Americans often complain about how dirty and mudslinging politics have become. This complaint demonstrates the lack of knowledge of their own history that many Americans today display. As the imaginary attack ad by Adams at the beginning of this post illustrates, politics tended to be much less restrained in political attacks in the early days of our Republic. During the campaign of 1800, Jefferson and Adams, two of the primary Founding Fathers, were called every name imaginable. Jefferson was called, among many other things, an atheist, a weakling, a coward, a libertine, mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, and the son of a half-breed Indian squaw sired by a Virginia mulatto. A few of the insults hurled at Adams included fool, hypocrite, criminal, tyrant, and that he was possessed of a hermaphroditical character which had neither the force or firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman. The passions that were roused in that campaign are shown by gentle Martha Washington, the widow of George, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was one of the most detestable of mankind. The press were at the forefront of this battle, with the papers of the day wearing their political affiliations emblazoned in their headlines.
And so it remained in America until after World War ii. Up until that time, most papers adhered to a set of political beliefs determined by the owners of the papers, and they were very upfront about it. It was only in the postwar era, with the attempt to instill professionalism into the always somewhat disreputable ink-stained wretches, that the concept of objective journalism came to be prized as a goal and embraced by most organs of the media. Papers that wore their ideological hearts on their sleeves, the prime example being the New Hampshire Union Leader, were viewed as survivors of an earlier stage of journalism that the press had outgrown.