Copyright © 2012 Lisa Harbatkin
George Lent, director of the Board of Education’s Bureau of Public Information wrote to Saul Moskoff on October 5, 1955.
Judith Crist (HERALD TRIBUNE) called to ask for an A.M. release on Feinberg Law data when it is ready for this year. She alleges we’ve been giving WORLD-TELEGRAM-SUN the breaks in the past.” *
Even without pixels, newspapers in 1950s New York operated in an overheated competitive environment that likely matched today’s 24/7 media. Television’s arrival added to their unintended non-profit pictures. The teacher investigations provided high-interest grist for their mills. Or fodder for their hungry editors. Or just plain meat for making the headlines scream louder.
The New York Times as well as the tabloids reported, often daily, on the Board of Education’s efforts to get “red” teachers out of the city’s classrooms. “Commies” and “pinkos” made regular appearances in news articles. Giant red (what else?) headlines in Hearst’s New York Journal-American added breathless urgency to the ongoing coverage. In addition to the four papers already noted, the other mainstream dailies during most of the ‘50s were the New York Post and the New York Daily News.
Editorially, the major papers ranged from the Times, which tried to maintain a civil liberties stance, to the Journal-American, some of whose reporters doubled as informants. A number of local community/neighborhood-based papers were largely against the teachers being investigated, and The Tablet, the publication of the Brooklyn diocese of the Roman Catholic church, played a major role in revving up the anti-communist hysteria.
The Feinberg Law reports Crist and other reporters wanted summed up the number of teachers called in each year for sessions with Saul Moskoff, along with the numbers dismissed. . Under the law they were submitted to the state education commissioner. The numbers were going down in 1955 (74 teachers were called in) after high points in 1953 (151) and 1954 (106), but the media’s appetite wasn’t letting up.
As the pixels and overburdened electrons do today, the papers covered the broader school and educational issues. Released time from the public schools for religious education and a much-argued over proposed “values” curriculum were major issues in the context of the red scare. Curriculum decisions, and poverty and its related problems as they affected the schools came in for some attention as well. But somehow, and again as covered today, the angry headlines targeted the teachers.
* Accessed at the Municipal Archives