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Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer rightly screams about the quote-approval practice that has sullied some of the New York Times’–among others–coverage of government and politics. His column has appeared all over the Web the last couple of days and in print in numerous papers, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which used the headline “Political Handlers as Editors” (above).
However, he falls into the trap of linking a well-oiled quote to George Orwell (right)–without mentioning that the authorship appears to be in question.
The quotation–which makes journalistic hearts quiver and flutter in appreciation–usually goes like this:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

The trouble is that it’s not all that clear that Orwell wrote that, as far as I can tell–despite what you might be told by sites like quotevadis.com
One place I turned this morning to find out more is the Orwell quotations entry at wikiquote.org.
Here some people are seeking proper attribution and sourcing for the quotation. The search continues. One contributer compares it to something attributed to William Randolph Hearst:

“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.”

I certainly have no problem with Mr. Polman using the quotation. It’s relevant to his topic and thought-provoking, too. However, instead of putting it in Orwell’s mouth and saying bluntly that he “once wrote” it, he should say the statement is, instead, often merely attributed to Orwell.
Even so, the error is not worth reporting to the Ministry of Truth.
I look forward to finding the source some day.

3 Responses to “Even if it looks, sounds, walks, and quacks like an Orwell quote, it still might NOT be an Orwell quote”

  1. [...] backlash towards Mantel puts me in the mind of the Orwell (or was it Hearst) quote: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is [...]

  2. Tom says:

    Did people commonly speak of “public relations” in the current sense in Orwell’s day? Seems improbable.

    • frank.herron says:

      Actually, the term was in fairly wide use before World War II. Edward Bernays wrote Crystallizing Public Relations in 1923. There are likely older examples.

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