Copper Chorus: Mining, Politics, and the Montana Press, 1889-1959
Nowhere in the annals of the West was one state's business, political and social life shaped more by the powers of the press than in Montana where the Anaconda Copper Mining Company orchestrated its "Copper Chorus."
A new book published by the Montana Historical Society Press, "Copper Chorus: Mining, Politics and the Montana Press, 1889-1959," chronicles the tumultuous history of journalism in a state where copper was king. It is the first book to bring together the whole story of the Company's ownership of Montana's newspapers.
Written by University of Montana Journalism Professor Dennis Swibold, "Copper Chorus" reads like a front-page story complete with greed, propaganda, corruption, and back rooms filled with cigar smoke and power brokers. The book opens with a colorful description of "Scribblers' Ball," an 1899 gathering of the Montana State Press Association. With control of the state's press already in the hands of Montana's Copper Kings, the "scribblers" met and mixed easily with the magnates of their day. "The legend of the state's copper-collared press was no mere fiction, though the small, persistent, and often radical press that howled at its heels often exaggerated its details," Swibold writes.
Soon the Anaconda Company would take control of the "Richest Hill on Earth," and with it the Butte newspapers and other dailies across the state. To friend and foe alike, those dailies became known simply as the "Company papers." Essentially what was good for the Anaconda Company became what was good for Montana in the reporting that appeared in papers statewide. "The story, steeped in the partisanship and boosterism peculiar to American frontier journalism, would only grow as the company consolidated its industrial might," Swibold writes.
"Copper Chorus" details the effect the Company papers had on Montana history in chapters like "Corruption and Coercion of the Free Press," "The Copper Press at War," "The Copper Curtain: Silence and Suppression," and "Emancipation: Anaconda Sheds Its Newspapers."
The book can be read on many levels, from an expose' about journalism and politics, to a study of industrial monopoly and social injustice. The one constant is Swibold's tight and intelligent writing style - he has a newspaperman's eye for accuracy, details and reader interest. The Company divested itself of its newspapers in 1959, but Swibold in his epilogue critiques the lingering effects that its dominance continues to have on Montana to this day.
The 432-page book with more than 100 illustrations sells for $24.95 in paperback, and $39.95 in cloth, and is available at bookstores or can be ordered directly from the Society by calling toll-free 1-800-243-9900.