberts, who like many other editors had endorsed Dewey, did some soul searching.

"Frankly, the mass public doesn't like to be told by newspapers or anyone else, for that matter, what they should do and think," he said. "I have sort of come to the conclusion that you serve your purpose more effectively by setting forth the facts and letting the public make up its own mind than by overstressing your own conclusions and expecting the mass public to accept your opinions."

•     •     •

Down at the Hotel President on November 20, E. Palmer Hoyt offered his defense of the press.

"The answer to those who scorn us because the people, in their votes, flouted our editorial judgment is to ask them simply, 'Well, where did you get the information on which you compared the position of President Truman to that of Governor Dewey?" Hoyt told his audience.

"The American people voted on the basis of the campaign expressions of the two candidates as reported in their newspapers. I think that any honest critic must give the responsible press credit for fair and accurate news coverage of the campaign."

What Hoyt didn't say was that the news coverage included a lot of stories about the coming Dewey victory the polls were foretelling. Nor did he speculate on whatever effect those polls might have on democracy.

But he added:

"We need less reliance on mechanical substitutes. We need more plain, down-to-earth reporting with insight and human understanding."

•     •     •

Monday, October 26, 2015

Johnny Kling: Of baseballs and cue balls

Kansas Citian Johnny Kling was a star catcher and a billiards champ.
(Updated 11/2/15 to reflect World Series result.)

Last night the Royals became World Series champions for the first time in 30 years. This at the expense of the New York Mets, who won the National League pennant by sweeping the Chicago Cubs. Mets fans no doubt feel great sadness today, but in reaching the Series their team continued the 107-year sadness of Cubs fans.

So here's maybe a small consolation for those transplanted Chicagoans in Kansas City: The star catcher for the 1908 Cubs – think Tinker to Evers to Chance, still the most recent World Series champs in Cubs uniforms – was a Kansas Citian. His name was John G. Kling.

Johnny Kling was considered a top defensive catcher of the so-called "dead-ball era." As such, his statistics are modest by today's standards. Yet some think him the best of his day. And perhaps the first great Jewish star in Major League Baseball. I won't dwell here on his playing days, and instead recall his business career in Kansas City, where he was born in 1875 and where he died 71 years later.

 Kling was also a champion billiards player, as was his nephew, Bennie Allen. The two of them became business partners in a Kansas City pool hall at 1016 Walnut downtown. After that building burned, Kling built the Dixon Hotel at 12th and Baltimore, across from the Hotel Muehlebach.  The second and third floors housed the Kling & Allen pool hall for decades and was known as one of the country's finest, attracting top players such as Willie Mosconi.

Hotel Dixon, 12th and Baltimore.

Kling's pool hall occupied two floors in the Dixon.
In 1933, long after his baseball retirement, Kling bought controlling interest of the minor league Kansas City Blues, and was responsible for desegregating the fans at Muehlebach Field. In 1937 he sold the team to Col. Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees. Kling died in 1947.

Kling is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though some think him deserving. If his baseball pedigree isn't in question, the reason could have been the presence in the basement of the Hotel Dixon of a gambling joint known as Baltimore Recreation, a place in which Kling was a partner. It was said to have paid protection money to Johnny Lazia, Boss Tom Pendergast's associate and enforcer.

Gambling and Cooperstown don't mix well, as Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson learned.

A matchbook cover from the 1940s.

Still, Kling remains a Kansas City link to faded Cubs glory.

And now, for Mets fans everywhere, something to perhaps make you smile through your sorrow. Recall the manager of the very first Mets team, the hapless 1962 model that won 40 games and lost 120, was another Kansas Citian: Charles Dillion "Casey" (as in KC)  Stengel.

•     •     •

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ephemeral city: Cigarette package

Several years ago I gutted and renovated a 1924 bungalow just west of the Country Club Plaza. As the old plaster walls and ceilings came down they surrendered little reminders of former residents: Rusty tools, broken toys, shoes and brittle pieces of clothing, tarnished costume jewelry, etc. Individual items led me to research their times and places, and I wrote about many of the them. An empty package of Chesterfield cigarettes carried a blue tax stamp dating to 1943. This piece, which riffs on events and advertising from that year, appeared in slightly different form in an early version of this blog.

*     *     *

In Kansas City two men approach a third and ask for cigarettes. He says he has only one. They call him selfish, then beat him senseless. In the ambulance he smokes his cigarette.

In New York, exiled Archduke Otto of Austria takes a deep drag on a cigarette. Says, "Churchill smokes, Roosevelt smokes, I smoke, but not a puff out of Hitler, Goebbels or Hirohito. Perhaps that is what makes them vicious."

In Sicily the Nazis allow their fighting men six cigarettes per day. One German soldier pulls a wounded American from a shell hole, carries him to a command post, gets him medical treatment, gives him black bread, water, wine and a cigarette.

In San Francisco, ship workers walk off the job because of a ban on smoking.

The Unparalleled Record of America's 1,000,000 Ship Workers, Breaking New Records ... Winning More And More Smokers With Their Milder Better Taster. In Thousands More Pockets Every Day you will find CHESTERFIELD ...

*     *     *

 In Washington the War Production Board bans glycerine from cigarettes; it's needed to make explosives. The Office of Price Administration says rumors of cigarette brands being reduced of eliminated are baseless. President Roosevelt marks 10 years as Commander in Chief. Photographers want pictures. He strikes the pose cartoonists favor: Chin out, cigarette holder clenched rakishly between his teeth. Says, "Let's make one this way, boys."

There's No Busier Place than Washington, D.C. It's the Control  Room of America's Mighty War Machine. And CHESTERFIELD is the Busiest Cigarette in Town. It's On the Job Every Minute Giving Smokers What They Want.

*     *     *

 In the Bronx Zoo a penguin's egg rests on a nest built of sticks, Crackerjack boxes, fish heads, peanut shells, matchbook covers and cellophane cigarette wrappers.

In Nigeria doctors dress wounds with sterilized cigarette wrappers.

In New Guinea's jungle an American soldier touches a glowing cigarette to the leech on his arm.

In the United States high blood pressure kills thousands each year.  A new book recommends moderate exercise, weight loss, rest. Quit work early. Don't worry. Avoid arguments and Turkish baths. Sex is beneficial; however, chronic low-grade sexual excitement is not. Moderate daily alcohol is fine. Also, two and a half cups of coffee and ten cigarettes.

But not at night. Bomber pilots are said to be able to spot a glowing cigarette from several thousand feet.

*     *     *

 Ezio Pinza, in costume as Boris Godunoff, strides through the wings of the Metropolitan Opera House, scatters stagehands, snuffs out the butt of a cigarette.

Fats Waller slouches at a piano in an empty theater, running notes around a languid "Tea for Two." He wears a blue shirt, two-tone suit, rainbow tie, Alpine hat. His eyes are half closed against ribbons of smoke from his cigarette.

A Hollywood stripper, billed as The Redheaded Ball of Fire, dances her backside too close to an irate wife's burning cigarette.

You've Got To Be Top Quality To Get Your Name Up In Lights. That's Why You'll See CHESTERFIELD'S Famous White Pack All Along The Great White Way ...

*     *     *

In a cheap Houston hotel 48 persons, mostly old men, die in a fire ignited by a smoldering cigarette.

In California a woman driving through a remote forest is pulled over by the highway patrol for tossing out a lighted cigarette.

In Idaho a farmer, using gasoline to clean a water pump, lights a cigarette. At the hospital he tries lighting another. Bandages on his hand, soaked in medicine, catch fire.

Hats Off To America's 6,100,000 farmers ... They Give You What Counts Most. Food for our Fighting Men, Food for our Workers, Food for All of Us. CHESTERFIELDS Deliver the Goods to Smokers Who Know What They Want.

*     *     *

A man tumbles through the sky under a crescent moon. His parachute flowers, pops, plucks him back. Overhead, more pops, one after another. Below, an arc of pale flowers drifts toward tiny rings of fire on the stony surface. Moments earlier he'd been crouching in a bucket seat, staring at a light bulb, flying 500 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. There was some flak, not much. Then the red light. Stand, hook to the wire, wait: Green light. He carries a machine gun, bayonet, grenades, medical equipment, rations, and cigarettes.

Another man tumbles through the sky under a cold sun. Below, a swirl of shadows and yellow taxis. He wears a gray suit, brown shoes, tan overcoat, and he carries papers: 22 years old, five feet ten and a half inches, 157 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes, former sailor, medically discharged. Moments earlier he'd been standing on the observation platform of the Empire State Building, almost a quarter mile above the streets of Manhattan. Just before climbing the parapet and raising his hands over his head, he tossed away a cigarette.

Here's Real Smoking Ammunition Tucked in the Pockets of our Fighting Men, Ready for Instant Service. Where a Cigarette Counts Most, CHESTERFIELD Serves Smokers Well ...

*     *     *