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The Well-Informed Public, 1911

September 3, 2010 |  6:36 am

1911, McNamara Trial
Los Angeles Times file photo

1911: James B. McNamara’s defense team leaves the courthouse. At left, Samuel Gompers, famous head of the American Federation of Labor, is eating a snack and holding a cigar. The fellow on the right is defense attorney Joe Scott. The man second from the right is defense attorney LeCompte Davis. 

The man second from the left is identified on the back of the photo as Clarence Darrow but someone crossed it out. Let’s get a closer look. I think it could be Darrow.

1911, McNamara Trial
Los Angeles Times file photo

Looks like Clarence Darrow to me, I must say.

dropcap_I_vadis have been spending quite a bit of time with these men, reading the transcripts of jury selection in the trial of James B. McNamara for bombing The Times.

Remember in this era, there was no television, no  radio and certainly not the Internet. The only source of news – other than rumor and gossip -- was the daily papers, the weekly papers and magazines. You might assume people read them regularly. You would be wrong.

Here’s an extract of the voir dire of prospective juror Albert C. Robinson by LeCompte Davis:

Q. What papers do you read, Mr. Robinson?

A. Well, I haven’t read any for about four months. For about four months I did not see a paper.

Q. Just immediately preceding this time for four months you have not read any papers?
A. Not since the first of June.

Q. Prior to that time were you a regular subscriber for any paper?
A. No, sir.

Q. Did you take and read anything?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What paper did you read at that time?
A. Well, I read the Express and the Examiner and the Sunday Times sometimes.



Q. Did you read also the statement of Mr. Chandler, the son-in-law of Colonel Otis, wherein he said that The Times had been destroyed by the enemies of industrial freedom and that no power on earth could prevent them from again assuming the position in the editorial world or in the newspaper world that they had theretofore held?
A. I don’t remember reading that article.

Q. You don’t remember reading that article?
A. No, sir.

Q. Well since that time you have read The Times pretty regularly, have you?
A. No, sir. I read the Sunday Times occasionally.

Q. You read the Sunday Times occasionally?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. When you have read The Times, Mr. Robinson, have you given considerable attention to the articles on the page that it devotes to the differences between capital and labor?
A. No, sir, I seldom ever look at it.

Q. You seldom ever look at those articles?
A. No, sir.

Q. Did you read the Express editorial on the day after the finding of the dynamite at General Otis’ house? There was a long editorial in the Express.
A. I don’t call it to mind.

Q. It came out the day after they found the dynamite, which I think would be on Monday.
A. I don’t call it to mind.

Q. You don’t call that to mind?
A. No, sir.

Q. Well, you read as many of the papers and got as much information on this subject as you could, and as every man did, did you not?
A. No, sir, I don’t think I did.

Robinson isn’t an exception. In fact, he’s fairly typical – more typical than I expected. Judging by what I have read so far (600 pages and counting), newspapers were not the powerful influence on public opinion that we often think they were.