Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another Great Entry: The Killed Story



(It is a late afternoon in 1926. The setting is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the office of HARTLEY PINKER, a news editor at a major Milwaukee newspaper. He is seated at his desk, making notes on a piece of paper. He wears a suit, slightly stained with printers’ ink. After a few moments there is the sound of a commotion outside his office door.)

WOMAN’S VOICE. (Off.) Ma’am, you can’t go in there.

MARTHA BIALOWSKY. (Off.) I don’t believe that you’ll be able to stop me. (Pushes through the door.) Hello, Pinker. (Slams the door shut.)

HARTLEY. Marty. I don’t think that you have an appointment.

MARTHA. And yet, somehow, the two of us are still going to have a little conversation. And incidentally, it’s “Mrs. Bialowsky” to you.

HARTLEY. (Reaches for the phone.) It’ll have to be “Marty,” or maybe “Mrs. B.” I can never pronounce your last name. And if you don’t leave, I’ll be forced to call someone to escort you out.
MARTHA. Even you can manage to pronounce a simple “Ma’am.” And if you don’t give me five minutes of your time, God as my witness, I will throw your typewriter through your closed window. You don’t want broken glass today. It’s quite chilly, even by Milwaukee standards. Don’t think that I have any reservations about making a scene.

HARTLEY. (Pulls back from the phone.) No, no. I believe that you’re certainly crazy enough to pull a stunt like that. All right. You have four minutes.

MARTHA. (Pulls a letter out of her coat pocket and slams it down hard upon the desk.) You sent me this letter today informing me that you would not run my story on Margaret Sanger’s speech at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Silver Lake, New Jersey two days ago.

HARTLEY. That is correct. We do not need your work, it does not suit our present needs. However, if you’re free tomorrow, why don’t you slip over to the Ladies’ League bake sale fundraiser for war veterans down the street? That would be a story worth covering.

MARTHA. (Nearly spluttering in rage.) Eddie gave me permission to cover this story last week. He’s your superior. He gave me the money to travel to New Jersey.

HARTLEY. Yes. That was foolish of him. We’d take that out of his pay, but it seems churlish to dip our fingers into dear old Eddie’s retirement fund.

MARTHA. Retirement? Eddie loves his job.

HARTLEY. Of course he does. But he’s getting up there, and it’s a new day in the world of journalism. He’s too old-fashioned. Starting Monday, I’ll officially assume Eddie’s title and duties. And in my new, improved editorial position, I’ll need journalists who know how to write the right kind of articles. Your services, dear lady, will no longer be required here. And your article about Mrs. Sanger’s speech will rot in the wastepaper basket, where it belongs.

MARTHA. But why? This is topical, this is important, this–

HARTLEY. It’s not the kind of subject that we think is appropriate for this paper. After all, Mrs. Sanger is a revered figure, and Marty; it’s just not smart to write as disparagingly as you have towards a woman who’s considered a hero in many circles.

MARTHA. She’s no hero to me. If you heard what she said to those idiotic Ku Klux Klanswomen…

HARTLEY. How did you get in there, anyway?

MARTHA. I disguised myself in one of those damn hoods. It was easy to hide my notebook and pencil in those ridiculous robe sleeves. I couldn’t risk having her see my face.

HARTLEY. I’m sure that you couldn’t, Marty. After that very public dust-up you and Mrs. Sanger had three years ago, you can bet that she wouldn’t have let you anywhere near her.

MARTHA. The woman is a bigot, an intellectual slug, and has the morals of a diseased alley cat. People need to know what kind of person she really is.

HARTLEY. As far as I’m concerned, she’s an angel of mercy, and you are not going to try to convince our readers otherwise.

MARTHA. Three years ago, your paper painted everyone who protested her speech here as raving loons!

HARTLEY. Ah, yes. What was that line? “The audience didn’t start a riot, nobody threw eggs or deceased cats.” Remarkably restrained behavior for those disreputable opponents of birth control. You know how blind and emotional those silly Catholics can get, being one yourself.

MARTHA. You cad. You made Sanger sound like she could walk on water three years ago. You butchered my articles on her until they were unrecognizable. You hinted that the Catholic clergy were seeking to impose a reign of censorship upon the city. You appealed to all of the worst anti-Catholic stereotypes and kept every offensive, morally disgusting quote from Sanger’s speech buried. Why are you afraid of printing the truth?

HARTLEY. As far as I’m concerned, the truth is that you are a hidebound, reactionary, shrill, overzealous woman who has allowed herself to be blinded by priestcraft into trying to smear the name of one of the great humanitarians of our day. I don’t know why your husband let you leave your four kids in his care while you slipped off halfway across the country to write your libel, but if I were in his place– and goodness knows, there’s not enough money in the world for me to take that rotten job– I’d put you in your place soon enough. Anyway, I don’t know what you seek to accomplish with your sensationalist tales of banners, burning crosses, and calls for the reduction of the black population, but don’t expect me to assist you with your quixotic crusade.

MARTHA. Now listen to me. I heard Sanger proclaiming that America needed to be populated by a race of thoroughbreds. She said “I’d like to see a society where parents have to apply for parenthood. We have strict immigration and not everyone who wants to come into the United States may. But anyone can bring a child into the world. That is wrong… We want to create a race of thoroughbreds. We want to make our bodies ‘holy temples’ fit for souls.” Those were her exact words, Hartley. Almost the same ones she used in Milwaukee three years ago. She told that audience of wretched women how she planned to weed black people out of America through contraception. They cheered her. They gave her a standing ovation. For the love of all that is holy, Hartley, the woman is calling for genocide. If she and her friends have their way, hundreds of thousands, no, millions of lives will be in danger. You have a moral duty to tell the city– no, the state– no, the country­– what kind of dangers that Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and blacks will be in if Sanger succeeds in her agenda.

HARTLEY. I think that you overestimate how shocked people will be. Don’t forget that most of the respectable people in town have at least one relative or close friend in the Klan, if they’re not in it themselves. Wisconsin’s full of members. This is eugenics country. And all those undesirables you mentioned? No one who counts is going to cry if they just slowly start disappearing. No. What good will your article do? Eugenics and contraception are here to stay, Marty, and I’m trying to do you a favor here by keeping your reactionary little bit of scribbling under wraps so you don’t embarrass yourself. I won’t have you giving Mrs. Sanger any enemies. Milwaukee doesn’t need to know about Mrs. Sanger’s speech to the Klan, they don’t need to hear what she really said, and… I don’t need to explain myself. Your four minutes are up. Get out of my office, and take your worthless story with you.

MARTHA. You can’t bury my article. I’ll find a paper. If the Sentinel or the Journal won’t run it, I’ll take it to a smaller paper. The Catholic Herald will print it.

HARTLEY. (Sneers.) And when the archdiocese’s little rag runs the story, I hope that all five people who read it enjoy it.

MARTHA. (Looks at him for a moment.) You know, Hartley, you may think that you’ve killed a story, but they have a way of coming back to life. Like those stories from three years ago, when Sanger came to town. None of the major papers printed them, least of all you, but what you don’t know is that I did a little self-censorship.

HARTLEY. How very prudent of you.

MARTHA. Well, I didn’t want to be sued for libel. I knew what the eugenicists were doing, but I didn’t have any proof, so I sat on my story. Now I do have proof. I know what’s been happening, Hartley, and soon all of Milwaukee will know what your friends have unleashed upon the city. Murder is murder, even if the victims are considered “undesirable.” What do you think those very respectable eugenicists will do once the story breaks?

HARTLEY. (Rises, shaking with rage.) You’re bluffing. MARTHA. I have diaries, I have letters, I even have a few photos. It’s amazing what a guilty conscience will produce. Oh, I am going to enjoy watching the fallout from this. You can’t keep the truth locked away forever, Hartley.

HARTLEY. (His face is deathly pale.) Martha… for your own sake, for your husband’s sake, for the sake of your four children, leave this alone. Tear up those articles and burn the shreds. Otherwise… I can’t guarantee your safety.

MARTHA. (Tight-lipped smile.) Just so you know, if anything were to happen to me or my family, those stories would still run. You can’t stop them now. I have a lot of friends amongst Milwaukee’s newspapers. Humphrey Desmond is going to help me. He wants to see Sanger exposed as much as I do. Keep an eye on the Journal and the Catholic Herald, Hartley. You’re going to wish that you ran my story about Sanger’s Ku Klux Klan speech. (Exits triumphantly.)

HARTLEY. (Shaking, dials the phone.) Hello, it’s me. Hartley... Yes, I know you said not to call, but this is an emergency... It’s that damned lady journalist, Martha Bialowsky. Remember that fuss three years ago when Margaret Sanger spoke here? Well, that Bialowsky woman’s got proof now... I don’t know what, but it’s got to be dynamite. I can’t… Yes, of course. I agree. She has to be silenced. But how?



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