As Ireland’s strike for independence heated up after the Great War, Irish newspapers in America frequently complained about real or perceived pro-British bias in the mainstream U.S. press. Their readers echoed the criticism of how big city dailies and wire services reported Irish news.
At a January 1919 meeting in Chicago, for example, nationalists suggested “the American press was ‘muzzled’ when it came to printing the truth about the Irish question.” Someone in the audience shouted, “Let’s boycott the press.” Ironically, the mainstream Chicago Tribune provided this reporting.1
Coverage of the June 1919 American arrival of Éamon de Valera, and the massive crowds that turned out to hear him in cities across the country, began to change the perception of some Irish Americans. In a July 26, 1919, editorial headlined “American Newspapers Aligned on Ireland’s Side,” The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minn., suggested:
It is the conscience of the American people rather than any impulse originating in the editorial sanctums that is forcing a change in the attitude of many of our big newspapers toward Ireland. But whatever may be the real cause it is palpably evident that there has been noted a great change in this respect during the past few weeks, coincident with the coming of President de Valera of the Irish republic to our shores.
The editorial assessed coverage of de Valera’s late June visit to Boston by the Globe, Herald, and Post of that city. It also analyzed the above-mentioned Chicago Tribune, “the Hearst papers” (then 20 dailies in 13 cities2), and “big newspapers” in New York City, without naming titles.
The Standard noted the use of quotation marks around the words “Irish Republic” and “President” before de Valera’s name, “intended to indicate sarcasm,” was beginning to disappear from the dailies, a sign of legitimacy and respect. It concluded:
Changes in attitude of the kind noted are significant of what has already taken place in the minds and hearts of the American people. The newspapers are not directing, but following the lead of public opinion in the matter.
A month earlier, at his public debut in New York City, de Valera told the gathered reporters:
It is to the press rather than to the diplomats that the representatives of the common people must appeal if they really wish to save democracy. One of the objects of my visit was that I might present my case to the people in my own words and not as the English propagandists often represent me.3
De Valera would soon have problems with newspaper coverage of his efforts in America, including John Devoy’s Gaelic American. In the summer of 1919, however, the professor and the press enjoyed a brief honeymoon.
- “Predicts ‘Hell Unless Ireland Gets Freedom’ ” , The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 22, 1919, p. 2.
- Online Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society
- “Hurrahs Engulf De Valera As He Pleads for Erin”, Buffalo (New York) Courier, June 24, 1919, p. 1.