Editing the "Rough Draft of History"


I might be the last literate person on Earth to know this, and if so I'm sure all you friendly folk will tell me so, but just learned via Jack Shafer at Slate the full context of that famously flatulent journalism-aggrandizing quote about our shoe-leather-wearin'-out, fact-checkin' press corps supplying us with an oh-so-important "rough draft of history."

As Shafer explains, in a funny assault on an Atlantic magazine high-level gasbag conference called "First draft of history"(slight wording difference, same idea):

The original phrase was coined by former Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham, who delivered it to Newsweek correspondents in 1963, shortly after the Washington Post Co. purchased the magazine. Far from ballyhooing the greatness of the press and implying that historians owe it some debt, Graham staked a much more modest position. He acknowledged that much of journalism was "pure chaff" but said that "no one yet has been able to produce wheat without chaff." He went on:

So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand.

NEXT: When Public Power Is Used for Private Gain

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I just had to right now take a moment to send this website a huge THANK YOU! I can’t imagine another website anywhere taking the time and making the effort that you all here did. After reading all the research done and actual product testing of the items at http://spendlessclub.com I couldn’t wait to sign up for their sampler program. The products there work as great as you reported them to. I have immediately reduced a majority of my expenses by around 70%! Thanks to your hard work and efforts. I read many other glowing reviews but never signed up because I was skeptical but your review meant a lot more! Thanks again!

  2. I did not know that, and I’m pretty confident that I’m a literate person.

  3. Ok… so… so what now?

  4. Now, Harvey, cut that out!

  5. Can we get more threads on flatuating?

  6. I jumped into reporting this fall. My first big event was the protests outside the UN. There were protests by a dozen groups about half a dozen countries. The professional journalists only reported on the protests over Iran. I would not automatically assume that an established reporter is more reliable than the regular guy on the street.

  7. “History is something that never happened, written by someone who wasn’t there.” — anonymous

    So yeah, I’d agree MSM journalism is a rough draft of that.

  8. Yeah, I just edited a bunch of newspapers reports and shit. Thank Mercury for those dudes.

  9. History??? I hear they are changing that to the more gender neutral term, Human Stories. You can’t have HIStory, that’s not gender neutral.

    That’s a story I heard from a friend studying to be a school teacher. He thought it was silly too.

  10. Tulpa, why just credit the MSM for that. It clearly sounds like Fox news in the run-up to the Iraq war too.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.