During the 1940s, as the News struggled for its own existence, it concentrated mostly on student lives, resulting in the exclusion of perspectives on the Holocaust and the world at war.
Yale Daily News
The 1939-40 academic year began on September 25, as Coach Raymond “Ducky” Pond launched into a scrimmage on the field with his football team. The Yale Daily News trailed him warily with a subtitle fretting that the “relatively green team is [a] question mark.” The News reporter detailed the “count” and the team’s odds. He observed as Pond and the team and his assistants — Emerson Nelson, Earl Neale, Ivan Williamson, Jimmy DeAngelis, Bill Renner and Gerald Ford — trained and built.
Gerald Ford wouldn’t be mentioned again in the 1940s era of the Yale Daily News. Perhaps understandably, Platt didn’t think to nab an interview with him. The News had already secured another interview anyhow, a big one for that same issue: an “exclusive interview” with then-Sen. Robert Taft, who argued against joining World War II, citing America’s “racial unity” as a reason for why the country could and should stay uninvolved. The article offered no comment or counterpoint in response. This tone — this lack of consideration — dominated the work of the News during the 1940s. The News consistently and casually used an anti-Japanese slur. It rarely reported on antisemitism, hinting at a paper that did not dig into the impact of its publications. It shuttered its perspective, frequently resulting in journalism that was obtuse, oblivious, and dismissive.
On January 4, 1940, down in the columns but on the front page, then-New Haven Mayor John W. Murphy showed up to speak under the headline “Mayor Murphy Doubts Yale Growth Will Hurt City, in Kiwanis Club Talk.” It was the days before the News had a city desk: Murphy’s appearance got all of five paragraphs. The article glanced at and glossed over the discussion of the University’s tax-exempt status to emphasize Murphy’s view that Yale prioritized “quality [over] quantity” and, besides, faced difficulties in college expansion. The article concluded that the “Mayor’s words … reflect … amicable relations that have for a long time existed”; its tone was laconic, uniform, optimistic, and reflective of a shuttered perspective, a flattened understanding of Yale-New Haven relations.
In that same issue, the News reflected on the 1930s: “chaotic, turbulent, unreal,” it wrote of the decade. The statement begged the world to take on a more global perspective that didn’t subject nations to other nations; advocated for a larger, more public-protecting state and federal government; and ended on a note of optimism — that the “lessons of the ’thirties” would be learned. The statement expressed hope that the next decade would be marked by progress. It mentioned Hitler, the world war and totalitarianism with offhand dread, anticipating a retreaded history — a repeat of “failures and disappointments.”
On Dec. 8, 1941, the News reported that its campus and the city around it was roiling and raging, calling it a “riot” state. “Students and youths” infuriated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor stormed up to the residence of Charles Seymour, then-University president. The sight of Seymour’s power and popularity, assuring the crowd into singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” jars with the article’s description of many of these same students’ treatment of New Haven workers. The article describes them “shoving” a doorman “out of sight” to barge into and make a mess of the Hotel Taft.
In this same article, Seymour said in a statement to the News: “It seems to me we have been in this war three years.” The plain calm of his statement proved prescient, foreshadowing Yale’s involvement in the war over the next years as it trained soldiers through the summer. The News reported actively on Yale and New Haven and the war — soldiers, students, air raid drills. If its writing questioned the nature of Yale’s participation — “Yale men” were involved in the creation of the nuclear bombs — such statements ran quieter than the rest of the paper.
One of the most striking discoveries in the News of the 1940s is the brutality of its inattention. If you look up “Holocaust” over the decade of 1940-1949, the word will appear 22 times. Holocaust got used as a word — referring to Europe at war writ large, discussing materialist happenstance in 1947. As a college paper, this is reflective of a broader dearth in contemporary journalism around the Holocaust. The gap is broad but not total — some information about the Holocaust is out there. One issue features an upcoming “Stop Hitler” rally, hosted in New Haven; there’s no follow-up article on what happened with the rally itself or if the rally even happened. Brief notices for discussions of antisemitism led by professors — like James G. Leyburn, and professionals, like Harold Schiff, publicity director of the Anti-Defamation League — received front-page, one-paragraph notices. A chapter of the Hillel Foundation established itself at Yale in 1943 and subsequently gained focus. On the whole, attention to Judaism and Jewish people increased in the YDN over the course of the last half of the decade. But there’s a lack of focus; in the first years, there’s a hollowness. There’s a frequent failure to feature articles in the News by or about Jewish people. There are few attempts to characterize the antisemitism that resulted in millions of deaths throughout the decade. The News shuttered itself once again.
As soldiers joined the campus to train, the Yale Daily News left it to become, with support from the University, the Yale News Digest. The pressures of the war and the strain on campus resulted in the weekly paper, which entered the scene with a three-times-a-week series titled, “Enough Rope.” The writer introduced himself — he was “a Presbyterian, a midwesterner, a liberal Republican” — and joked, in sometimes racist terms, about the digested state of the News. He pledged “to be merely amusing” and took time to explain the joke of his title, going so far as to proclaim that “before the eyes of 8,000 of you…[he is] committing suicide.”
It’s the Digest that, on Aug. 10, 1945, reported on the aftermath of the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan, speaking to Professor Leigh Page, who warned of the “end of the human race.” Another article, a jumbled, oversimplified fable of fighting families, attempted to make meaning out of “man’s inhumanity.” The fable followed neighboring farming families that cyclically destroyed one another. Splicing fighting children and personal bigotry into his story, the writer wrapped up not so much with moral concern — “experience today,” he wrote, “has no consistent morals” — but with terror at the capacity of human destruction.
On Sept. 12, 1946, the Yale Daily News published its own welcome back from Charles Seymour. The paper documented Yale’s 245th Commencement amid a galore of advertisements, new students, and news about professors. As the school reckoned with its “reconversion” back into a civilian campus, the paper reported on its own return, looking for something in itself to digest.
The News made a merry but Christian occasion of its closing up shop for the 1940s. The paper showed its age, grainy and gritty but as bright as black-and-white could be. The “Merry X-Mas” plastered over the centerpiece photo almost seemed emblazoned by lights; a buoyant banner surrounded a Christmas tree and a smiling woman, whose name doesn’t appear to be in the paper. Beneath the photograph, headlines about “Good Guys,” “Best Guys” and “Horrible Nasty Guys” fill up the columns, sending out “warm felicitations,” good tidings, and, in the lattermost’s cases, declarations of hatred for Christmas. A satirical Santa Claus piece sees its hero beaten, battered, running for his life away from an accusation that he’s a Communist, and jailed. The paper decided to wait on digesting the decade: the antisemitism that killed millions, the internment camps, the weight of a second World War and the Cold War, the death and despair. It waited for its next team of reporters — a new green team to launch into the field.