December 21, 2019

Thomas Jefferson, Donald Trump, and “that polluted vehicle”


OUR NEWS MEDIA never tire of dragging out a well-worn quote from Thomas Jefferson to buttress the alleged sacredness of their industry. We have all heard it to the point of nausea:

... [W]ere 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....

— Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787

What our media overlords deliberately conceal from their readers is that this rash statement was made in 1787, long before Jefferson had the dubious pleasure of becoming a presidential victim of the printing press — today enhanced a billionfold by the electronic media and the Internet. In actuality, this claim ranks with Jefferson's Revolutionary propaganda assertion that "all men are created equal," a proposal to which no member of the Founding Fathers ever subscribed, and to which no honest and sane person has ever acquiesced.

Even more dishonest and self-serving is our media's deliberate suppression of Jefferson's numerous second thoughts about his foolish endorsement of their activities. Quoting the above while ignoring the existence of his following reflections is prima facie evidence of journalistic malpractice:

Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.

— To John Norvell, 1807

The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers.... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper.

— To G.K. van Hogendorp, Oct. 13, 1785

I deplore ... the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them.... These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information and a curb on our functionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief.... This has, in a great degree, been produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit.

— To Walter Jones, 1814

As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.

— To Barnabas Bidwell, 1806

The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

— To John Norvell, 1807

To divide those by lying tales whom truths cannot divide, is the hackneyed policy of the gossips of every society.

— To George Clinton, 1803

Our newspapers, for the most part, present only the caricatures of disaffected minds. Indeed, the abuses of the freedom of the press here have been carried to a length never before known or borne by any civilized nation.

— To M. Pictet, 1803

Indeed, my scepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.

— To James Monroe, 1815

During the course of [my] administration [as President], and in order to disturb it, the artillery of the press has been leveled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution so important to freedom and science are deeply to be regretted, inasmuch as they tend to lessen its usefulness and to sap its safety; they might, indeed, have been corrected by the wholesome punishments reserved and provided by the laws of the several States against falsehood and defamation; but public duties more urgent press on the time of public servants, and the offenders have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation.

— Second Inaugural Address, 1805

My opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted so as to be most useful [is] ... 'by restraining it to true facts and sound principle only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood.

— To John Norvell, 1807

An editor [should] set his face against the demoralizing practice of feeding the public mind habitually on slander and the depravity of taste which this nauseous aliment induces. Defamation is becoming a necessary of life, insomuch that a dish of tea in the morning or evening cannot be digested without this stimulant. Even those who do not believe these abominations, still read them with complaisance to their auditors, and instead of the abhorrence and indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, though they do not themselves. It seems to escape them, that it is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is its real author.

— To John Norvell, 1807

I have been for some time used as the property of the newspapers, a fair mark for every man's dirt.

— To Peregrine Fitzhugh, 1798

I feel no falsehood and fear no truth.

— To Isaac Hillard, 1810

Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into four chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2nd, Probabilities. 3rd, Possibilities. 4th, 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.

— To John Norvell, 1807

One can only imagine what Donald Trump, an even greater victim of the press than Jefferson, would say in this same vein. I doubt whether Our Esteemed Editor of The Last Ditch would even allow most of Trump's honest, uncensored comments to be printed here.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Douglas Olson has a bachelor's degree in journalism and has served as a reporter and an editor for more than one of those "polluted vehicles." This is not a boast, but an admission. Ω

December 21, 2019

© 2019 Douglas Olson
Published in 2019 by WTM Enterprises.

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