American Masters –Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People

Air date: 04/12/2019

American Masters – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People Presents the Story of the Newspaper Innovator and Champion of a Free Press

Premieres nationwide Friday, April 12 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app



American Masters – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People explores the remarkable man behind the prestigious prizes. A Jewish immigrant from Hungary, Joseph Pulitzer began as a gifted journalist before becoming a successful publisher and businessman. Pulitzer was famous in his own time for his outspoken and cantankerous editorial voice and his newspapers’ striking illustrations, visual style, national circulation and financial success. Against the context of America’s explosive growth as a world force during the Gilded Age, Pulitzer emerges as the country’s first media titan, reshaping the newspaper to bear witness to and even propel that transformation. Joseph Pulitzer championed what he regarded as the sacred role of the free press in a democracy. At the end of Pulitzer’s life, President Theodore Roosevelt sued him for “criminal libel,” citing the ongoing investigation of potential corruption in the building of the Panama Canal. Pulitzer’s little-known Supreme Court victory in 1911 established important precedent for the First Amendment right to free speech and resonates strongly in today’s fraught political environment.

Narrated by Adam Driver, the documentary tells the story of Pulitzer’s life and accomplishments through a combination of archival footage, reenactments and interviews with authors, journalists and scholars. Liev Schreiber is the voice of Pulitzer. Tim Blake Nelson is the voice of Roosevelt and Rachel Brosnahan is the voice of investigative journalist Nellie Bly.


Notable Film Interviewees:

  • Nicholson Baker, co-author with Margaret Brentano, “The World on Sunday”
  • Daniel Czitrom, Professor of History, Mount Holyoke College; author, “New York Exposed”
  • Chris Daly, Professor of Journalism, Boston University; author, “Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism”
  • James McGrath Morris, biographer, “Joseph Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print and Power”
  • David Nasaw, Professor of History, The Graduate Center, CUNY; author, “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst”
  • Nancy Tomes, Professor of History, Stony Brook University; author, “Remaking the American Patient”
  • Andie Tucher, Professor of Journalism, Columbia University; author, “Misinformed: A History of Fake News in America (2020)”


Noteworthy Facts and Themes:


Joseph Pulitzer as entrepreneur and innovator

  • Speaking little English, Pulitzer came to America during the Civil War as a Union Army recruit. Although he arrived in St. Louis penniless, within a few years he married an Episcopalian socialite, served as a state senator in Missouri and made his fortune by creating two best-selling English-language newspapers: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, in New York in 1883, the World.
  • When Pulitzer bought the money-losing World in 1883, the daily newspaper’s circulation was 15,000. In three years, he was selling 150,000 every day, a ten-fold increase.


  • Pulitzer had a brilliant understanding of what an urban, working class, largely immigrant readership needed and wanted to read. He delivered the news to them with lively storytelling and vivid graphics.
  • Pulitzer’s designers created visually alluring advertisements, breaking up the columns horizontally, vertically or both, to create configurations that fit the advertisers’ desires. As more consumers read his papers, ads rates soared. Department stores became the daily newspapers’ most profitable revenue stream.


Joseph Pulitzer as champion of the free press

  • Criticized by newspaper rivals for sensationalism, the World replied, “The daily [newspaper] is like a mirror. It reflects that which is before it. Let those who are startled by it blame the people who are before the mirror, and not the mirror, which only reflects their features and actions.”
  • After the World, America’s first national paper, called the Panama Canal an act of colonial aggression and insisted that the government account for $40 million that went missing from the project, President Theodore Roosevelt sued Pulitzer for “criminal libel.” Pulitzer fought President Roosevelt all the way to the Supreme Court to ensure that no self-serving presidential pronouncements could muzzle the press. “Freedom of speech is not a favor to be exercised at the pleasure of the President,” declared Pulitzer.


  • Pulitzer took on public figures and championed a range of causes and crusades. He made few friends in his pursuit of the truth and, in the mid-1890s, he fought for readership with his nemesis, William Randolph Hearst. Both crossed the line into “yellow journalism” during the Spanish-American War. Part of Pulitzer’s impetus for funding the Columbia School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prizes was in recognition of the exaggerations in reporting published during that crisis.


  • Pulitzer presciently identified the dangers of “fake news.” He stated in 1902, “I do not say that the World never makes mistakes. There are not half a dozen papers in the U.S. which tamper with the news, which publish what they know to be false. But if I thought that I had done no better than that, I would be ashamed to own a paper. It is not enough to refrain from publishing fake news. […] You have got to make everyone connected with the paper — your editors, your rewrite men, your proof-readers — believe that accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a woman.”


Joseph Pulitzer as social advocate

  • The World stylized itself as the “Immigrants’ Bible” and the “Voice of the People.” Pulitzer pledged to educate the burgeoning immigrant population of New York City, providing a range of tools that helped the immigrant arrivals negotiate democracy’s strange folkways, tangled procedures and partisan debates. As he put it, the World “gave voice to the voiceless.”


  • When the Brooklyn Bridge opened, Pulitzer challenged the one-penny pedestrian toll in his paper with a four-column woodcut of the bridge on the front page of the World, and declared: “Let the Bridge Be Free / A Penny Is a Workman’s Lunch.”
  • Pulitzer mounted a novel, citizen-financed campaign to construct a pedestal under the Statue of Liberty – raising more than $100,000 (more than $3 million today), including a substantial number of penny donations from schoolchildren.
  • Pulitzer fearlessly battled monopolies and corrupt government. He called for taxes for incomes above $10,000, crusaded against doctored milk, contaminated water and harmful tenement conditions. He also fought to establish decent wages, safer working conditions and a 12-hour workday, mounting determined crusades against entrenched interests at a time when few dailies did so.

Short TV listing:
Discover the man behind the Pulitzer Prizes — journalist, media mogul and champion of a free press.

Long TV listing:
Discover the man behind the prizes. A journalist who became a media mogul with an outspoken, cantankerous editorial voice and best-selling newspapers, Joseph Pulitzer championed what he regarded as the sacred role of the free press in a democracy.


Run time: 90 minutes

This program is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).


Educational Resources: Classroom resources produced by WNET Kids’ Media and Education will be available on PBS LearningMedia to coincide with the broadcast.


Series Overview:
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 13 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.


Websites:,, @PBSAmerMasters,,, #AmericanMastersPBS


Production Credits:
American Masters – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People
  is a production of Oren Rudavsky Productions and Folium Films in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC’s American Masters for WNET. The film is directed by Oren Rudavsky, who is also a co-producer with Andrea Miller and Robert Seidman. Oren Rudavsky and Robert Seidman are writers. Ramon Rivera Moret is editor. Original music is by Clare and Olivier Manchon. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.


Major support for American Masters – Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided in part by Roxanne and Scott Bok, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Leslie and Roslyn Goldstein Foundation, and Norman Pearlstine and Jane Boon.

Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Seton Melvin, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Judith and Burton Resnick, Vital Projects Fund, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, and public television viewers.



About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.





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Joseph Pulitzer portrait, wearing glasses. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

View of the West side of Fifth Avenue, North from 51st street, showing residences of Elliott F. Shepard, brother in law of William K. Vanderbilt, whose home is next to it. Further North is St. Thomas Episcopal Church and 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Market Stalls On Hester Street A bustling crowd of men and women shops among the market stalls on Hester Sreet, Lower East Side, New York, 1895. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

Framework Around Statue of Liberty Paris, France: Statue of Liberty in Paris created for shipment to the United States. Photograph. 1887. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Broadway, looking south from Duane Street, showing Irving House at the corner of Chambers Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, circa 1860 to 1900. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).

5th Avenue between 57th and 59th Streets featuring views of several unidentified buildings and heavy pedestrian and horse-drawn carriage traffic in both fore and background. Both male and female pedestrians are well-dressed and all are wearing hats. Street Scenes, 1897-8, Fifth Ave., 57th to 59th Sts. Ladies on the street (Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York)

Broadway. West side, above 34th St. | J. Clarence Davies Street Views Scrapbook Broadway and 34th to 35th Streets [Broadway & 26th Street to Broadway & 42nd Street] (Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York)

Interior, newspaper printing plant Press Room Printing the Paper. (Photo Credit:Museum of the City of New York)

"Men in a room at Sailor's Snug Harbor, a facility and home for retired sailors on Staten Island, New York Sailors' Snug Harbor, Staten Island Byron Company" (Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York)

Dining room in the Joseph Pulitzer house. McKim, Mead & White (Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York)

Second floor of the Joseph Pulitzer house. McKim, Mead & White (Museum of the City of New York)

Hand-colored view of a filthy East 5th Street during the Tammany era.

Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914) A Tammany-swept East Side Street before Col. Waring's Day. (Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York)

Around the World with the Yellow Kid: advertising poster for The Sunday World, 1896. Lithograph by RF Outcault. (Photo by The New York Historical Society/Getty Images)

Barricade in Milan, Porta Tosa. Revolt against the Austrians, 1848, Italy, Milan, Risorgimento museum,(Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

Color Illustrations: Fashions Straight from Paris -- designed especially for Sunday World! (Photo Credit: Duke Rubenstein Library)

Portrait of Joseph Pulitzer. (Photo Credit: David J. Culver)

Portrait of Joseph Pulitzer painted by Sargent. (Photo Credit: Emily Pulitzer)

Newspaper row color The World Building. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

The Gilded Age. Crowns and Tuxedos

Circa 1900: Men in formal evening attire dine at the Montauk Club in New York. Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Social Functions - Dinner - Given by or for Harrison Grey Fiske Winter 1900-1901. DATE:ca. 1900 Group portrait of twenty-two men seated around a large dining table at a dinner given by or for Harrison Grey Fiske. (Photo Credit: Museum of the City of New York)

The cover of The Sunday World July 3, 1898 Uncle Sam raising sword Spanish American War. (Photo Credit: Duke Rubenstein Library)

"The cleansing of New York / Dalrymple. Summary: Illustration showing a large hand labeled ""LAW"" holding up by the collar newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, with view of New York City in the background. Contributor Names: Dalrymple, Louis, 1866-1905, artist Created / Published: N.Y. : J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg., 1900 April 4." ( Photo Credit: The Ohio State University)

Yellow Kid in the World "Hogan's Alley Preparing for the Convention. ( Photo Credit: The Ohio State University)

Full page Comic Weekly in the Sunday World "The American Skyscraper is a Modern Tower of Babel" (Photo Credit: Duke Rubenstein Library)

1909/03/21: The Biggest Bridge on Earth The Sunday World Magazine. (Photo Credit: Duke Rubenstein Library)

The Sunday World Magazin Illistration of Statue of Liberty "New York a Fairy City At Night, As Seen By Miss Liberty" (Photo Credit: Duke Rubenstein Library)

Yellow Kid in the World "Hogan's Alley Preparing for the Convention. ( Photo Credit: The Ohio State University Library)

Portrait of Joseph Pulitzer. (Photo Credit: David J. Culver)