Title

Resisting Purity Politics: Scandal and Dissent in Caminetti's America

Presentation Type

Presentation

Abstract

In March of 1912, Farley Drew Caminetti and Lola Norris fled to Reno to avoid scandal. Shortly after their arrival, police arrested Caminetti and charged him with violating the Mann Act. The act stemmed from public hysteria over the forced prostitution of young women, termed “white slavery.” Immediately following Caminetti’s arrest, the press saw the potential for scandal in his story. It included an important element of gossip – socially unacceptable sex. More importantly, Caminetti was the son of the newly appointed Federal Commissioner
General of Immigration. The Wilson Administration scrambled to cover up the scandal. Their attempt,
however, only reaped more scrutiny as it interfered with the judicial process. Over the course of the case, the media’s muckraking did significant damage to the reputation of anyone who threatened the Mann Act. In their final decision, the Supreme Court upheld and expanded the act. Both Congress and the Supreme Court were unwilling to take on the Mann Act’s expansion even as it created and aided blackmailing groups. As blackmail continued, public opinion ostracized the Mann Act for the first time in its history. By synthesizing newspapers, court cases and government documents, my project concludes that Caminetti’s scandal demonstrates the growing power of media in politics during the Progressive Era. The media effectively dominated the Caminetti conversation by scrutinizing anyone who posed a threat to the Mann Act. While the media’s actions protected
the Mann Act from government dissent, they ultimately turned public opinion against the act by supporting its expansion which aided blackmailers. While many historians emphasize the power of Progressive Era muckrakers as reformers, my project reveals how the media’s scandals actually inspired government inaction and public dissent through debauched legislation. It speaks to the power of national media in dominating and corrupting the political process.

Category

Humanities

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Resisting Purity Politics: Scandal and Dissent in Caminetti's America

UC 332

In March of 1912, Farley Drew Caminetti and Lola Norris fled to Reno to avoid scandal. Shortly after their arrival, police arrested Caminetti and charged him with violating the Mann Act. The act stemmed from public hysteria over the forced prostitution of young women, termed “white slavery.” Immediately following Caminetti’s arrest, the press saw the potential for scandal in his story. It included an important element of gossip – socially unacceptable sex. More importantly, Caminetti was the son of the newly appointed Federal Commissioner
General of Immigration. The Wilson Administration scrambled to cover up the scandal. Their attempt,
however, only reaped more scrutiny as it interfered with the judicial process. Over the course of the case, the media’s muckraking did significant damage to the reputation of anyone who threatened the Mann Act. In their final decision, the Supreme Court upheld and expanded the act. Both Congress and the Supreme Court were unwilling to take on the Mann Act’s expansion even as it created and aided blackmailing groups. As blackmail continued, public opinion ostracized the Mann Act for the first time in its history. By synthesizing newspapers, court cases and government documents, my project concludes that Caminetti’s scandal demonstrates the growing power of media in politics during the Progressive Era. The media effectively dominated the Caminetti conversation by scrutinizing anyone who posed a threat to the Mann Act. While the media’s actions protected
the Mann Act from government dissent, they ultimately turned public opinion against the act by supporting its expansion which aided blackmailers. While many historians emphasize the power of Progressive Era muckrakers as reformers, my project reveals how the media’s scandals actually inspired government inaction and public dissent through debauched legislation. It speaks to the power of national media in dominating and corrupting the political process.