The Press in a Mess

Attempts by the US and French governments to buy favourable coverage in British newspapers proved a costly failure.

James Buchanan (detail), illustration by Charles Child, 1933 © Bridgeman Images.

The history of the British press is a tortuous mess, bedevilled by the twin dangers of proprietorial interference and insolvency. A bizarre example can be reconstructed from deep within the annals of the Spectator, 10,000 issues old this month. During a whirlwind two years (1859-60), it somehow reversed its first 30 years of reform-focused campaigning by becoming the secret organ of an overseas government.

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