An Unmitigated Curse
“Every day’s experience and observation more and more convinces us that that great institution, the magnetic telegraph, instead of being a blessing, is a curse to the country. No doubt, under the control of honest and conscientious men, and confined in its operations to the transmission of facts as they really exist, and events as they really and truthfully transpire, it would be productive of much good, and be an efficient medium of communication. But this is not the case, and hence the manifold and pestilent evils that have flowed from its invention and its general and universal use.
The telegraph is a money-making institution—the mercenary element is interwoven with every tissue and fiber of the vast web which it has woven and stretched over the country. Just as its agents and correspondents multiply words—whether those words be true or false—and send them over the wires for publication in sensation newspapers, under the headings of display type and half-column captions, just in that proportion are its revenues augmented and its thrift enhanced.
Does not everyone see at a glance how completely its interests are at variance with those of the public? And does not everyone see at a glance, likewise, the tremendous power it must wield, as long as implicit reliance is placed in the statements it furnishes as news?
We warn the people to beware of this new power in our midst, more potent than an “army with banners.” Its whole stock in trade consists in the perpetual excitement of the community—in a morbid appetite for startling news and a monomania for extravagant and almost incredible rumors; because this diseased condition of the public mind furnishes a market for the sale of improved “extras” and “sensation” newspapers—bringing grist to two mills—the telegraph and the printing office.
In fact, so far as its communications for the public eye are concerned, it is almost an unmitigated curse. No news which it sends over the wire is reliable, save what transpires in legislative bodies, and in the transactions of the money and other markets. One half of its “reports'”, and “rumors” are the pure inventions of the imagination, and “like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind,” save the painful memory of deceit and imposition.
As far as its transmission of intelligence, respecting men and measures, helps to form that public opinion, which is the basis of political action, the telegraph, as abused, is a positive nuisance. Unless it is shorn of its strength, by unbelief in all it says and does, it can bring upon us a war at pleasure; it can cry down the good and elevate the bad; it can achieve the success of any party; it can elect any man, almost, President of the United States; and it can render uncertain almost any investment of the capitalist, and play, as with a football, with the great interests of labor and industry.”
(The Telegraph and Its Abuses: Philadelphia Morning Pennsylvanian, February 6, 1861)