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now and again to impart valuable information, one day tells a writer on one of the big dailies of some forthcoming development in connection with (say) a South American railway. The writer makes use of the information in his regular article, and, it being of unusual importance, he writes a short leaderette on the subject. About a month later, in the course of his avocations, he calls again on this particular broker, who says to him: "Oh, by the way, I am in your debt. I was able to make rather a comfortable thing out of that railway business, and I've just been figuring up your share of the profit. I find it's so much, and if you'll come into my room I'll draw you a cheque for that amount." The money is declined in a peremptory manner that causes the broker first to open his eyes in astonishment, and then to endeavour to explain that the transaction is quite honest. It may actually be quite honest, and it would be very easy for any one desirous of reconciling the thing to his conscience to prove by the aid of a little casuistry that it is. But it has happened that such money has come really from one of the largest financial houses in the City, and that, if it should be accepted, the receiver would find himself placed in the power of this particular house, and would be known by every promoting gang in London as one of the "squareables." It is the first step that counts; the rest is easy-for the briber. In other words, the newspaper man, if he succumbs to the first temptation, is lost. If he resists strenuously, and gives utterance to his opinions on bribery in general and this briber in particular in language of the sort that is supposed to make the air blue, he will find himself rather well respected, and will not be forced to submit so frequently to the indignity of having a few bank-notes put into his pocket. I will give another case to show the necessity for caution. An excellent gentleman, whose price, if he have a price at all, is much in excess of what any City magnate could afford to pay and much in excess of the value of any services he might render in return, was interviewed in his office one morning by a go-between for the promoters of some undertaking which it was desired to "write up" in order to stimulate public interest in it. Now, the scheme had its merits, and the City Editor undertook to draw attention to it, whereupon the go-between took out some bank-notes and stuffed five £5 notes into his pocket. This is estimating a man's price at an insultingly low figure-but that is beside the issue. The notes were thrown back at the pimp, and the porter was sent for to clear him off the premises. So far, good; but the journalist made the mistake of pointing out the merits of the scheme all the same, and within a week it was bruited in the neighbourhood of Old Broad Street that Mr. So-and-So had been squared with £100. Incidentally, this draws attention to another of the side-lights of the promoting market. The pimp had been instructed to offer this City Editor £100, and it had been his inten
tion to keep £75 for himself. As it happened, he pocketed the lot, and, what is more, he took to himself the credit of having “squared” his man.
He certainly gained his point, and it is to be presumed that in the circumstances he felt no resentment at being thrown out of the office.
The price of a venal City Editor ranges from £100 up to £5000 as a first payment, with a bonus on all subsequent “ business"-such bonas taking the shape either of a number of shares or hard cash. Journalists as a class are not wealthy-on the contrary, they are rather poor, for the plums are few, and a man's training preparatory to and in journalism leads him into habits which are beyond the average salary. One can understand, therefore, that a bribe of even the smaller of the two amounts may oftentimes prove a temptation-more especially if it should take the form of a grateful return for a service disinterestedly rendered, as in the case cited above and that the maximum should in the same circumstances prove irresistible. I would be understood to refer here to the individuals who set out with the design of doing their duty to their employers and their readers : there are men among the rank and file of financial journalism who, aiming at no ideal higher than making money easily and spending it quickly, pretend to no scruples, and are well pleased at any time to give any undertaking a puff (provided the "copy should pass their superiors) in return for very much less than even £100, with all the consequences which the action sometimes entails. But this brings us back to the venal element, which does not always wait to be tempted but goes to the promoter. As a rule, the character of these men is a sufficient safeguard against them working much injury, because they seldom contrive to secure a footing on a reputable sheet. Now and again, however, chance, or a confident front, or an interested recommendation from one whose bona fides is not doubted, lands a rogue into a position in which he can make a lot of money for himself and the promoter or promoters to whose “gang" he has attached himself. He is always found out in the end, but his employers are usually the very last to suspect him, and before he is deprived of his opportunities so far as that particular journal is concerned, he has persuaded hundreds of people to invest in the undertakings which he is paid to look after, and he has injured the reputation of his paper to an irreparable degree. He is aided in his course of deception by the ease with which a plausible case may be made out for a very shady company. While it is true that few companies are floated against which no adverse criticism can be levelled, it is also true that few are floated for which no favourable word can be said and a fair case be made out, if it be desired to sink all ugly considerations. If you are of an optimistic turn of mind, you can persuade yourself that the promises held out are really reasonable, and you can convey the same VOL, LXXIV.
impression to the mind of such of your readers as are not possessed of much business acumen, While you are performing your part of the contract, advertising agents are sending broadcast through the provinces judiciously worded paragraphs which are inserted as news and paid for as advertisements at specially high rates.
It will be remembered that this morally filthy practice attracted much attention in the law courts last year in connection with one of the numerous Jubilee seat swindles, and caused the presiding Judge to administer a very severe rebuke to the agent who, in the course of his business, had lent himself to this most nefarious piece of work. It is all very well to say that the average man should be able to recognise a puff at first sight and to appraise its true value. But the thing is done so insidiously that it disarms suspicion, and, as I have said already, the average man must depend upon somebody for help in the formation of his financial judgment. The case applies with equal force, from the point of view of the public, to the scoundrel who has wormed himself into the confidence of some newspaper proprietor, and to the wellintentioned man who, in a moment of weakness, has sold himself at a higher price to a promoter ; but the latter is likely to have the longer ran for his money if he be careful. If a notorious rascal can go for twelve months, the other should be good for eighteen months or two years, because he receives a fair start from his erstwhile good record, and the promoter would be a greedy man who should not be satisfied with the returns of two years' steady advocacy in a journal that prides itself (most of them do) upon its reputation for the fearless exposure of all sorts of shams-financial, social, literary, &c.
It is not an easy matter as a rule to suborn what I will call the honest City Editor. The promoter is generally careful not to show his hand at too early a stage. Many of them are too clever to show their hand at all. They are never without agents who are in their deal in a professional way, and behind whom they can hide, and it would be possible to name a good score of principals who are notorious bribers of the Press, yet to whom not a single payment in the way of a bribe can be traced, even though it should chance to have been made by cheque. I have heard an experienced man express doubt as to whether the devil himself was clever enough to devise some of the more ingenious of the methods practised of nobbling an obnoxious and recalcitrant City Editor. They often emanate from the intellect of some “shyster” lawyer kept (as some undoubtedly are) to perform disreputable functions which the promoter's regular legal adviser declines to handle. Let me give a sample. A certain promoter found one of his severest critics in the City Editor of an evening paper of high repute. The attacks of this gentleman were all the more hurtful to the promoter and his projects because they were conceived in a spirit of banter, the writer possessing a rather pretty gift of humorous expression which was far more fatal as a telling medium than columns of malevolent obloquy would have been. The promoter was a swollen-headed upstart who had been made by loud talk, big promises, and a lavish expenditure on "palm oil ”; and at dinner, when he was more than usually fall, it was his habit to indulge in two boasts-(1) that he had already made a pot of money out of the British public, and would continue, by the grace of God and his own cleverness, to make money out of that monumental ass until the day of his death ; (2) that every newspaper man had his price. The journal in question is an influential one, which can at any time help materially to make or mar any promotion; and the City Editor was therefore good game. It was thought that £5000 would be quite sufficient to buy him over, or, at any rate, to ensure his silence. He refused it. As I have hinted above, £5000 is about the highest figure to which the promoter cares to go.
He acts according to the doctrine of probabilities by which the operations of insurance companies and others are governed. It is only the influential men attached to the best papers who are worth this big sum, and they are certain to be dismissed summarily as soon
as the proprietary is made aware of their delinquencies. The promoter acts on the assumption that, before any revelations are made, his tool will have earned his hire-money. But for this particular City Editor the promoter was willing to go beyond £5000. A hint to this effect was given, but the journalist remained unmoved, and stated plainly that he was not open to consider any bribe. Shortly afterwards, the journalist met the promoter out at dinner, and during the course of the evening the latter took him aside, professed admiration for his inflexible honesty, and offered him a similar post, with an entirely free hand and at about double the salary, on another evening paper in which he was a large proprietor.
With the clause as to a free hand, the journalist suspected nothing and regarded it as the natural tribute to his honesty, and so the bargain was struck that night. Afterwards it appeared that the other leading proprietors of the other journal were averse to the appointment, and disclaimed any authority on the part of any individual proprietor to nominate a City Editor. The victim, meanwhile, had resigned his old appointment, and was placed in " a false position." His friend protested, but he consulted his solicitors. The matter was finally settled by arbitration. The promoter, throughout this affair, may have been actuated by the purest motives, but it is significant that he should ever since have gone round bragging of his cleverness in buying off a journalist's opposition at some thousands less than he was prepared to pay, by the simple device of offering him a position which it was not in bis power to confer.
There is the more recent case of the Pall Mall Gazette, which has
anticipated any supposititious revelations by Mr. Hooley by charging that gentleman with having bribed its former City Editor to betray his trust to the proprietor. It will strike many readers as curious that gentlemen so astute as the proprietor and the editor of the Pall Mall should have allowed themselves to be duped for months, but that is only another proof of the trustfulness placed in the honesty of the average City Editor by men who, having no axes of their own to grind, and being above all manifestly superior to corruption, do not lend themselves readily to suspicion. The Pall Mall (through its City Editor) was one of the papers which were said to have “ blackmailed” Mr. Hooley ; but it has already been allowed by Mr. Hooley that the relations were not of the blackmailing order at all, and he has acknowledged almost in so many words that the Pall Mall was right when it charged him with having deliberately corrupted its City Editor. If this is blackmail, it is about time we obtained a new definition of the word. I notice that the Globe expresses the belief that what is generally understood by blackmail is far more prevalent than bribery. The point is one upon which no one who is not a big company promoter can make a dogmatic assertion ; but, at least, bribery is a long way the viler of the two offences regarded from the investing standpoint. “ It is blackmail with gutter journalism,” says the same paper; “bribery in higher-class journalism,"--of course, for the reason I have enlarged upon above, that the promoter has to go to the journalist and offer him money to abuse his position. Call the trade blackmail or bribery, as you please; but is there no remedy for it? The Pall Mall Gazette, in its holy rage, suggests legislation making it a criminal offence for a promoter to bribe a journalist, whereby the two enter into a conspiracy to hoodwink and defraud the public. I should be very glad to see legislation towards this end. Though it could not put a full stop to bribery, the vision of an Old Bailey trial and a prison cell behind it would curtai] operations to a very appreciable extent. For cases of blackmail the promoter already has his remedy, if he chooses to embrace it. Much might be done towards the purification of the atmosphere of financial journalism, and the investor would be at the same time benefited, if the great morning papers were to deal rationally with new companies' issues, and were to give free expression to their opinions of them, instead of being content, as now, to write colourless paragraphs drawing attention to the prospectuses, and stating that the firm of Hops & Co. has been formed with a capital of £2,000,000, divided equally into Ordinary and 4 per cent. Preference shares (in addition to which there is a sum of £500,000 in 4 per cent. Debentures), for the purpose of acquiring the business of brewers carried on under the same name at Much Liquortown, &c. &c. But the morning papers are afraid of giving their City Editors the chance of being bought by the