‘Government by Journalism’ and the Silence of the Star

Victorian Encounters 1885–90
  • Laurel Brake
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


The apparently overstated claim of the newspaper editor W. T. Stead in 1886 that journalism not Parliament best represented and served the people of Britain was not simply a boast of a solitary individual subject.1 It was the outcome of a widely perceived growth of the power of the press throughout the century, spurred in 1855 by abolition of compulsory newspaper taxes, resulting in the development of cheap and numerous titles.2 Stead’s combative article was only its seal. That this first wave of the cocky new journalism was short-lived, a ‘moment’ before the advent of mass journalism germinated by the Daily Mail in 1896, will be shown by a comparison of two newspaper encounters with government produced towards the beginning and end of this six-year period. The first is Stead’s series of articles in the Pall Mall Gazette in July 1885 entitled ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’3 and the second is the coverage of ‘the Cleveland Street affair’ in a number of papers in 1889–90.4 The first story launched a political campaign to raise the age of consent, while the second was occasioned by the discovery of a male brothel in Cleveland Street in London. I will argue that the discourse of gender is the crucial factor in the respective strength and weakness of journalism in influencing government at these junctures.


Daily Mail Newspaper Editor Contemporary Review National Vigilance Homosexual Culture 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Laurel Brake

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