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The Media’s Role in Defining the Nation

The Active Voice


David Copeland

In 1897, William Randolph Hearst said that his newspaper did not simply cover events that had already happened. «It doesn’t wait for things to turn up», Hearst said. «It turns them up.» This book traces the close relationship between media and the United States’ development from the colonial period to the twenty-first century. It explores how the active voice of citizen-journalists and trained media professionals has turned to media to direct the moral compass of the people and to set the agenda for a nation, and discusses how changes in technology have altered the way in which participatory journalism is practiced. What makes the book powerful is that its assessment of the influence and use of media encompasses many levels: it explores the potential of media as an agent for change from within small communities to the national stage.


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3. My Pen and Press Are the Only Formidable Weapons I Have Ever Used: The Early Republic 43


3. My Pen and Press Are the Only Formidable Weapons I Have Ever Used: The Early Republic In 1808, the printer of Philadelphia’s most partisan of newspapers—the Aurora—wrote a letter to Stephen R. Bradley, president pro tem of the Senate and Republican representative from Vermont. In that letter, William Duane told Bradley, “My pen and my press are the only formidable weapons I have ever used.”1 For a decade, Duane had been at “war,” and his newspaper had been the battlefield. Joining the man who began the Aurora—Benjamin Franklin Bache—Duane quickly became one of the most despised men in America by the Federalist party. He, as much as Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, according to historian Jeffrey Pasley, deserves credit for the found- ing of the Democratic-Republican party in the United States and for its even- tual wresting of power away from the Federalists, the party of George Washington.2 When Duane described his writings and his printing press as weapons, he was correct. The time period following the American Revolution was a volatile one. Americans rejoiced when the war ended and Britain conceded to its for- mer colonies. The “GLORIOUS NEWS” that Cornwallis had surrendered to Washington at Yorktown “was ushered in by ringing of bells, discharging of cannon, displaying of colours, attended with the shouts of a grateful populace.” It was, printer Isaiah Thomas declared, “an event that must affect every patri- otick American with joy and pleasing sensibility.”3 But, the war of...

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