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Roosevelt himself did not demand such an inquiry. All his protestations of outraged virtue, all his torrents of imprecation and denunciation end with the amazing assertion that "there is nothing whatever in which this Government is interested to investigate about this transaction."
The World fully appreciates the compliment paid to it by Mr. Roosevelt in making it the subject of a special message to the Congress of the United States. In the whole history of American government no other President has ever paid such a tribute to the power and influence of a fearless, independent newspaper.
The World likewise appreciates the importance and significance of Mr. Roosevelt's statement when he declares to Congress that the proprietor of The World "should be prosecuted for libel by the government authorities," and that "the Attorney-General has under consideration the form under which the proceedings against Mr. Pulitzer shall be brought."
This is the first time a President ever asserted the doctrine of lese-majesty, or proposed, in the absence of specific legislation, the criminal prosecution by the Government of citizens who criticised the conduct of the Government or the conduct of individuals who may have had business dealings with the Government. Neither the King of Great Britain nor the German Emperor would venture to arrogate such power to himself. John Adams's attempt to enforce the sedition law destroyed the Federalist party in America. Yet Mr. Roosevelt, in the absence of law, officially proposes to use all the power of the greatest government on earth to cripple the freedom of the press on the pretext that the Government itself has been libelled-and he is the Government.
We are aware that for many years Mr. Roosevelt has been savagely displeased with the editorial conduct of The World. It is true that we have criticised him sharply
and frankly whenever we believed the public interest required, just as we have heartily commended and supported him whenever we believed the public interest would thereby be advanced. Mr. Roosevelt's attack on The World can be explained only on the theory that be believes he can muzzle the paper, and our recent impeachment of his veracity seems to have been the last straw that broke his autocratic back.
It is true that The World printed the public reports concerning the Panama Canal affair which resulted from William Nelson Cromwell's appeal to the District-Attorney's office during the recent campaign to prevent the publication of a story which was said to be in the hands of the Democratic National Committee. It was Mr. Cromwell's own action which raised the issue in the campaign.
It is true also that when Mr. Roosevelt made his attack upon Delavan Smith The World called attention to certain statements which Mr. Roosevelt must have known to be false and misleading and appealed to Congress to end all scandal by a full and impartial investigation. If this be treason, let Mr. Roosevelt make the most of it.
Mr. Roosevelt's lamentable habit of inaccurate statement makes it impossible to accept either his judgments or his conclusions. In his message he does not state correctly even so simple a matter as the pretended causes of his grievance.
He says, for example, that The World asserted that there was "corruption by or on behalf of the Government of the United States." No such charge was made by this newspaper.
He says it was asserted that there were "improper dealings of some kind between agents of the Government and outside persons." No such charge was made.
He says that "among those persons who, it was al
leged, made 'huge profits' were Mr. Charles P. Taft, a brother of Mr. William H. Taft, then candidate for the Presidency, and Mr. Douglas Robinson, my brother-inlaw." No such charge was made.
The World has never said that Charles P. Taft or Douglas Robinson made any profits whatever. Mr. Taft denied that he was concerned in the transaction in any way, which denial The World published and accepted. It would have been equally glad to print Mr. Robinson's denial could it have succeeded in obtaining one from him, as it frequently attempted. The World has no evidence that he was associated with Mr. Cromwell, and would accept his word to that effect; for Mr. Robinson is an estimable gentleman of high character, whose reputation for veracity is infinitely better than that of his distinguished brother-in-law.
If The World has libelled anybody we hope it will be punished, but we do not intend to be intimidated by Mr. Roosevelt's threats, or by Mr. Roosevelt's denunciation, or by Mr. Roosevelt's power.
Mr. Roosevelt's seething indignation about The World's "libel upon the United States Government" is an exquisite indictment indeed, coming as it does from a President who less than a week ago officially insinuated in his message that the Congress of the United States was composed of scoundrels who amended an appropriation bill because "Congressmen did not themselves wish to be investigated by Secret Service men."
No other living man ever so grossly libelled the United States as does the President who besmirches Congress, bulldozes Judges, assails the integrity of courts, slanders private citizens, and who has shown himself the most reckless, unscrupulous demagogue whom the American people ever trusted with great power and authority.
We say this not in anger but in sincere sorrow. The World has immeasurably more respect for the office of
President of the United States than Theodore Roosevelt has ever shown during the years in which he has maintained a reign of terror and vilified the honor and honesty of both public officials and private citizens who opposed his policies or thwarted him in his purposes.
So far as The World is concerned, its proprietor may go to jail, if Mr. Roosevelt succeeds, as he threatens; but even in jail The World will not cease to be a fearless champion of free speech, a free press and a free people. It cannot be muzzled.
A POLITICAL PERSECUTION
[February 18, 1909]
MR. ROOSEVELT is mistaken. He cannot muzzle The World, even though he revive by Executive order the in'famous Sedition law which destroyed the Federalist party and made Thomas Jefferson President of the United States.
Although the indictments returned by the Grand Jury of the District of Columbia yesterday, in form, allege that criminal libel was committed against Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Elihu Root, J. Pierpont Morgan, Charles P. Taft, Douglas Robinson and William Nelson Cromwell, the case in reality is a political proceeding instituted by Mr. Roosevelt as President against the two great newspapers in the North which supported the Democratic national ticket last fall.
He said in his special message of Dec. 15, referring to certain articles about the purchase of the Panama Canal, "they are in fact wholly and in form partly a libel upon the United States Government," adding that "the real offender is Mr. Joseph Pulitzer, editor and proprietor of The World"; that Mr. Pulitzer "should be prosecuted for libel by the Governmental authorities," and
that "the Attorney-General has under consideration the form in which the proceedings against Mr. Pulitzer shall be brought."
In accordance with this form, the first indictments have been found in the District of Columbia under what Elihu Root himself described in the case of Noyes vs. Dana as "the same arbitrary and odious law against which Erskine fought in the days of George III." Mr. Roosevelt is employing all his power as President of the United States to use this "same arbitrary and odious law" to smother the freedom of the press.
This persecution, if it succeed, will place every newspaper in the country which circulates in Washington-and there are few of importance which do not circulate there -completely at the mercy of any autocratic, vainglorious President who is willing to prostitute his authority. for the gratification of his personal malice. Few newspapers make large profits. Most of them could be ruined financially by the legal expense of defending themselves hundreds of miles from the place of publication and against the tremendous resources of the United States Government.
Under this procedure there is hardly an American newspaper proprietor who would not be liable to criminal indictment in Washington if his newspaper printed something offensive to the President, even though the proprietor might have been thousands of miles from his office at the time of such publication and known nothing whatever about it. There is hardly an editor or writer or reporter who would not be similarly liable to indictment at the whim of a President. In addition to this, all of them would likewise be liable to criminal indictment, as District-Attorney Stimson declares, “in a number of separate and independent jurisdictions"—that is, in the jurisdiction of all the 2,809 Government reservations in which copies of the newspaper might happen to have circulated.