Dec 102014

Wikipedia: “The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France from its beginning in 1894 until it was finally resolved in 1906. The affair is often seen as a modern and universal symbol of injustice, and remains one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice, where a major role was played by the press and public opinion.”


From “The Proud Tower” by Barbara Tuchman:

“Mystified by the complexities of documents, facsimilies, trials and the Secret File, the people could not reconcile the idea of forgeries deliberately prepared to convict an innocent man with their idea of the Army which meant parades, uniforms, boots, epaulets, guns and flags. How could officers who rode proudly past on horseback, sword in hand, to the sound of music and drums, be imagined bent over tables in stuffy offices carefully forging handwriting and piecing letters together with scissors and glue? There was nothing brave or military about this, therefore it could only be calumny. The people were patriotic and Republican, believed what they read in newspapers, loved the Army and hated and feared the “others” – sans-patrie, incendiaries, church-burners, Dreyfusards – who, they were told, were sworn to destroy it. They shouted “Vive l’Armee!” and “Vive la Republique!” “Down with Dreyfusards!” “Down with the Jews!” “Death to traitors!” “Vive Mercier!” and any other form of incantation that would serve to banish evil and reassure their faith.”

“Each time the Dreyfusards brought forward new evidence which they were certain this time must force a retrial, it was quashed, suppressed, thrown out or matched with new fabrications by the Army, supported by the Government, by all the bien-pensants or right-thinking cummunicants of the Church, and by the screams and thunders of four-fifths of the press. It was the press which created the Affair and made truce impossible.”

“Variegated, virulent, turbulent, literary, inventive, personal, conscienceless and often vicious, the daily newspapers of Paris were the liveliest and most important element in public life.

… “Editors on important issues contributed signed editorials of passionate invective. The press was daily wine, meat and bread to Paris. Major careers and a thousand minor ones were made in journalism. Everyone from Academicians to starving Anarchists made a supplementary living from it. Prominent politicians when out of office turned to journalism for a platform and an income.

… “Newspapers could be founded overnight by anyone with energy, financial support and set of opinions to plead. … Columns of opinion, criticism, controversy, poured out like water.

… “The mischief-makers were the privately supported organs of special interests or of individual editors who were likely to be men either of rabid principles or none at all. … There was the old royalist, Paul de Cassagnac, who started the fashion in journalism for abuse and insult, and attacked everyone and everything from habit regardless of consistency.

… “Henri, Comte de Rochefort was the kind of journalist whose capacity for mischief is unfettered by doctrine: the more unsettled his convictions, the more brilliant and scathing his pen. … Approached by the early Dreyfusard and the theory that he would relish a challenge to prove innocent a condemned man whom everyone believed guilty, Rochefort had been cordial, but was dissuaded from the adventure by his manager, Ernest Vaughan, on the ground that public opinion would not stand for disrespect of the Army. … Vaughan meanwhile change his mind with the historic result that Vaughan departed to found his own paper and to provide an organ for the Dreyfusards. Rochefort retaliated with the most mischief-making story of the Affair. He informed his readers that a letter from the Kaiser to Dreyfus existed which the President of the Republic had been forced by threat of war to return to the German Ambassador, Count Munster, but not before it had previously been photographed. Vaughan could say with “absolute certainty” on the authority of a high military personage that this was the “secret document” on which Dreyfus had been convicted.

“So befuddled was the public mind by the fumes of mystification and intrigue rising from the Affair that the story was widely believed. … What acted on public opinion in the Affair was never what happened but what the Nationalist press and whispered rumor said happened.

… “What was truth and what people persuaded themselves was truth became hopelessly blurred. “

 Posted by at 7:37 pm

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