Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: February 2009

Detroit News, April 19, 1931. “I’d like to help you, detective, but I simply can’t remember a blessed thing. One minute I was composing a letter on my dictaphone, and next thing I know I wake up here in the hospital with my face burned off.” The poor bastard. Did he publish something that pissed off a local crime lord, or had he simply fallen behind on his protection payments?
Anyway, assaults with acid are all the rage in this period. Lots more of that to come.

Detroit News, April 10, 1931. According to Google Earth, it’s 269 freakin’ miles from Pittsburgh to Forty Fort, Pennsylvania–quite the walk home for Frances. But then what is a Wellesley girl supposed to do when a 76-year-old witch ensorcels her husband with intent to build a sex cult around him?

Detroit News, March 26, 1931. Here’s our friend Merciful Percival again, he of the soft hands and softer heart. It’s amply clear he’s just in this for the rough trade, no? I’m not sure this cartoonist is earning his paycheck though.

Detroit News, April 3, 1931. Michigan was debating whether to reinstate the death penalty in the Thirties, in response to the gangland murders that had become a part of daily life under Prohibition. On the editorial page of the News, the anti- side was invariably represented by this long-haired, po-faced, pencil-necked, bleeding-heart little douchenozzle. Fair and balanced coverage decades before Fox News.

Detroit News, March 23, 1931. Tabloids were deeply preoccupied with outing wife beaters and gloating over their comeuppances (“comesuppance”?). On this count at least, the “lower” standards of tabloid journalism served a valuable social function. But I’m a bit surprised to see the lash and post in service as late as 1931. Apparently it hadn’t yet been deemed cruel and unusual. I must look into that.

Detroit News, March 30, 1931. I know exactly how this guy felt. Actually I am this guy.

Tabloid enthusiasm for suicide stories even extended to the animal kingdom. The CDC would definitely not approve of this item, which commits several no-nos on its list. E.g.:

“Presenting suicide as a tool for accomplishing certain ends.”

“Glorifying suicide or persons who commit suicide.”

“Focusing on the suicide completer’s positive characteristics.”

That’s all on top of the status quo: “Engaging in repetitive, ongoing, or excessive reporting of suicide in the news.”

Detroit News, March 25, 1931. Today this sort of reporting is frowned upon by the Center for Disease Control. A 1989 report on the role of media in suicide contagion states: “Describing technical details about the method of suicide is undesirable. For example, reporting that a person died from carbon monoxide poisoning may not be harmful; however, providing details of the mechanism and procedures used to complete the suicide may facilitate imitation of the suicidal behavior by other at-risk persons.”

Detroit News, March 18, 1931. I’m trying to figure out when and why newspapers stopped reporting the suicides of ordinary private citizens. Tabloids used to be all about suicides: it’s not unusual to see 4 or 5 cases reported in a single issue. Today those deaths would only be reported if the circumstances were extraordinary (e.g. a murder-suicide) or the subject was famous. When the change came, was it just a matter of evolving standards of propriety? Or were newspapers suddenly taking the phenomenon of suicide contagion into account? Perhaps they were worried about the impact on their circulation.

Detroit News, March 17, 1931. Christ.