Houston's Shackled Press

A cautionary tale about journalistic conflicts of interest

Among the most fervent declarations about American institutions are public testaments to the need for freedom of the press, and no one pronounces these with more passion than the press itself. From standing mottoes on page one, in prose and poetry across editorial pages, and in unrelenting rhetoric from publishers' conventions comes the message: the democratic process is founded on the rock of free and independent newspapers.

Most of these calls imply the danger of control by government. Some suggest other threats, from welfare statism to public apathy. Over the years, among the most insistent alarmists of the internal threat to freedom has been the Houston Chronicle, the largest paper in Texas and at one time the property of Jesse Jones. But so far in this decade the greatest contribution the Houston Chronicle has made to the maintenance of native American institutions is to conduct a continuing and depressing demonstration on how not to operate a free paper in a free society, and to remind its brethren in the trade that the most immediate threat to a free press in this country is their own conflict of interest.

In the 1950s the Chronicle was an unabashed mouthpiece for the city's aging oligarchy, dull, jingoistic, reactionary, and falling behind its competitors. Brought in to rejuvenate the paper in 1960 was William P. Steven, a professional editor (moderate Republican) who reversed the paper's dying tendencies and looked at the Chronicle as though it were being published for the whole community. In addition to this heresy, he was pretty radical: he supported higher education, Lyndon Johnson, and civil rights. So last September he was fired by the oligarchy. It was the most spectacular story in American newspapering that week, reported in all major Texas dailies, the wire services, and national newsmagazines. But in the Chronicle's account of its change - the conservative team of the 1950s was put back in charge -Steven's name did not appear, and he became an unperson in the manner of fallen political gods in the Soviet encyclopedia. The paper began shifting back to the right.

Three months later the oligarchs agreed to sell the Chronicle to the Houston oil millionaire John Mecom as part of an $85 million package that included hotels, banks, office buildings, and a laundry. The deal would change the commercial power structure of the sixth largest city in the country, but the Chronicle's bland story was one eighth as long as the one in the opposition Post. After Mecom moved in, the paper continued its rightward shift and changed largely by playing up its new proprietor's interest in oil, horse and automobile racing, and providing spectacular coverage of his daughter's wedding.

On June 7 of this year the Mecom deal collapsed, and the Chronicle reverted to the oligarchy, along with the laundry. Apparently the deal fell through over disagreement on the final price for the biggest bank in the package. The Chronicle did not report that the deal had been canceled, let alone why, presumably on grounds that it was none of the public's business. Readers were not even told that they had lost a newspaper proprietor. Mecom's name, like Steven's before him, was merely dropped from the masthead and replaced by that of Jesse Jones, who has been dead ten years. If Houstonians depended on their biggest paper, they would not know that their community had undergone a profound change, even though the paper was part of that change. And they would not know that their leading newspaper, the most prominent Texas representative of that crucial institution of a free and independent press, was being bought and sold like an anonymous link in a string of corporate hot dogs. On the basis of that record, the Chronicle's readers will probably have to rely on rumor and gossip to tell them what happens next to their newspaper.

Among the depressing morals to be drawn from the turbulence in Houston is the reminder that the American press has hardly begun to think about, let alone solve, a fundamental problem of conflict of interest. The press has been vigorous about pointing to conflict of interest among politicians, occasionally exposing men and agencies in government who let private profit interfere with their public duty. Newspapers were particularly noticeable stressing the horrors of conflict of interest and payola in broadcasting. At infrequent times a few papers will even expose individual reporters or editors who compromise their reportorial objectivity by taking money, favors, or glory from news sources. But they have been virtually silent about a major source of conflict of interest in journalism: the danger that the publisher of a local paper will have a financial interest in an enterprise that should be reported objectively but is not.

For example, the group that controlled the Chronicle last year also controlled a large bank in town which experienced a bitter stockholder struggle that was reported in the Wall Street Journal and on page one of the opposition Post, but never mentioned in the Chronicle.

So it was typical that when the Chronicle was sold last December, along with the same large bank and downtown real estate, Houstonians depending solely on the Chronicle would have known nothing of the event unless they had caught the final edition of the December 6 paper, and even there they would have been limited to a twelve and-a-half-inch story. Six months later when it was "unsold," the readers were told nothing. The Post had three chaste paragraphs forty-eight hours later.

The Post has not always compensated for the deficiencies of the Chronicle.It cooperated. for example, in keeping out of print in Houston the name and fate of the discharged Steven. Competition does not necessarily produce good newspapers. There are too many cities where it seems to produce the opposite - Boston, San Francisco, the afternoon papers in New York City - and a number of places where monopolies print good newspapers - Louisville and St. Petersburg. Competition merely increases the odds that news will be printed and public questions asked and investigated. There is no longer competition in 96 percent of American cities with papers, and in the remaining 4 percent the tide of monopoly seems to move on inexorably, as it has in Houston in recent times.

Until 1964 there had been three papers in the city. For years, the best one was Oveta Culp Hobby's morning Post, staid, occasionally enterprising, but never as vigorous or as authoritative as one would expect from the only morning paper in the country's sixth largest and remarkably rich city. There were two afternoon papers. The Scripps-Howard Press, a wretched paper, was a flamboyant, superficial jab in the civic rib cage. The other was the Chronicle, reactionary and stingy with the news, for years the voice of its early owner, Jesse Jones, and after his death, of his fiscal trustees.

In 1960 the Press had a circulation of 102,000. The Post, with 218,000 and the only staff exhibiting signs of metropolitan-caliber ability, grew slowly to dominance in the city. The Chronicle had a circulation of 205,000, but it was out of sympathy and out of touch with large segments of the community. John T. Jones, Jr., the titular head of the Chronicle, decided it was time for a change. Jones, the favorite nephew of Jesse Jones, is tall, slender, slow-speaking, with a facial resemblance to his uncle except for a contemplative quality.

John Jones decided to change the Chronicle to a paper for a modern metropolis, which Houston desperately needed. For years the city had been wracked by ideological wars of the most primitive kind, most dramatically in its educational system. The schools were dominated by citizens who regarded sympathetic mention of the United Nations in the classroom as Communist indoctrination, racial integration as an alien plot, and who eschewed such forms of federal aid as school lunches but grasped it in the form of federally supported military training for high school boys.

Jones's instrument for the awakening of the Chronicle was William P. Steven, a man of heavy build and hearty voice, with a national reputation for rejuvenating newspapers. He had started out in his native Wisconsin, had edited in Tulsa, and had enlivened the Minneapolis news scene. He is of that breed of newspapermen who possess instinctive rapport with their generation, a drive to go where the action is, and an immunity from the contagion of bureaucracy and ultrarespectability.

Like his friend Lyndon Johnson, Steven is a calculating plunger. (Years ago he told a Time magazine reporter that his editing philosophy is "Plan now, print later," but it came out in Time as "Print now, plan later" and continues unchangeable in the corridors of Time as a famous Steven quote.) He parted with the Cowles management in Minneapolis largely because young John Cowles had risen to the point of editorial leadership, and a good newspaper can stand only one leader at a time. It is typical of Steven's shrewd enthusiasm that he found his next job by compiling a list of all the papers in the country with three characteristics: big enough to pay him a good salary, dull, and with an editor over sixty. There were eight. In each case he arranged for a friend who knew the owners to let the publisher know Steven was a good man and available. One of the papers was the Chronicle.

In September of 1960 John Jones and Steven spent a day and a half talking in a room of the Rice Hotel in Houston. Jones wanted Steven to do for the Chronicle what he had done for papers in Tulsa and Minneapolis, make them interesting and make them grow. The two men liked each other. As they approached a decision, Steven told Jones, "You know, John, there is one thing that troubles me about working in the South that you ought to know. I feel that integration is an essential fact in the demonstration of democracy. I think it is necessary for the full development of the economy. And I think it is the only way to make our foreign policy mean anything in a world of mostly dark skins. Outside of that, I have no strong feelings on the matter."

As Steven remembers it, Jones replied, "The Chronicle supports the law of the land. The only trouble I'll have with you is that you may want to talk about it too much."

The Chronicle stopped being dull and archaic. Emphasis moved from columnists of the far right, like Paul Harvey and Fulton Lewis, Jr., to those of the center, like James Reston and Max Freedman. The paper subscribed to the Los Angeles Times--Washington Post wire service and the New York Times News Service (after the Times service appeared, conservatives in town began calling the Chronicle their Pravda).

Almost at once Steven began building the local news staff, which was suffering from inbreeding, age, and malnutrition. Top reporters at the Chronicle in 1960 were getting $120 a week, and he raised their salaries to $165. He attracted bright young journalists from outside to the paper. One photographer, Ted Rozumaiski, became the only man ever to he named twice as national Photographer of the Year. Reporter William Porterfield won an Ernie Pyle Award in 1963. Saul Friedman was named a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. The staff began doing a series of articles on urgent local problems, among them sympathetic accounts of the nature of racial relations in the city (there are 300,000 Negroes in a city of a million). Much attention was devoted to the need for faster development of higher education. The Chronicle withdrew its support from the conservatives on the school board, pressed for televising of school-board proceedings against the bitter opposition of conservatives, and won.

Steven spent money, but he also saved some. For years it had cost the paper $100,000 to publish a 6 AM, edition merely to get an extra 7000 circulation in the fight against the Post. Steven scrapped that edition. In 1964 the Press finally gave up and sold its assets to the Chronicle, which then became the largest paper in 'Texas, with 254,000 circulation.

The opposition Post began to perk up. It brought down William Woestendiek from the highly successful Long Island Newsday, and its national and foreign news improved. The changes were long overdue in a city with four universities (total enrollment 25,000), a large petrochemical and shipping community with global rather than parochial interests, and the huge NASA space center.

For the first time, urgent issues could be discussed openly without destructive recrimination. The pre-Steven Chronicle spoke for the financial lords of the territory and their eccentric politics, and everyone knew it; the most dangerous political radicalism it had entertained was to support Governor John Connally, even though he is, in a manner of speaking, a Democrat.

A man who lived and worked in Houston during the Steven period said, "You have no idea what a difference it made that the Chronicle changed. It wasn't dangerous to be a Johnson Democrat anymore, or to support minority groups, or speak in favor of Medicare. Before, if you supported these things, they made you feel like the village crazy man."

The nature of this change is implied in the award given Steven in October of 1964 by the Houston chapter of the American Jewish Committee "in recognition of his constructive and effective labors in guiding the Houston Chronicle toward accomplishing the information of our populace and the improvement of opinion in Houston."

It was typical of the new role of the paper that on September 2, 1965, Steven and his counterpart on the Post, William Hobby, Jr., spent much of the day conferring with Houston Mayor Louie Welch over an alarming local development. It was during the Watts rebellion in Los Angeles, and though Houston Negroes showed no sign of hostility, hysterical whites had bought out all the guns in a number of stores and were mounting armed patrols of neighborhoods. Steven put in continual calls for his boss, John Jones, and for his managing editor, Everett Collier, but, oddly, could not reach either one.

Steven arrived home tired and worried, but his wife, Lucy, an alert and articulate blonde, insisted that he shake his concern and join a family celebration. It was a gay evening. But by eleven thirty Bill and Lucy were in bed reading when John Jones called and said that he was coming right up. Bill assumed that Jones wanted to talk about the racial tension.

Just before midnight, Mr. and Mrs. Jones arrived at the Steven home in the fashionable southwest of Houston. Bill and Lucy were in bathrobes and over an initial drink made friendly small talk. Then Jones blurted out: "This is the hardest thing I ever had to do. Bill, they had a meeting today, and they got you."

As Bill and Lucy Steven reconstruct it, the conversation went like this:

Steven: Who is "they"? And what do you mean, they got me?

Jones: You know. The Endowment.

l.ucy: Who?

Jones: The trustees.

Lucy: What do you mean, they got Bill?

Jones: You're all through, Bill.

Lucy: Why? Why?

There was no direct answer. Much later that night Jones said: "Bill, you had a vision. They don't want a vision; they want a voice."

The Endowment is The Houston Endowment, Incorporated, a tax-free charitable foundation started by Jesse Jones in 1937 with a gift of $1,050,000. Jesse Jones, banking, lumber, and real estate millionaire and a government administrator under Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, died in 1956. Today his Endowment calculates its assets 168 million. Others think it is $400 million, but no outside audit has ever been made.

Under the law, the Endowment exists solely to support charities. But its primary impact on the community is as a powerful, tightly held corporate force. It has an important interest in thirty-two corporations, a majority interest in twenty-five, including half a dozen banks, three hotels, several downtown office buildings, real estate, and the Mayfair House hotel on Park Avenue, New York. Through its communications properties it has been the major controller of political and social intelligence in the city of Houston. At the start of the counterrevolution that swept Bill Steven out of his job, the tax-free foundation owned 100 percent of KTRH Broadcasting Company, a major station in the city, 31 percent of a local television station, and 100 percent of the Houston Chronicle.

From 1951 to 1964 the Endowment had an income of $97 million and gave $19 million in charity. When Representative Wright Patman of Texas began investigating abuses by some tax-free foundations, the Internal Revenue Service momentarily revoked the Endowment's foundation status but later restored it.

Four men and one woman controlled probably the largest single corporate force in the city. John Jones used to be a sixth trustee and chairman of the board, but he resigned last August, in order, he said, to buy $3 million worth of broadcasting properties from the Endowment without conflict of interest. The remaining five trustees are all related to Jesse Jones by blood, marriage, or former business association. They are J. Howard Creekmore, president, a former bank employee of Jones's; Mrs. Audrey Jones Beck, granddaughter of Jesse; John Beck, her husband; J. Hurt Garrett, a former employee of Jones's and now senior vice president of the Texas National Bank of Commerce, second largest bank in the city, controlled by the Endowment; and W. W. Moore, former associate of Jesse Jones's, now president of Bankers Mortgage Company, a holding company owned 97 percent by the Endowment.

There is special irony in the episode. Reformers of newspapers have long dreamed of ownership by a foundation that would be immune to commercial attitudes and pressures. But as it unfolded in Houston, foundation ownership produced a list of almost every pitfall in business domination. This does not necessarily negate the idea of foundation support, but it would seem to for foundations run by men who are essentially corporate administrators with control of operating businesses. For example, the Chronicle represented only one twentieth of the Endowment's total assets. Even if the newspaper never showed a profit, this would be tolerable to the total economy of the foundation. It served the trustees instead to have the paper protect the property and politics of its owners and do it more effectively by overwhelming its competing papers, which it did by consistently cutting its advertising rates secretly for big advertisers, keeping its monthly subscription rate abnormally low, running exorbitant editions to help put one competitor out of business and dominate another. The owners of the Chronicle had another convenience: they held notes for some time on the owners of the Post.

The chief evil of the Endowment's ownership is the same as that of any business conglomerate possessing a newspaper: the paper is always in danger of becoming a means to the parent corporation’s nonjournalistic ends, a handmaiden rather than a detached reporter.

A second danger is that such ownership is ideological. A man who controls a dozen nonjournalistic businesses usually has nothing in his experience telling him he is obliged to make his property available to the ideas of others. The owners of the Chronicle seemed to find any such notion of obligation intolerable, and Steven insists he was fired because of that intolerance. "The conservatives won," he says.

As he cleaned out his desk, Steven got a call from President Johnson, who wanted to know what was going on. "Mr. President," Steven said, "we carried every precinct but the right one." He meant that the paper had support from the community but not from the boardroom of the Houston Endowment in the Bankers Mortgage Building. It was from here that the counterrevolution was mounted. First the foundation trustees dissolved the board of the Chronicle, which had included Steven, replacing him with their new editor, Collier, who had been a columnist during the paper's reactionary period in the 1950s. Then they loaded the paper's board with members of the foundation board Creekmore, Garrett, Moore, and John Beck.

Jones seems to have been a powerless witness to the wreckage of his paper. He has said that he was told to take it or leave it.

There was almost unanimous indignation among the new hierarchy of the paper at reports that politics of the paper had anything to do with the firing. I tried to ask all the trustees, but most of them were unapproachable. The receptionist for Mr. Moore at Bankers Mortgage brought back the message "He knows what you want, and he won't see you." But I found the number two man on the board less bashful. J. Hurt Garrett has his office on the executive third floor of the Endowment's Texas National Bank of Commerce (the biggest bank it controls). He is an elderly jowl-faced man reminiscent of veteran overseers of New England textile mills.

"We didn't like their editorial policy, that's all," he said. "They had everyone up in arms. Nobody liked it. I never heard anything but complaints about it . . . . It was all this racial desegregation business. Things were all right in Houston before they came down. But all this racial business--nobody liked it. And I don't like all this Johnson stuff, and all his civil rights, too. I know that Jones and Steven are friends of Johnson, but all we got was complaints about the paper's policy on that."

Mr. Garrett sounded quite credible. When he said of the paper's policy, "Nobody liked it," presumably he meant nobody on the third floor of the Texas National Bank of Commerce. Two thirds of Harris County voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And when he said he heard nothing but complaints, this, too, sounded plausible. My guess is that he does not subscribe to a Houston weekly called The Forward Times, which goes mostly to the Negro community, and which ran almost a full-page editorial on the firing of Bill Steven, saying:

A strong positive force that has quietly but effectively gone about the business of helping Houston Negro citizens move up into new heights of dignity and opportunity has been fired from his position. Not many Negroes were personally acquainted with William P. Stevens [The Forward Times made a common error of putting a terminal "s" on the name], but most were well aware of the fact that for the last four years The Houston Chronicle had shifted from a staunchly conservative newspaper to one that openly advocated school integration and printed editorials that warmed the heart of the depressed and disadvantaged. What the Negro citizens did not know was the man responsible for all this change was William P. Stevens, backed by John T. Jones, Jr. What they may not have realized recently, when a front-page announcement was run in the Chronicle announcing that a new editor had been hired was that the old editor, William P. Stevens, had been fired…It is an ominous warning of things to come or to say the least it is an indication of the end of a short, short era.

The editorial referred to the possibility that people in Houston might not know that Steven had been fired. On September 3 the Chronicle ran a large story on page one on the new appointments but omitted any mention of Steven, and of the Endowment, which made the changes. Over at the Post a story about the firing was prepared but killed by the top brass.

So the news of Steven's discharge had to travel by underground; two church newsletters (one said "truly disturbing," another "a tragic mistake"), two weeklies (The Forward Times and the conservative weekly, Tribune, which ran a straightforward news story). Later someone mailed out thousands of reproductions of stories in national papers and newsmagazines on a sheet entitled "News all over the U.S. but not in Houston."

John Mecom, the new owner of the Chronicle, inherited all its problems, and some of them were even magnified. Under the previous ownership, when a columnist in the Chronicle had mentioned in print that there was a plan to study a downtown air terminal, the head of the Endowment, Howard Creekmore, personally called the paper in anger. The Endowment also owned the Rice Hotel, where most of the airlines have their offices.  A new downtown terminal was not encouraged in the Chronicle

Under Mecom the Rice Hotel was still owned by the owner of the Chronicle, who still had a controlling interest in the bank. In addition, Mecom has worldwide oil, industrial, hotel, and banking interests, and in the Houston area he owns the Warwick Hotel, the Reed Roller Bit Company, the Keystone Drug Company, a building construction firm, a half interest in a huge industrial complex on the Houston Ship Channel, and 20,000 acres of land, some of which he is using to construct 5000 homes and high-rise apartments. [he possibility of a conflict of interest was as inherent under Mecom's ownership of the Chronicle as it was under its previous owners. But the Houston Endowment had been under pursuit by the Department of the Treasury and by Congressman Patman. Patman was digging deeper into the Endowment in the summer and fall of 1965, compiling an impressive record, only partly publicized at the time, of the Endowment's large-scale corporate dealings and its modest indulgence in charity. Patman proposed and even the conservative Treasury agreed that there ought to be a law limiting the right of tax-free foundations to control operating businesses.

During this period, the foundation was looking for a suitable buyer, Steven was fired, and Creekmore decided that John Mecom was the man to buy the Chronicle. Why did they pick him?

Collier's explanation is: "The trustees of Houston Endowment were determined to keep these properties in the hands of someone who has the same deep love of this community and the same concepts for its betterment and progress that Jesse Jones had." The trustees no doubt felt they were expressing "the same concepts for its betterment and progress" when they fired Steven for being too liberal, too pro-Negro, and too militant a reporter of the town.

Mecom is pro-Johnson in a Texas sort of way, but he is not an ideologue. He maintained an office in the Chronicle and ran the same kind of paper the post-Steven editors did under the Endowment. The paper remained to the right of the Steven paper. Three months after Mecom took over, its columnists on domestic affairs were William White, Henry J. Taylor, Raymond Moley, Les Carpenter, Marianne Means, Victor Reisel, William Buckley, James Reston, Max Freedman, and David Lawrence. Four of these (White, Freedman, Carpenter, and Means) are close friends of Lyndon Johnson's. The only nonconservative among the remainder is Reston, and he appeared less frequently than before. Liberal cartoonist Herbiock no longer appeared. The paper dropped Ralph McGill and Whitney Young, and conservative columnist David Lawrence was run twice as often a before.

Almost a year after Steven was fired, a series of articles on the Negro community, criticizing among others the slum landlords, had not been published. Reporter Saul Friedman, who has since gone to Detroit, had worked on the series four months. It was ready for publication when Steven was discharged.

On a number of urgent local issues the editorial page went blank. It decided, in an abrupt change, that the televising of school-board sessions was not important. When Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach made a major speech urging the city to complete its racial integration willingly and without rancor, the Chronicle, whose editorials under Steven had not been reticent about giving opinions, merely suggested that readers look at the speech. Another editorial recommended that readers look at a certain column of William White's. An editor told a subordinate, "That will be a signal to President Johnson that we're still with him." The new Chronicle apparently hoped to send esoteric signals to the President that would go undetected by the owners and the readers.

When the Houston Endowment fired Steven, an indignant citizen of Houston wrote to the White House: "The time has come to license newspapers to assure that they will use their licenses for the benefit of the public and not just for special interests.''

Licensing of the press is, of course, unconstitutional and unwise. But newspapers ought to worry about how often the idea appeals to a frustrated public. There is almost nothing a community can do about a local newspaper that fails in its primary duty. Starting a new metropolitan competitor is too much like a man dissatisfied with his automobile trying to start a new General Motors. He might have done it fifty years ago but not today. Nor is there any effective way he can reach owners who choose to remain unresponsive.

The country's newspaper proprietors, the vast majority enjoying a monopoly, preside over an institution that should be the most sensitive detector of change in society. But among major American institutions, newspapers have been the least responsive to upheavals in civilization since World War II. Government, education, religion, and much of corporate life have adapted to altered conditions in economic and social life, but newspaper owners have clung to the past. They seem to be reminded of their special status under the First Amendment only when someone suggests changes in the second-class mailing privilege or the payment of standard wages to delivery boys. Their response to the notion of the press being accountable to the public is to bar reporters from sessions of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.  In addition, the dangers of news monopoly are increasing.

The basic answer to this vacating of responsibility is for owners to include in their corporate hierarchy, their directorships, and their wills some meaningful representation in the public interest, quite divorced from simple property interest.

In the absence of that there are methods by which a paper ownership can establish working communications with its own community. The editor, publisher, and owner of one of the best papers in the country, Barry Bingham, of the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times, has proposed local press councils in which community representatives would regularly sit with the paper's hierarchy to adjudicate complaints and public issues. No one has been trampled in the rush to try it.

Because there has been little evidence of publisher interest in creating some method of public accountability for the press, the government may have to step in. The least that can be done is to take away the "they" of ownership of newspapers, the usually faceless controllers of the community's news. The Post Office requires users of the second-class mailing privilege to list each year all parties who own one percent or more of the stock in the publication. But at present, there is no distinction made between a one percent owner and a 99 percent owner. And the listing, usually published in the paper in early October, is meaningless because it lists only the holders of record, often trustees and third parties acting as executors of wills.

Although a few newspapers offer stock publicly, there is no good reason in law or logic why newspapers should not file for public scrutiny, under postal law, the same information the Securities and Exchange Commission requires of 4500 companies who trade their stock in the open market.  The SEC requires the filing as a public record of the names of all officers, directors, and holders of 10 percent or more of stock. Each of those persons in turn must file their holdings in any other traded firm in which they are an officer, director, or holder of 10 percent or more of stock. The present postal requirement was passed to prevent the use of government mailing subsidy by parties using the cover of education and news for propaganda or concealed advertising. The present listings do not usually tell the Post Office or the readers who the beneficial owners of newspapers are or what other financial interests they have that might constitute a conflict of interest and a distortion upon the news.

Newspapers have generally supported the idea that policy-making federal officials should disclose their financial holdings and sell those that might conceivably tempt them to influence their work for their own benefit. The American newspaper is almost a branch of public administration. It is the most important single instrument of information in a society peculiarly dependent upon public knowledge and public opinion; for its own future and the national good it needs to be as free as possible, and it needs to assure increasingly dubious readers that it is free.