Newspaper columnists always seem to remember that Thomas Jefferson once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” What I’ve never seen in a newspaper are any of the other things Jefferson said about newspapers, such as:
“Advertisements … contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.”
“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
I’m not the first to notice this (among others, in 2009 Jay Rosen discussed the first quote and why it is the only one you ever see in newspapers), but it came to mind today in a copyediting context (yet another columnist citing the first quote).
6/28/12 UPDATE: Googling that last quote led me to the full text of the letter that it came from, which included a suggestion for a better way to section a newspaper:
“Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into four chapters, heading the first, Truths; the second, Probabilities; the third, Possibilities; the fourth, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The second would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The third and fourth should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.”