Tag Archives: Newspapers

It’s fake news, my friend. (But I won’t say so publicly.)

those especially who read the Gazette of the US. need to be set to rights, for in the long  statement which appeared in that paper about a week ago, there was not one single fact which was not false …
the Gazette of the US. is evidence of this [opposition] … 4. pages of solid matter … & the whole so false and malignant, as shews it is prepared for the purpose of exportation, and to poison the minds of foreign countries against their own, which is too well informed to drink of the dose.
To William Short, January 23, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Strong opposition from some of the press comes to all leaders.
The previous post, from a letter to Jefferson’s daughter, dealt with diplomatic offense taken when he did not show favoritism to British and Spanish representatives at private dinners. In this long letter to a trusted friend, Jefferson explained the conflict in much greater detail.

He was particularly concerned about a report in an opposition newspaper, the Gazette of the United States, claiming every single fact in the account to be wrong. The entirety of the paper was “so false and malignant” that its only purpose was “to poison the minds of foreign countries” against the United States. Affirming confidence in his countrymen, he said Americans were “too well informed” to drink that poison.

Jefferson regularly shared strong opinions in his correspondence with trusted friends but almost never did so publicly, where he maintained an even-handed cordiality. Yet, he wanted to reassure those who knew him well with the benefit of his thinking, to combat what opponents thought of him.

“The “Dinner with Thomas Jefferson” … was a huge success…
Your command of Mr. Jefferson’s persona and mind,
and your facility in answering complex questions were impressive.”
Chairman, “3 Flags Festival,” The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial
Let Mr. Jefferson contribute to the success of your event.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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NO MORE of what I tolerated but never liked!

… and I add one further request that you will be so good as notify them my desire for their discontinuance. I shall give over reading newspapers. they are so false & so intemperate [lacking moderation] that they disturb tranquility without giving information.
To Levi Lincoln, March 11, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders avoid unnecessary aggravation.
Lincoln (1749-1829) was a Massachusetts lawyer and Attorney General in Jefferson’s first term. He was governor of his home state when this letter was written.

Lincoln had purchased subscriptions to Massachusetts newspapers for Jefferson for the previous four years. The ex-President was now sending him $45.62 in reimbursement, along with a request that Lincoln cancel the subscriptions.

From Jefferson’s description of their being “false & so intemporate,” these must have been Federalist newspapers. They provided no helpful information and upset him in the process. Retirement meant he could now be done with such unsettling influences.

” … [you] stimulated great audience interaction, interest, comments and questions.”
Executive VP, Carolina-Virginia Telephone Membership Association
Thomas Jefferson will greatly engage your audience in his message!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Do not encourage the cockroaches.

as long as the criticisms on it [a Jefferson appointment] were confined to Jackson’s paper, I did not think it ought to be answered; because papers which are in the habit of condemning every measure, ought not to be answered on any one, lest it should give force to their unanswered criticisms.
To Henry Dearborn, August 22, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The wise leader ignores those who are always opposed.
The opposition press was critical of Jefferson’s appointment of a certain businessman to provide supplies for the Indians in the West. Jefferson didn’t respond, because that paper opposed everything he did. If he responded to an attack on one issue, it could give credibility to other issues not responded to. Better to ignore them completely.

This letter went on to address criticism of this appointment by a friendly newspaper. That was much more of a concern to Jefferson, and he explained to Dearborn his reasoning in selecting that individual.

“Our profession faces difficult challenges, and we needed and “upbeat” kind of talk.
That’s exactly what you gave us.”
Clinical Laboratory Management Association, Central New York Chapter.
Mr. Jefferson will encourage your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Some are so jaded they gripe about everything.

[Some news] papers will make a noise about it [replacing federalist appointees with republicans]. but we see they are determined to blame every thing … & therefore consider their clamours … consequently not to be regarded.
To Benjamin Hitchborn, July 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know some will always stand in opposition.
Jefferson wrote of his plans to remove certain office-holders whose views were openly antagonistic to his administration. He knew some newspapers would oppose him, no matter the issue. Since they would not give him the time of day, regardless of his actions, he had no regard for their criticism.

“The decision to bring Patrick Lee was a wise one … “
Schoor-Depalma, Engineers & Consultants, Manalapan, NJ
Your audience will think your decision to bring Mr. Jefferson was a wise one.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What should be done about abusive newspapers?

I am sensible, with you, of the distortions and perversions of truth and justice practised in the public papers, and how difficult to decypher character through that medium. but these abuses of the press are perhaps inseparable from it’s freedom; and it’s freedom must be protected or liberty civil & religious be relinquished. it is a part of our duty therefore to submit to the lacerations of it’s slanders, as less injurious to our country than the trammels which would suppress them.
To Elijah Brown, June 7, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know bad sometimes comes with the good.
A congratulatory letter from the 16th regiment of South Carolina observed that it was difficult to obtain a clear view of the new President from the newspapers. Jefferson acknowledged the “distortions and perversions of truth and justice” evident in the papers, partisan mouthpieces with no concern for balance or objectivity.

Yet, Jefferson defended newspapers and the freedom they represented. If that freedom were restricted, other liberties would suffer, too. Better to endure the abuses of the newspapers than the greater abuse that would come from restricting them.

“I personally want to thank you.
It is a delight to have speakers like yourself who make me look good.”
Meetings Administrator, Iowa State Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson will make you look good to your audience, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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What do newspapers and priests have in common?

the mild and simple principles of the Christian philosophy, would produce too much calm, too much regularity of good, to extract from it’s disciples a support for a numerous priesthood, were they not to sophisticate it, ramify it, split it into hairs, and twist it’s texts till they cover the divine morality of it’s author with mysteries, and require a priesthood to explain them. the Quakers seem to have discovered this. they have no priests, therefore no schisms. they judge of the text by the dictates of common sense & common morality. so the printers can never leave us to a state of perfect rest and union of opinion. they would be no longer useful, and would have to go to the plough.
To Elbridge Gerry, March 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders complicate issues to justify their own existence.
Gerry was an ardent Massachusetts republican, a friend many years. In this curious passage, the President took on the rabble-rousing printers, the “media” of the day, and compared them to priests who perverted the gospel.

Jefferson likened ” the mild and simple principles of the Christian philosophy” to the mild and simple principles of republican philosophy. Both could be embraced and practiced, as the Quakers did religion, without a priesthood (leaders) and without divisions (political parties). But that was too simple. In the same way priests complicated religion to the point where people needed priests to explain it, the newspaper printers (media) so roiled the political waters that the people needed the printers to explain political issues to them.

But “common sense & common morality” were too much for both priests and printers. If the latter couldn’t divide the people and make them unhappy, they would serve no purpose and would have to become farmers. Jefferson loved farmers.

His reference to “priests” was not directed to any one sect or denomination but described all who complicated a simple message from Jesus, inserting themselves between that message and the people, as its interpreters.

“From all the comments, Thomas Jefferson was big hit.”
President, Hawthorne Foundation,
for the Missouri Conference on New and Expanding Business
Thomas Jefferson’s “mild and simple principles” will be a hit with your audience, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Who is to blame for trashy media?

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 [Webster’s 7th Collegiate: “a disposition to please or oblige”] to their auditors [ibid, “one that hears or listens’], and instead of the abhorrence & indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, tho 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 it’s real author.
To John Norvell, June 14, 1807

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Does this sound like 2014 to you?
Jefferson was on a rant about slander in the newspapers. In an earlier post from this letter, he summarized four categories for newspaper content, “Truths, Probabilities, Possibilities, and Lies.” He said the first category would be the smallest, the last the largest.
The language in this excerpt is a bit confusing. Here’s a summary:
1. Reading another’s trashed reputation had become such a stimulant that people could not begin or end their day without it.
2. Even those who didn’t believe the lies read them anyway, to please those who did read them.
3. Instead of having a “virtuous mind,” horrified by lies, they “betray a secret pleasure” that others may actually believe the slander, even though they don’t.
4. Who is to blame, then, for slander? Not the one who offers the slander but the one who pays for it. (By reading it. Or watching it. Or listening to it.)

“Thank you so much for your enormous contribution
to the success of our recent workshop … “
The Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D. C.
Mr. Jefferson desires to contribute to the success of your meeting!
Invite him to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739
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Truths, Probabilities, Possibilities & Lies

Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation [of his newspaper] in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2d, Probabilities. 3d, 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 2d 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 3d & 4th should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.
To John Norvell, June 11, 1807

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
For leaders, the media can be a blessing, a curse, or both.
Norvell had inquired about publishing a newspaper. Much of Jefferson’s reply was a lament about the sorry state of that medium as a source of reliable information. An earlier post from this letter suggested one was more informed about the truth if he did not read the newspaper.
Newspapers of the time were strictly mouthpieces for the political views of its publisher. There wasn’t a hint of objectivity. Now, near the end of his Presidency and 40 years of dealing with an oppositional slanderous press, he had a cynical (and, rare for him, slightly humorous) suggestion about how a newspaper should be organized.

“I have also seen him perform as Thomas Jefferson,
and that, too, is a very impressive program.”
Director, Missouri Division of Employment Security

Thomas Jefferson stands ready to impress your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739

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How reliable is the “news” you receive?

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, `by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.’ Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers … I will add, that 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 & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.
To John Norvell, June 14, 1807

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders can get a little cynical after years of criticism.
The somewhat jaded Jefferson was near both the end of his Presidency and decades as a public man. In last Friday’s post, July 12, 2013, he revealed 18 years earlier how painful criticism was to him, even that without basis. Much of that criticism had come through the press.

Elsewhere in this letter, Jefferson explains that “general facts” can be obtained from the papers, such as “Bonaparte has been a successful warrior.” He warned, though, “no details can be relied on.” Since those who read the newspapers tended to believe both the general facts and the details, they were worse off than those who didn’t read the papers at all.


There was no such thing as an objective press in Jefferson’s day. Newspapers were mouthpieces for political parties, causes and individuals. The press was far nastier than anything we know today.

“… your presentation brought to life not only the spirit of Thomas Jefferson,
but also the sense of commitment to discovery and exploration …”

Executive Director, Association of Partners for Public Lands

Bring a challenge of “discovery and explanation” to your audience!

Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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What would turn you into a wolf?

Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you & I, & Congress & Assemblies, judges & governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.
To Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Unrestrained leaders will turn into wolves.
Carrington was a contemporary of Jefferson’s, a fellow Virginian, serving in the Continental Congress in 1787. Jefferson referred earlier in this letter to the “tumults in America,” probably Shays’ Rebellion and the unease that uprising of Massachusetts farmers caused. (That rebellion spurred interest in a more effective national government and influenced the outcome of the Constitutional Convention later that year.)
From 3,500 miles away in France, Jefferson was not troubled by dissent in America. On the contrary, he reaffirmed his faith in the people, provided they were properly educated and given all the necessary information through the newspapers. (This letter also contains his famous phrase, “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.”)
Jefferson calmed Carrington and encouraged his faith in a spirited and attentive public. He warned that “once they become inattentive,” all in authority, including himself, would become wolves, devouring the ignorant and uninformed. He saw that pattern in the nations of Europe, where the rich, controlling all the levers of government, preyed on the poor.

“I … express our sincere appreciation for your exceptional presentation …
Your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was extremely well-received …”

Missouri Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
Let Mr. Jefferson inspire your audience!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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