One of Hungary’s great gifts to the United States was Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the Columbia School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prize. On October 29 we mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
Pulitzer traveled to America speaking almost no English and at age eighteen served in the Union for the last year of the Civil War. Afterword he moved to St. Louis, joined the Republican Party and later, upset with the corruption he saw, became a Democrat.
In 1879 he bought and merged the St. Louis Dispatch and the St. Louis Post, creatively naming the combined enterprise the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Later he bought The New York World. Journalistic crusades against corruption became his hallmark. Most famously he uncovered a fraudulent $40 million payment by the U.S. government to the French Panama Canal Company. The government lodged a suit against him, accusing him of libeling President Roosevelt and J. P. Morgan. The courts dismissed the suit, and Pulitzer was hailed as a hero.
Besides the Pulitzer Prize which he established in his will, he also left behind some choice bits of wisdom and advice for the world of publishing which still ring true today:
- A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself.
- An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery.
- I am deeply interested in the progress and elevation of journalism, having spent my life in that profession, regarding it as a noble profession and one of unequaled importance for its influence upon the minds and morals of the people.
- Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.
- There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away. Publicity may not be the only thing that is needed, but it is the one thing without which all other agencies will fail.
So thank you, Hungary, for enriching us with your immigrants.