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CSotD: Covering the News as Sports

There’s nothing much new in the commentary on the bombing attempts, though Michael Cavna has a nice roundup of editorial cartoons on the topic.

However, here’s an oddity I came across while poking around in the archives to see how the Wall Street Bombing of 1920 was covered.

Some of what I came across wasn’t terribly surprising. This Nelson Harding piece from the Brooklyn Eagle could have run this week.

 

Though Harding, a staunch nativist, was not conflicted by the source of the demagogue’s ravings as some conservatives might be today. The bombing, which killed 38 people and wounded quite a few more, came at the tail end of the Red Scare, and, though the bomber was never caught, Harding explained to readers where the threat certainly came from.

(To be fair, the bombing seemed directed at JP Morgan, and, given the number of immigrants in the labor force at the time, it’s not surprising that a lot of labor leaders were not American-born. If you opposed organized labor, it was a baby step to blame immigration.)

However, my exploration took another direction when I got to the New York News and the cartoons of Sidney J. Greene.

 

Greene’s opinionating was largely subconscious, or, at least, buried in his choices. Rather, he did cartoons-as-coverage.

 

The News had plenty of photographic coverage, running several pages of on-the-scene photos, starting with Page One the day after the bombing in which they bannered a report they had also run in the Extra edition they put out Thursday afternoon. The French High Commission had received a warning, which seemed, at the time, like a solid lead.

 

By Saturday, the News not only had a photo from a hospital ward where the wounded were being treated, but had obtained pictures of some of the dead, whom they profiled.

 

So they didn’t need Greene’s pen-and-ink  drawings for technical reasons, as they might have a generation earlier. Rather, the News recognized the value of graphics of all sorts in making the news come alive.

 

And Greene continued his coverage every day.

 

Edwin Fischer, an American tennis champion who had sent the aforementioned “warning” from Toronto as well as several postcards to friends warning them to avoid Wall Street, turned out to have a penchant for regularly sending out such things.

He was questioned but then confined to a mental hospital. However, as quickly as he was dismissed upon examination, he had seemed a likely suspect, and having your brother-in-law cite Emma Goldman as an inspiration likely didn’t help.

It strikes me as regretable that this style of graphic news coverage never quite caught on. In recent years, we’ve seen editorial cartoonists go to events like presidential conventions and provide sketches, and courtroom artists are a long-time feature, but to have this type of day-to-day coverage seems like a natural, and I’m surprised it never became a staple.

 

And it was actual reportage, not just a sort of weekend wrap-up, though the reporting was more often in the line of features than of  hard news: For instance, when the USS Pennsylvania made a courtesy call to the Big Apple, Fisher went down and did an Ernie-Pyle-style piece.

The News from that period is full of similar coverage, where he attended some sort of event and produced a wrap-up cartoon that captured the tone of the day with a variety of finished sketches.

 

My first reaction was that Greene’s news coverage looked like the kind of multi-image cartoons that were on sports pages for years. Well, lo and behold, he had been doing that six years earlier. Here’s a collection of familiar names for baseball fanatics.

I couldn’t find much information on Greene, perhaps because he bounced around from the sports page to the editorial page to the comics page (nor does it help that there was a Sid Greene who worked for Marvel and thus is all over the Googles.).

 

Greene also produced “Have You Heard This One,” a filler for which he collected gags and added topper illustrations. My guess is that he did this randomly and that the backshop had a pile of them for use when the length of the joke and the length of the empty spot matched up.

 

He also did conventional, one-panel political cartoons, and I found this one at Paul Berge’s blog, which, by the way, is worth following if you like old political cartoons because he features them often.

As for Sid, he gave a talk to the Men’s Club of the Broadway Baptist Church in Providence in 1910 when he was the cartoonist for the Tribune there, and he died, at 51, in 1932, and there’s little more about him anywhere.

Except a brief mention in the July, 1916 issue of “Cartoons Magazine,” in the lead-off to a much more detailed discussion of other political cartoonists and their romantic perils:

Which is hardly relevant to our discussion but which makes a nice substitution for the usual musical attachment.

 

Community Comments

#1 Brian Fies
October/27/2018
@ 9:12 am

Wiley Miller did cartoon journalism as the staff cartoonist at my local paper, the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat, in the mid-70s. He was often asked to provide an artist’s take on news and features that might’ve otherwise been handled with photos. One I remember in particular, and which I had in my files until recently, was a two-page spread on the annual county fair. It was a neat journalistic experiment that, as I recall, didn’t last long.

#2 Michael Cavna
October/27/2018
@ 2:15 pm

A fond memory: A decade ago, we [the editors of the Style section] sent Richard Thompson to practice his brand of cartoon journalism at the White House, covering the national turkey pardoning. Here’s the brilliance that Richard returned with, including his process sketches:

http://richardspooralmanac.blogspot.com/2008/11/thanksgiving-2005-or-i-cover-white_25.html

–MC

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