This Chicago Times headline appeared the day after the raid on the meeting of the furniture workers and the battle at the Halsted Street viaduct. It gives some sense of the level of fear and anxiety in the city, as well as of the way in which local journalists contributed to the social unrest as they reported it. The day before, the Chicago Tribune, whose style was often more reserved than the Times, led its coverage with a full-capitals headline that screamed "RED WAR."

In the editorial style of the time (evident also in the clipping from the Times), the Tribune headline was followed with a series of attention-grabbing subheadlines, fully thirteen in all, the last two of which simply but sensationally read "BLOOD" and "DEAD AND DYING." The text of the stories that followed such headings was equally colorful, dramatic, and partisan. Those who made up the mob were described as "Bridgeport and Stock-Yard plug-uglies, who were engaged in the exhilarating, but dangerous, pastime of stoning the military." Of another group a reporter wrote, "A harder set of ill-begotten spawn never assembled." As for the weaponry the police and military carried with them, one reporter observed, "Cold steel is a known antidote for disorders of this nature."

The newspapers only used the same rhetoric employed by many of the city's and the country's civic leaders. At an emergency meeting of Chicago's elite at the Moody and Sankey Tabernacle (located one block northeast of Market Square) on the afternoon of July 25, passions ran high. The immediate consensus was for more force. Among those in attendance were Congressman Carter Harrison, who would be elected to the first of his five terms as mayor in 1879, and lawyer Leonard Swett, one-time associate of Abraham Lincoln, who in 1887 would participate in the failed appeal of the Haymarket defendants to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Most commentators blamed the violence on vagrants and toughs, but their central target was those who criticized the capitalist system. They were careful to exclude the great mass of American workers, partly to promote the impression that American labor was generally content with its lot. In his 1887 History of the Chicago Police, Chicago author John J. Flinn attributed the rioting in Chicago in 1877 to "communists, socialists, vagrants, loafers, thugs, thieves and criminals in general." Before the troops and police lowered the hammer, Flinn recalled, "The communists were in their second heaven, the canaille was at the very summit of its glory. Chicago was apparently as completely in the hands of the revolutionary element as Paris ever had been."

Writing in the sober North American Review in the fall of 1877, Pennsylvania Railroad president Thomas Scott called the strike an "insurrection" that "presents a state of facts almost as serious as that which prevailed at the outbreak of the Civil War." In another expression of the thinking which helps explain the reaction to the Haymarket bomb a decade later, Scott warned that "now, for the first time in American history, has an organized mob learned its power to terrorize the law abiding citizens of great communities. With the recent experience before us, it is believed that no thoughtful man can argue in favor of delay by the proper authorities in dealing with lawless and riotous assemblages."