The is the third installment of a four-part series about the 1920 confrontation between American journalists Carl Ackerman and Charles Grasty as they covered the war in Ireland. This series is part of my ongoing exploration of American Reporting of Irish Independence. See Part 1 and Part 2. © 2023.
Grasty’s Ireland series
“Grasty joins the small group of self-described, ‘impartial, disinterested, and fair’ newspaper ‘experts’ who spend three or four weeks in Ireland, and then advise American readers how to view English misrule of Ireland.”
Carl Ackerman told his editor in Philadelphia that Charles Grasty “did not telegraph anything to The New York Times while he was in Ireland, although he did begin to send messages as soon as he reached London.” Ackerman didn’t attribute this detail to something Grasty said during their confrontation.Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence. Library of Congress. He might have learned it from British intelligence, as we’ll see in Part 4.
Grasty, in a June 10 cable to Adolph Ochs, the Times publisher, said he had been “unable to settle down completing Irish letters”, which contained “interesting and rather important matter” from his reporting trip to Ireland. He promised to take the material on a forthcoming trip to Paris and write the “simple paragraphs” Ochs suggested in one of their earlier communications.Charles Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.
Seven weeks later Grasty wrote to Ochs again to ask why his “Irish stuff”—three cables and 10 letters sent to New York before the end of June—had not yet appeared in the Times. Grasty wrote:
The information these dispatches contained were from a source in Dublin which Ambassador Davis guided me to. So far as I know no one else has had a like chance to develop a balanced view of Ireland. I think these dispatches answered many of the questions that are puzzling people in America.”Grasty to Ochs, July 29, 1920, in Ochs papers.
Finally, in mid-August, the Times published four Grasty stories about Ireland. It’s possible that he returned there after his late May visit; roundtrip travel between London and Dublin or Belfast could be accomplished in a day. “I am just back from Ireland, whither I went to gather impressions of the present conditions there,” Grasty opened his first story. More likely, the Times changed the datelines to make his earlier material appear fresher than it was.
Each of the headlines below is linked to a copy of the original story, followed by the dateline and publication date, placeline, and a select excerpt:
Ireland’s Problems Seen At Close Range By An American, Aug. 1/Aug. 14, London
Most of the people I met were Sinn Feiners, and they were all most hospitable and obliging to me as an American. No American who leaves controversial matters severely alone need have any fears in visiting Ireland. In fact, the person of every American is sacred, for America is not the chief cornerstone of Sinn Fein hopes.
British Blundering And Sinn Fein Malice In Ireland, Aug. 3/Aug. 15, Dublin
After talking with as many people on both sides as I was able to see, and getting the opinion of the few neutrals whom it was possible to find in Ireland, I came to the conclusion that the minimum that Sinn Fein would accept was full dominion rule like Canada, omitting the Governor General and including control of excise, customs and police. They will not consent to leaving Ulster out. That is the situation at this time. Of course, if some adversary should overtake the movement for independent Ireland, and especially if there should be a split with the labor union, the demand might be modified; of if, on the other hand, British helplessness continued and the Presidential campaign in America crystalized American sympathy, Sinn Fein might decide to go the whole hog.
Ulster Men Look For Future Union, Aug. 5/Aug. 17, London
I don’t believe that Ulster is as eager for British rule as you might think after reading one of Sir Edward Carson’s speeches. Ulster people do not want to have Dublin rule put upon them just at this stage, but they are looking ahead to a future when Ireland may become a great industrial kingdom, dominated commercially and financially by Belfast, the well-organized capital of Ulster. Indeed, it was often in my mind as I traveled through Ireland what great possibilities awaited Ireland when permanent order should come.
Blames Both Sides For Irish Plight, Aug. 7/Aug. 18, London
Judging by results, British rule in Ireland has been a failure. Britain cannot plead the peculiarities and shortcomings of the Irish race as an excuse for her failure. She has been mistress of the situation for centuries and has had the power to enforce her authority and to apply the necessary remedies. The simple fact is that she has refused to bring to her task the kind of study and effort which the Irish situation called for. … But Ireland will be a unit sooner or later. The silent and irresistible forces of commercial and industrial self-interest will bring the North and South together.
I have not located any communication about Ireland from Gasty to Wilson or other members of his administration. The journalist easily could have briefed U.S. officials at the embassy in London when he exchanged his passport. With the publication of his stories in the Times, Grasty’s views about Ireland were now available for anyone to read.
The Friends of Irish Freedom, a four-year-old American group supporting Irish independence, certainly read Grasty’s stories in the Times. And the group didn’t believe the correspondent’s claim that “my mental attitude was impartial” about Ireland, also made in the first story.
Through its weekly News Letter, the Friends dismissed Grasty as part of “the small group of self-described, ‘impartial, disinterested, and fair’ newspaper ‘experts’ who spend three or four weeks in Ireland, and then advise American readers how to view English misrule of Ireland.” The News Letter said Grasty made a “despicable attempt” to exploit sectarian division in Ireland, though religious issues hardly dominate the series. Ever watchful of real or perceived slights against the Irish cause by mainstream American or British newspapers, the News Letter also said the New York Times “has gone far in championing England’s course in Ireland.”News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.
In the next week’s issue, the News Letter again criticized Grasty as a “confident” of Lord Northcliffe, the British press magnate. This was certainly true.News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3. Weeks after the November 1918 armistice, Grasty reported from London that Northcliffe “is making a wonderful hit with the American newspaper men. … always accessible to them … indefatigable in his efforts to help them … [with] a very large accumulated influence among Americans generally, but particularly among American working newspaper men.”“Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918. As a former publisher, Grasty also favorably compared Northcliff and Ochs; noting the London and New York publishers each had “a passion for the news, and this forms the mainspring of success” for their respective papers.“British and American Newspapers”, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1919, p. 11.
More importantly, the New Letter questioned whether Grasty could write a “disinterested” journalistic assessment of the Irish situation while simultaneously acting “confidentially” for President Wilson and the U.S. State Department, as Ackerman had reported in June. News Letter chief Daniel T. O’Connell wrote to Secretary of State Colby to complain the articles contained “statements grossly unfair and calculated to advance British interests in relation to England’s treatment of Ireland. … [I]f Grasty is empowered to act for our Government in any capacity whatsoever, it is obvious he should not be permitted to utilize such relationships as a means for spreading misstatements and otherwise giving circulation to error.”Daniel T. O’Connell to U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, Aug. 14, 1920, in Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – … Continue reading
In a reply to O’Connell, one of Colby’s assistants said that Grasty “is not engaged in any Diplomatic mission, or assignment, under the authority of this Government.” The Times correspondent was not “an official or unofficial representative” and “not traveling with a Diplomatic passport.”G. Howland Shaw to Daniel T. O’Connell, Aug. 18, 1920, in State Department Records, Roll 219.
It was the U.S. government’s second denial of Ackerman’s story since June. Like Ambassador Davis’ cable to Grasty, however, the reply to O’Connell parsed the words “official” and “diplomatic” while ignoring the “special” status of the original passport. A few pro-Irish papers published both letters as proof of mainstream press bias against Ireland.News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920; “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920; and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic … Continue reading The pages of the Public Ledger and the New York Times remained silent about the confrontation between the two reporters.
“I have received no denial from Grasty nor have I heard anything from any of our clients questioning in any way the Grasty cable,” Spurgeon in Philadelphia wrote to Ackerman in London. “I think it would be just as well to let the matter stand as it is unless something further develops.”Spurgeon to Ackerman, July 2, 1920, in Ackerman papers.
Ochs discussed the Grasty matter on the telephone with Frederick T. Birchall, a British-born assistant editor at the Times. Birchall followed up their conversation with a handwritten note to the publisher, which reiterated that he did not want to repeat Ackerman’s original allegation. He also suggested that O’Connell’s letter was “harmful propaganda,” while the State Department reply “contains no news.”Frederick T. Birchall to Ochs, Aug. 22, 1920, in Ochs papers.
But Ackerman and Grasty would each have more to say about Ireland.
NEXT: Behind the scenes
|↑1||Carl Ackerman to John J. Spurgeon, June 12, 1920, in Ackerman papers, Box 131, Miscellaneous correspondence. Library of Congress.|
|↑2||Charles Grasty to Adolph Ochs, June 10, 1920, in Ochs papers, New York Public Library.|
|↑3||Grasty to Ochs, July 29, 1920, in Ochs papers.|
|↑4||News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 8, Aug. 21, 1920, p. 5.|
|↑5||News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920, p. 3.|
|↑6||“Lord Northcliffe Our Interpreter”, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1919. Story datelined Dec. 21, 1918.|
|↑7||“British and American Newspapers”, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1919, p. 11.|
|↑8||Daniel T. O’Connell to U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, Aug. 14, 1920, in Records of the Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Great Britain, 1910-1929, Ireland – (Irish Free State, Eire) Political Affairs, General 841d.00, Roll 219.|
|↑9||G. Howland Shaw to Daniel T. O’Connell, Aug. 18, 1920, in State Department Records, Roll 219.|
|↑10||News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Vol. II, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1920; “Exposing One Carl Ackerman”, The Tablet (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Aug. 28, 1920; and “What Is Grasty Doing?”, The Gaelic American, (New York, N.Y.) Sept. 4, 1920.|
|↑11||Spurgeon to Ackerman, July 2, 1920, in Ackerman papers.|
|↑12||Frederick T. Birchall to Ochs, Aug. 22, 1920, in Ochs papers.|