(Roughly) Daily

“But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”*…

 

A French print, published in the New York Sun newspaper, in 1835, purported to show all manner of plants and life on the moon’s surface.

… Most subsequent accounts of the Moon hoax fail to mention the Vale dwellers, that superior, lighter race—perhaps because those beings make clear that race and racialism have plenty to do with the hoax and its success. Whether [New York Sun editor Richard Adams] Locke meant to have these creatures taken as symbolic whites, or just as remarkable discoveries—or as things barely to be believed at all—the Moon Hoax’s popularity certainly owed much to its re-creating on the moon what many white readers believed could be found at home: there, on the other end of a telescope, wasn’t just life but order, not just extinct craters but vibrant temples, not just sustenance but subordination, not just humanoids but hierarchies.

Even many white abolitionists didn’t seek to eliminate racial hierarchy altogether, just slavery. In the Moon Hoax, Locke had married the fanciful travelogue to the outright travel lie, but also to the issues of the day. Not bound by facts, the hoax is free to fabricate feelings, and it is this artfulness and ambiguity that help explain the Moon Hoax’s popularity.

That popularity cannot be overstated. The Sun’s circulation soared to almost twenty thousand—a remarkable leap for the young paper, and for the new penny-press model it exemplified. Before the eighteen-thirties, newspapers cost six cents and were chiefly sponsored by political parties. By relying on advertising and circulation, the Sun and other penny papers helped invent a new reading public.

Within months, Locke’s Moon Hoax not only created the most popular newspaper in the world, and practically the very industry of the modern press itself, it also helped galvanize a new, national popular culture. “Moonshine,” a play inspired by the hoax, was performed mere weeks after the articles appeared, at the renowned, newly rebuilt Bowery Theatre, a venue known for doing topical plays and satires. Elsewhere, a life-size cyclorama of the moonscape drew many New Yorkers, including Locke himself.

The Moon Hoax also provided an outlet for the era’s shifting sense of truth. As Ormond Seavey puts it, in an introduction to the hoax’s nineteen-seventies reprint, with the Moon Hoax the Sun “had stumbled across an unexpected fact about American society. The New Yorkers of Andrew Jackson’s second term did not especially care to read the news. Political life bubbled and fizzed around them constantly anyhow; they had no need of being further informed.” And when they did read the paper, Seavey writes, “people did not expect to believe everything they read.” He goes on: “It is impossible to say how widely or how much they did believe the supposed Supplement. When one examines the contemporary newspaper reaction, one can never separate clearly the believers in the hoax from those who knowingly joined in the deception. . . . Both the deadpan teller of the tale and his impassive listeners were conspirators against reality.” Readers and newspapermen found in even the Moon Hoax’s falseness a metaphor for the times—one that echoes our own…

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

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As we affirm that there is no alternative (to) fact, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that CBS first broadcast CBS Reports.

CBS Reports was a documentary program series inaugurated on October 27, 1959, in the aftermath of the quiz show scandals. Executive producer Fred Friendly (Edward R. Murrow’s colleague on the ‘See It Now’ series) once suggested that the program was an attempt by CBS to undo the damage caused by the quiz show scandals and the resulting investigations. Friendly, who was executive producer for the new program later became the president of CBS News.

“’CBS Reports’ continued as a regular series for seven years, producing 146 hour-long investigative documentaries….Some shows caused controversy; many achieved critical acclaim.”

– “Encyclopedia of Television News

While many of the series’ entries were impactful, probably none were more so than “Harvest of Shame,” a 1960 entry in which Edward R. Murrow exposed the plight of America’s farm workers.

 

Written by LW

October 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

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