Friday, June 12, 2015

Hearst Corporation & Penicillin Pulitzers : twice lucky ??

At the beginning of August 1943 (despite it being 15 years since it was first discovered) the word penicillin remained either unknown or a matter of total indifference to 99% of the world's newspaper reading public.

By the end of September 1943 (and despite heavy wartime censorship that kept news from freely circulating between the Allies, Axis and Neutrals) 99% of the world's newspaper reading public knew the word penicillin and wanted some of it.

Yesterday, if not sooner.

And suddenly inspired by an old fashioned newspaper crusade of the kind that only Citizen Hearst could sustain, Pfizer boss John L Smith was hell bent for leather on supplying that demand.

Smith ultimately would do so in spades - his own firm alone providing 85 % of all the penicillin landing on D-Day.

It all began when a crippled Italian-American surgical resident called Dr Dante Colitti conspired with a Jewish-American journalist (Hearst's New York Journal American city editor Paul Schoenstein) to bring the story of a baby girl dying for lack of penicillin before the general public.

All in a successful attempt to embarrass the nation's wartime scientific elite (non-Italian/non-Jewish) into getting serious with penicillin.

Because didn't they know there was a war on ---- and people were dying from infections by the zillions ?

The story of innocent little Patty Malone touched the heart of a world at war and did indeed embarrass the Allied governments.

They abandoned their intention to keep penicillin a secret war weapon for as long as possible by withholding civilian supplies and by withholding news of its medical miracles.

Quite right then that the New York Journal American and Paul Schoenstein got the 1944 Pulitzer prize for general reporting.

Still this recognition was a stunner to all journalists with long memories.

No one could ever remember a desk-bound city editor ever receiving any sort of award for shoe-leather reporting - let alone the top prize in journalism.

And no one expected the Pulitzer Committee (set up deliberately to promote quality journalism over Yellow Journalism) would reward its top prize to the very font of the evil yellowness itself - William Randolph Hearst's flagship, the Journal-American.

Hearst's second chance at a Penicillin Pulitzer ?

This October 16th 2015 will mark the seventy fifth anniversary of history's first ever injection of penicillin - an event that ushered in our current age of antibiotics.

Since 1940, ten billion of us have directly benefitted from this age of (cheap) (abundant) penicillin-based antibiotics which has given all of us a form of herd immunity from once endemic infectious diseases.

A big deal indeed.

And here, well into this article, is where I "bury the lede" , if you happen to be a editor at anyone of today's Hearst media.

Because one of that historical pair, a teletype operator named Charles Aronson, was employed at Hearst's very same New York Journal-American !

In fact, one of Charles' jobs in August-September 1943 was keeping up with requests for variants on the the original Penicillin-Patty Malone series coming in over the wire from the various papers and magazines in the Hearst chain and from subscribers to Hearst's wire service, the International News Service or INS.

Aronson couldn't help but recall how Dr Martin Henry Dawson's homemade penicillin in 1940 had saved him from then invariably fatal SBE (the form of endocarditis that kills people inflicted with serious Rheumatic Fever).

Or that Patty Malone's hospital, the Lutheran Hospital in upper Harlem, was but a mile from Dawson's own hospital, Columbia-Presbyterian.

That simply couldn't be a coincidence.

And it wasn't.

The Lutheran and Columbia shared the same small pool of nearby patients and GPs, which allowed the censored word of Dawson's successes with penicillin to spread by wartime censorship's eternal foe (face-to-face gossip).

In addition, Colitti ,who had severe arthritis of the spine since childhood and lived very near Columbia Presbyterian, had earlier been a patient at Dawson's arthritis clinic.

What goes around, comes around and soon Hearst teletype operator Charles Aronson was once again back at Columbia Presbyterian; once again under Dawson's care and being treated with massive amounts of Pfizer-made* penicillin to arrest a second bout of SBE.

(*Dawson had originally got soda pop supplier Pfizer into the penicillin business.)

And once again, Aronson failed to die as expected.

He had survived at least four previous brushes with death and this time not only survived the SBE but also a potentially lethal stroke.

His brave body - basically battered from birth with all variety of life-threatening disease - hung on until he died at around age 40, in 1951.

Since so many of those diseases affected his motor skills, it is a minor miracle in itself that he had the speed and control to be a teletype operator at America's largest and busiest daily newspaper.

So what sort of latterday Hearst journalist is going to give the Hearst empire a second shot at a 'Penicillin Pulitzer' by writing a series on the amazing life of one the media chain's own employees ?

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