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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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One Response to Truths, Probabilities, Possibilities & Lies

  1. Mark Twain and Will Rogers would love this.
    Here’s how Will might have slightly reworded it:
    An editor beginning to publish a weekly magazine devoted to the politics in Washington might divide it in some such way as this. Divide it into 4 chapters: 1. Truths; 2. Probabilities; 3. Possibilities; and 4. Lies.
    Chapter 1 would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic material and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth.
    Chapter 2 would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment would conclude to be probably true. It, however, should contain too little rather than too much.
    Chapters 3 and 4 should be for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank pages they would occupy.

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