A Newspaper Is a Device for Making the Ignorant More Ignorant and the Crazy Crazier

H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken worked as a journalist and columnist for newspapers in Baltimore, Maryland for several decades. Yet, his candid assessment of dailies was remarkably harsh. Apparently, he believed that newspapers made the crazy crazier. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1920 “The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness” published a piece titled “Répétition Générale” by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. One section called “The Jazz Webster” included a set of comical definitions for a jazz-age dictionary. This was the tenth item. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Newspaper: A public organ for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1945 Mencken saw an article he agreed with that had been written by Louis B. Wright, a research staff member of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Mencken sent Wright a letter of praise which included a version of the barb aimed at radio instead of newspapers: 2

The newspapers, debauched by the war fever, have given up all effort to get at the facts, and the radio continues day and night the great moral business of making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

In 1949 Mencken assembled and edited “A Mencken Chrestomathy” which included another close variant of the expression: 3

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

In conclusion, all three versions of this statement may be credited to H. L. Mencken. It remains uncertain whether he believed that his own column contributed to the growth of craziness.

Image Notes: Picture of a stack of newspaper from fas at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to anonymous journalist whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1920 March, The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness, Répétition Générale by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, Start Page 47, Quote Page 48, Smart Set Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1977, The New Mencken Letters by H. L. Mencken, Edited by Carl Bode, Letter To: Louis B. Wright, Date: November 19, 1945, Start Page 556, Quote Page 557, The Dial Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1949 (Reprinted 1967), A Mencken Chrestomathy, Edited and Annotated by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Chapter XXX: Sententiae, Sub-section: This and That, Quote Page 625, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)