BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Old traditions die hard. Four of my great-grandparents brought their children to western Oklahoma before statehood but for the rest of their lives they remained faithful readers of the newspapers of their youth. In fact, for three generations after Ed and Ethel Horton left Kansas, that state’s Capper’s Weekly was a regular family read. Likewise, Judson and Florence Hull continued to receive the Churubusco Truth for decades after they moved from Indiana.
Eventually, local news came through the Carnegie Herald but they relied on the Daily Oklahoman for state and national information. The Daily was delivered by rural mail carrier on Monday through Saturday and for a period dropped by plane into the yard of their farmhouse on Sunday mornings. For more than seven decades after 1902, Edward King Gaylord used the editorial page of the Daily Oklahoman to preach an ultra-conservative agenda, often spilling those opinions over onto the front page of the publication and Gaylord’s opinions were not limited to Oklahoma issues.
In the wake of the Great Depression, as President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security bill to address the abject poverty of millions of elderly Americans, conservative Republican E. K. Gaylord relentlessly fought the proposal. In a Aug. 16, 1935 editorial titled “Nothing Bad Omitted,” Gaylord called FDR’s Social Security an “adventure into Utopia” and said, “The most undesirable citizen Oklahoma ever knew will be made a pensioner along with the most worthy citizen Oklahoma ever new. It opens the door to all people who may attain to a certain age and makes to all of them a downright donation from the state treasury without any regard to their past habits or deserts.”
A quarter of a century later, the day after day effects of those editorials led Robert S. Kerr, Oklahoma’s most powerful U.S. Senator, to confide in Frosty Troy who was then the Washington bureau chief for the Tulsa Tribune and later the founding editor of The Oklahoma Observer that the Daily Oklahoman was a primary factor in his prediction that Oklahoma would one day be a Republican state.
Just a few years after that prediction, President Lyndon Johnson was seeking a way for millions of elderly Americans to gain access to health care. In response to LBJ’s Medicare bill for Americans over age 65, Gaylord used the Aug. 1, 1965 edition of the Daily Oklahoman to issue an editorial titled “After 20 Years of Creeping,” decrying what he referred to as Fabian Socialism. The opinion piece argued that 9% of the country’s population was over the age of 65 and allowing those 19 million Americans access to health care would result in a 10% to 40% increase in that population seeking care for previously untreated health issues.
The editor prognosticated that the health care sought by these previously uninsured seniors would place such a burden on medical and hospital facilities that there would not be enough to go around. In short, the editorialist’s fear was that since America’s elderly were already occupying about 27% of the nation’s hospital beds, expanding access to medical care for impoverished elderly “have nots” would jeopardize health care for the privileged “haves.”
The irony of it all was that the Daily Oklahoman editors rarely discussed solutions addressing the impoverishment of the elderly or their lack of access to health care and through the years seldom did more than naysay on issues relating to public education, employee rights, college debt, the environment or any of hundreds of other issues facing middle and lower class working Oklahomans.
Not many were alarmed in 2008 when the Oklahoman downsized from a statewide newspaper or in 2018 when it announced that only a few communities in central Oklahoma would be eligible for home delivery of that newspaper. But this week, in a surprising announcement tucked away on page A17 of the Sunday, Mar. 3 edition, Oklahoman readers were informed that beginning Mar. 4, the paper would publish Opinion pieces only four days per week and op-ed pages on only two of those days.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House and serves as minority floor leader