Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People

A still from Oren Rudavsky's Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People.

Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People serves as a profile of the publishing giant and an important lesson on freedom of the press.

Immigrating to the United States from Hungary, Joseph Pulitzer would become an important name in American journalism.  We can see his legacy living on today through the annual Pulitzer Prizes.  But make no mistake, this man knew the importance of journalism.  While the current president will resort to”fake news” attacks, Pulitzer knew its importance.

“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together,” Pulitzer once said.

Pulitzer knew that the American press has to be able to do its job for the country to succeed.  His papers, as I’ll get into later, were not afraid of taking on the government.  By which, I mean report on their wrongdoing.  Take a look at this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt: “It is high national duty to bring to justice this vilifier of the American people.”  Again, more on this later.

Most Americans know the name of this man because of the Pulitzer Prizes.  But what type of life did he lead as a person?  That’s what this film seeks to tell us.  I knew–from being a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, go figure–that his family owned the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for many years.  The film is very informative even though director Oren Rudavsky goes the recreation route.  Rather than be an outright documentary, we have scenes recreating the publisher’s life.  This is just a pet peeve of mine but other than this, we learn about a very fascinating life.

Upon his arrival to the United States, Pulitzer would join the Union Army.  This is where he found himself fighting for the Lincoln Calvary because of speaking German.  Later on, he would purchase both the St. Louis Post and St. Louis Dispatch.  Both papers would merge and the aforementioned St. Louis Post-Dispatch would become the major daily for St. Louis.  The Pulitzer family would stay involved with the paper until Joseph Pulitzer IV resigned.  Health issues led Pulitzer to New York for a hopeful better life.

It’s in New York where Pulitzer would purchase the New York World in 1883.  Being New York, Pulitzer had to be innovative with increasing the circulation.  This led to sensational journalism.  New York Sun publisher Charles A. Dana would attack him and New York Journal‘s William Ralph Hearst would also be in competition.

If there is one thing that you take away from the Pulitzer documentary, it’s that no president is above the law.  We learn this as a result of United States vs. Press Publishing Co. (1911).  This came as a result of The World exposing a $40 million payment from the US to the Fresh Panama Canal Company.  President Theodore Roosevelt was outraged and the federal government issued an indictment for Pulitzer.  Pulitzer nor The World would back down against the government even with the libel threat.  This case would make its way to the Supreme Court.  The Court overturned the indictments ad Chief Justice Edward White would write the Court’s unanimous opinion.

DIRECTOR:  Oren Rudavsky
SCREENWRITERS:  Robert Seidman and Oren Rudavsky
NARRATOR:  Adam Driver
FEATURING:  Nicholson Baker, David Nasaw, Chris Daly, Andie Tucher, James Morris McGrath, Nancy Tomes, Hasia Diner, Daniel Czitrom, and Elizabeth Gitter.
VOICES:  Liev Schreiber, Tim Blake Nelson, Rachel Brosnahan, Lauren Ambrose, Hugh Dancy, Billy Magnussen, Sebastian Stan, Ryan James Hatanaka

First Run Features opens Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People in New York on March 1, 2019 and LA on March 8, 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.