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.