The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable

Mr. Dooley? Finley Peter Dunne? William Randolph Hearst? Willmott Lewis? Frederick W. Burnham? Clare Boothe Luce? Kara V. Jackson? Lawrence Weschler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are four phrases describing the duty of a newspaper or religious institution:

  • Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable
  • Comfort the tormented, torment the comfortable
  • Comforting the disturbed, disturbing the comfortable
  • Comfort the troubled, trouble the comfortable

Would you please explore which phrase was crafted first and determine the identity of the creator?

Quote Investigator: Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote a popular syndicated column featuring the distinctive voice of Mr. Dooley. The fictional character’s pronouncements used Irish dialectal speech and spelling. The following appeared within a 1902 column titled “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.

Here is a rendering using standard spelling:

The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.

Finley Peter Dunne was not solemnly describing the duties of a newspaper; instead, he was comically outlining the comprehensive power of newspapers of that era.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable


  1. 1902 October 4, The Province, Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity by F. P. Dunne, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com)

If You Stop Telling Lies About Us We Will Stop Telling the Truth About You

Adlai Stevenson? William Randolph Hearst? Chauncey Depew? Asa W. Tenney? Harold Wilson? Michael Douglas? Gordon Gekko? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several politicians have attacked the prevarications of opponents by employing a quip from a family of humorous sayings. Here are two examples:

  • If they will not lie about our past, we will not tell the truth about their past.
  • If they are willing to stop telling lies about us then we will stop telling the truth about them.

A statement of this type has been credited to U.S. Senator and raconteur Chauncey Depew; newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst; and U.S. Governor and diplomat Adlai Stevenson II. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Chauncey Depew did deliver a quip within this family in 1892. William Randolph Hearst employed an instance in 1906, and Adlai Stevenson used an instance during a speech in 1952. Tracing this family is difficult because of its mutability. Yet, the evidence clearly shows that the saying was in circulation before it was used by the individuals above.

A precursor appeared in a Kansas newspaper in 1884, and QI hypothesizes that the template of this remark facilitated the emergence of the family under analysis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Democratic press cries out, “If you do not stop telling the truth on CLEVELAND, we will manufacture some lies about BLAINE.”

In July 1888 another precursor appeared in an Indiana newspaper: 2

If Democratic papers continue their lying about General Harrison they may finally goad Republicans into telling the truth about Cleveland.

In September 1888 Judge Asa W. Tenney of Brooklyn delivered a speech that was reported in the “Buffalo Evening News” of Buffalo, New York. The following excerpt included the first instance within the family of sayings under examination. The passage contained the misspelling “Tenny” for “Tenney”: 3

Judge Tenny rang the changes of ridicule upon the President’s message and said: “It’s too late, Father Cleveland, to talk about reform when 137 convicts have been appointed by you to offices of high trust; It’s too late; you ought to have thought about reform when you lived in Buffalo.

“But I’ll not pursue this subject. The Republicans and Democrats have made a solemn contract that if the Democrats will stop lying about Harrison the Republicans will stop telling the truth about Cleveland.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Stop Telling Lies About Us We Will Stop Telling the Truth About You


  1. 1884 August 7, The Atchison Daily Champion, (Untitled filter item), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1888 July 14, The Indianapolis Journal, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1888 September 27, Buffalo Evening News, Judge Tenney’s Address, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)

News Is What Somebody Does Not Want You To Print. All the Rest Is Advertising

George Orwell? Alfred Harmsworth? William Randolph Hearst? L. E. Edwardson? Robert W. Sawyer? Mark Rhea Byers? Brian R. Roberts? Malcolm Muggeridge? Katharine Graham? Lord Rothermere? Lord Northcliffe? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator:  I have been trying to trace a popular saying about journalism which can be expressed in several ways. Here are four examples to show the core of the statement:

1) News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.

2) News is something which somebody wants suppressed: all the rest is advertising

3) News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations.

4) Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

These remarks do differ, but I think it makes sense to group them all together. Press baron William Randolph Hearst and renowned author George Orwell have both been credited with originating this saying. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strongly matching expression found by QI was published in 1918 in a New York periodical called “The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers”. The words were printed on a sign at a journalist’s desk, and no precise attribution was given. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Whatever a patron desires to get published is advertising; whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news,” is the sentiment expressed in a little framed placard on the desk of L. E. Edwardson, day city editor of the Chicago Herald and Examiner.

In the following decades the saying evolved and instances were employed by or attributed to a wide variety of prominent news people including William Randolph Hearst, Alfred Harmsworth, Brian R. Roberts, and Katharine Graham.

This entry was improved with the help of top researcher Barry Popik who adroitly explored this topic and shared the results at his website “The Big Apple”. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading News Is What Somebody Does Not Want You To Print. All the Rest Is Advertising


  1. 1918 November 30, The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers, (Filler item), Quote Page 18, Column 4, Publisher Ernest F, Birmingham, Fourth Estate Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “If you want something in the paper, that’s advertising; you want something kept out, that’s news”, Date on website: July 11, 2014, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on January 10, 2015) link