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The Press

The Press

Hundreds of newspapers

Thanks to a combination of the very liberal press law of 29 July 1881 and technological progress-the invention of the rotary press in 1872, and that of mechanical Linotype typesetting in 1887-readers could choose from a hundred daily newspapers in Paris and 257 titles in the rest of the country. Le Petit Journal sold a million copies a day; it also published an illustrated weekly supplement that sold for five centimes, and which had a color cover starting in 1890. Nearly all of the best-selling papers had supplements; according to Pascal Ory, the moralistic tone and theatrical illustrations of these publications were a continuation of the French tradition of pamphleteering, instilling respect for moderate values.

The Affair: a matter of public opinion

It was basically through the press that the Dreyfus Affair developed into a matter of public opinion-something that Dreyfus himself wished and that his brother Mathieu put into action.

In terms of the initial story of espionage, an anti-Semitic daily, La Libre Parole, announced on 29 October 1894 that a Jewish officer had been arrested, and campaigned for his conviction. When the case was reopened, on 15 November 1897, it was Le Figaro that printed Mathieu Dreyfus's accusations against Major Esterhazy. The Affair became totally a political matter, however, when L'Aurore published-under the title J'accuse ! (I Accuse!)-Emile Zola's open letter to the President of the Republic. Its circulation of 300,000 copies, plus the writer's two trials, crystallized public opinion into two camps.

The anti-Dreyfus press

Nationalism and anti-Semitism were the two main themes of the anti-Dreyfus press. Denouncing the German peril and the corruption of Jewish financing, these papers advocated respect for the court's decision, order and the Army. The vast majority of newspapers opposed review of Captain Dreyfus's conviction-according to J. Ponty, they represented 96% of the Paris press in 1898, a figure that was still 85% a year later. For a long time, they believed that their victory was assured, even though the majority of the international press believed that Dreyfus was innocent. Like hundreds of other newspapers, Le Journal de l'Aveyron denounced a diabolical plot by Dreyfus's supporters, but assured readers that the Jews "would come out crushed, annihilated, condemned to be loathed by the entire French population for centuries, and hunted down like wild animals." This same tone was repeated in brochures, songs and pamphlets.