Daniel Defoe

When the public loved not hated journalists

The view of journalists today among the public is at an all time low. This is not good for democracy. Especially when that hatred is fuelled by populist politicians who resent being scrutinised….by journalists. But this is a new phenomenon – journalists in the past were loved, not hated by the public.

I have to declare an interest here. I’m a former journalist (BBC News, Sky News, Financial Times magazines, etc) and still a paid up member of the National Union of Journalists. And it depresses the hell out of me to see ill-informed people on Twitter writing BS about the so-called MSM. So I’m writing this blog post as a well overdue corrective.

The public loved journalists – even in the pillory

The path to creating a free press was a treacherous one. Not for nothing does the US Constitution protect the right of free speech. Because in the Old World – that right was non-existent or permitted at the whim of an absolute monarch.

Into the early 19th century, British journalists and publishers were literally placed in the pillory for producing work that offended the establishment. Just to be clear – they were put on trial and then taken to a wooden post with a yoke and fixed by their head and hands to be pelted by the mob.

But in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries – the ‘mob’ often didn’t comply. They came out and supported the hapless journalist in the pillory. They loved them for defending liberty and exposing corruption and vice. How different from today!

Daniel Defoe – journalist loved by the public

One of the many journalists placed in the pillory was the author of Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe. Aside from writing a great yarn (based on real events) about a castaway, Defoe was essentially a tabloid journalist. He was also a bit of a spin doctor for the government.

In 1703, he wrote a satirical pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. It was intended to be a ribald commentary on the attitude of the Church of England to Protestant dissenters on the one side and Catholics (or “Papists”) on the other. The CofE was likened to Christ with a dissenter thief on one cross and a Papist on the other. All pretty silly and Defoe wrote the whole thing tongue in cheek.

But the Church of England and government took the pamphlet very seriously and he was charged with sedition. The pamphlet was burned by the public hangman and Defoe went into hiding. However, he was discovered and put in three separate pillories around the centre of London for maximum humiliation.

The public, though, admired Defoe for his literary bravery and instead of throwing rotten vegetables at him – brought flowers and sang songs. Including a song he’d written for the occasion!

Public loved journalists who stuck it to the king!

Even though Daniel Defoe was cheered by the public – the experience of the pillory undoubtedly freaked him out. So much so that he agreed to spy on another journalist, Nathaniel Mist. Mist’s early 18th century weekly journal was hugely popular and it poked fun at the new German speaking king of Britain – George I.

Mist described the great grandfather of George III (who lost the American colonies) as a “cruel, ill-bred uneducated old tyrant”. He served a short prison sentence and like Defoe was sent to the pillory. Also like Defoe, the public cheered him on as a free spirit. But then Mist fled to France unable to handle the pressure and threats from the government.

Edmund Curll – also loved by the public

Edmund Curll was another early 18th century figure in the publishing world. This time, a publisher as opposed to a journalist. His sin in the eyes of the church and state was to publish both radical political works and pornographic tracts. Almost as if to cause maximum rage in respectable society.

One publication, Venus in the Cloister, alleged that while the church was prudish, Jesus Christ had believed in sexual exploration. This was a translation of a French work that went on to influence the notorious Marquis de Sade.

DISCOVER: The urban gang that terrorised Georgian London

Curll eventually earned a place in the pillory where, like Defoe and Mist, he was treated rather kindly by the crowds. And the list of pilloried and prosecuted journalists loved by the public – in Britain particularly – goes on and on.

What a sad contrast with today when many of the public would rather side with power against free speech. Or, worse, take the word of YouTube charlatans and hucksters as the truth ahead of people who are on the front line trying to report what is happening in the real world.

Below is the arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez in 2020 while reporting on protests following the death of George Floyd. A modern pillorying of a member of the ‘fourth estate’.

Teen diet in the 1940s – pigging out, staying slim

The teen diet in 1940s America at the end of the Second World War was surprisingly generous. I mean, young people seemed to have been pigging out and staying slim. What was the secret?

I found an old copy of Life magazine in my vast collection of old publications dating back three hundred years. This was the 11 June 1945 edition of Life with plenty about the ongoing war between the US and Japan (Germany had already surrendered) and a front page picture plus feature story on teen diets.

It followed an American kid called Richie in Des Moines whose 1940s teen diet was truly epic. I mean, he just didn’t seem to stop eating. And yet – he was not clinically obese as so many young people today are – regrettably.

Here is Richie’s June 1945 daily intake!

Dairy products, red meat, bread and some fruit – but not much by way of green vegetables. Meals eaten at home but also down at the Drug Store. Sandwiches are a staple with peanut butter and jam. Snacks involve ice cream, biscuits and soda.

Sliced bread features heavily and the lunch Richie gets at the Drug Store looks like something your Mum would make today as a school packed lunch. Dinner was still a three-course affair eaten at the dining room table. A ritual that might yet be revived following the Coronavirus lockdown.

We can see processed food creeping into the teen diet but nothing like the scale we witness today. And there’s no burger bars with super portions. Also – deep fried chicken was not a feature of every street corner.

The teen diet in the United States in 1945 is pretty much along the lines of what we think about young people eating throughout the 1950s. But in the UK and Europe, the picture was very different. Hearty food was not so readily available after the Second World War. And there was rationing through the late 40s and early 50s.

Plus unlike Richie – there wasn’t a vast continent pumping out farm produce on anything like the scale of the US. Europe was also battle scarred and recovering from a massive loss of human life. So, diets were pretty austere for everybody including your average teen.

This is a clever video below on 1950s teen diet reality in the United Kingdom.