The Daily News, New York City’s most popular newspaper for much of its history, embodied a particular strain of conservatism in the United States. Its avowed “Voice of the People” positioned it as on the side of ordinary citizens, albeit a certain kind of average citizen. It was the citizen of a specific ethnic group—white working class urbanites—who believed they faced challenges from privileged elites in the city, the country and the world. The News promised to inform, empathize, assist and battle on their behalf.
The paper’s editorial page favored the views of whites over those of non-whites, and this was reflected in its news coverage as well. A commitment to fighting for the interests of the people also dictated what issues were covered; residents wanted affordable rent, a reliable subway and clean streets, among other quality-of-life concerns. The News supported these goals with a conservative twist, such as easing building restrictions and inviting private enterprise to fill gaps in public services rather than raising taxes.
In addition, the newspaper emphasized its own working-class credentials by supporting the ideas of unions and embracing the language of class warfare in its headlines and lead stories. Its writers and editors were often of the same background as their readers, and its staff was largely male, middle-class, Jewish, or Protestant and from working-class neighborhoods. This sense of identity politics gave the News a special connection to its readers.
Amid its success in the 1920s, Patterson began to increase the paper’s emphasis on political and national issues. He felt that the public was no longer interested in playboys and divorces but in how they were going to feed their families, where their kids were going to school, and what was being done to assure the nation’s security.
This focus on a limited number of social issues and its ideological stance pushed the News more to the right than many other newspapers of its day. By the 1940s it was a staunch supporter of isolationism and in general favored conservative populism.
The News’s reputation for anti-Semitism deepened shortly after World War II, in part because of a series of articles written by John O’Donnell, who authored a column called Capitol Stuff. These articles argued that Jews controlled the government and financial institutions of this country, that a secret conspiracy to deprive American workers of their jobs was being carried out by bankers, brokers and speculators who were aided by the secret service, the FBI and other intelligence agencies.
While it is impossible to know if the News had any significant influence on elections or public policy during its heyday, it was certainly a major influence in the lives of its millions of readers. It shaped and reinforced their worldview, and tapping into deep veins of populism and ethnonationalism that have long been powerful forces in American politics. Sources: Durr, Behind the Backlash; Timothy Lombardo, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and a Populist Politics (Philadelphia, 2018); and Brian Rosenwald, News on the Right: Studying Conservative News Cultures (Cambridge, MA, 2019). The paper’s headquarters were in the former Daily News Building at 450 West 33rd Street, which straddled railroad tracks leading into Pennsylvania Station.