Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign Part 3: The Negative Campaign

About Upton Sinclair, who during the Great Depression made a bid for the governor of California, and the attack launched on him by the Republicans.

Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign

By Michael S. Medved

Every big business in the State did its part in the effort to stop EPIC. Led by the Hearst newspapers, the press mounted a campaign against Sinclair which shocked even some anti-Sinclair forces with its viciousness and one-sidedness. No major newspaper in the State dared to support the Democratic nominee, and his speeches and press releases were consistently ignored. Editorial cartoons showed Sinclair as a devil, with drooling lips and pointed fingernails, attacking the sanctity of marriage; or as a would-be dictator riding alongside Hitler and Mussolini. In his 47 books, Sinclair had attacked many of the most beloved American institutions--including the DAR and the Boy Scouts and these attacks were naturally turned against him now. The Los Angeles Times ran a front-page box every day, under the heading "Upton Sinclair on..." which featured out of context quotes from Sinclair's writing, designed to depict the Democratic candidate as a menace to goodness and respectability. In their efforts to "prove" that Sinclair was an advocate of "free love," the Times quoted one of his fictional characters as if that character were Sinclair himself, even when in the context of the novel, it was clear that the author disapproved of this individual and his views.

The most devastating charges against Sinclair concerned his 1918 book The Profits of Religion, in which the author had asserted that every organized church was a "mighty fortress of graft" and had gone on to expose the inner workings of church establishments. Catholics, in particular, were deeply offended, especially since Sinclair's views were presented in the most damaging possible light, and the EPIC crusader's claim that he was only "exposing hypocrisy, which Jesus Christ himself had done many times," carried little weight with orthodox believers.

The motion picture industry also came to play a leading role in the effort to smear Sinclair. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, happened to be statewide chairman of the Republican party, and he put his studio to work producing a series of "newsreels" concerning the campaign, which theater owners were required to show along with their features. One of these newsreels featured an interviewer going around the State, asking people whom they would vote for. First he came to a little old lady, sitting and knitting in her rocking chair, in front of a white frame house. "Who are you voting for, Mother?" the reporter asked.

"I am voting for the Republican, Frank Merriam."

"Why, Mother?"

"Because this little home may not be much, but it is all I have in this world. I love my home and I want to protect it."

Next, the reporter approached a seedy-looking man in a soiled overcoat and unkempt whiskers. In answer to the question, the stranger responded:

"I am voting for Seen-clair."

"Why?"

"His system vorked vell in Russia, so vy can't it vork here?"

In yet another "newsreel," a whole army of hobos and tramps were shown jumping off a freight train, and celebrating their arrival in California. When asked by the ubiquitous interviewer why they had come to California, the bums declared that "Sinclair says he'll take the property of working people and give it to us."

On 2,000 Republican billboards across the State, appeared the words: "If I am elected governor, half the unemployed in the country will hop the 1st freight to California.--Upton Sinclair." When a friend of Sinclair's asked one lady if she really believed that Sinclair wanted that to happen, she answered "Of course. You can see for yourself he's put his billboards up all over town and signed his name to it."

Last, but not least, were the anti-Sinclair leaflets. One of these, which received wide circulation in the last weeks of the campaign, described Sinclair under the following sub-headings: "Sinclair, the dynamiter of all churches and Christian institutions," "Sinclair, the Communist Agitator," and, most nefarious of all, "Sinclair's attack on the P. T. A."

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