A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 129

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THE NEWSPAPERS


of state and were liable to be quashed in case of any legal irregularities. But from the time named—that is, the introduction of a state of siege—military governors might arrive at any decisions they pleased, these having then and there the force of law without appeal.

It must be admitted that the military power never abused these prerogatives. In practice it could not replace the civil authority, with which it was content to collaborate and to approve such decisions as the new circumstances required. Those few cases in which the military power allowed itself to take the initiative were undoubtedly fortunate instances and received the approval of all well-affected persons—one might say, of the vast majority of the population. And yet it attacked the privileges of two elements which exercised an almost all-powerful influence on modern democratic society—the press and the drink interest—to which the civil government had always shown themselves lenient and, perhaps, too indulgent. For instance, when the crisis began the newspapers vied with one another in sensational information, and it was far worse when hostilities had begun. Every hour, from ten in the morning till the late hours of the night, clamorous sheets were issued, special editions containing on each occasion news of which the authenticity was not always certain.

The vendors spread themselves over the most animated portions of the boulevards and through the most peaceful suburbs, bellowing the name of the paper and the number of the edition. The passers-by would purchase the sheet, the inhabitants would come from their houses and purchase it, too, to be rewarded almost invariably by the same deception, since the news announced was almost always a rumour without foundation, or some trivial anecdote. It must be admitted that the newspapers had some excuse. They were obliged to maintain a fierce struggle for existence. The formidable upheaval caused by mobilization and the state of siege which immediately followed had dealt a deadly blow to quite a number of newspapers whose existence had always been precarious. Since they subsisted penuriously on subsidies from certain political committees, or on financial enterprises of a more or less risky character, these sheets, suddenly deprived of resources, ceased to appear. The great daily papers were themselves sensibly affected. The majority of advertisement contracts, from which their chief

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