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A scathing quote that recommends fearing "the media" attributed to Mark Twain is gaining steam online.
The full quote reads:
"Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Twain was himself a member of the press, but he did have a tumultuous relationship with journalists. He uttered a portion of this statement and was pretty unrelenting in his criticism of journalists – but he never used the phrase "fear the media."
During the time period Twain was alive (the mid-nineteenth century to the very early-twentieth century) the term "the media" was not used in the way it is today as there was only one form of mass communication – print.
We found no evidence that Twain said or wrote the first half of the quote: "Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your honor."
In response to an inquiry from PolitiFact, Mark Twain Journal editor Alan Gribben, said he also doubts that Twain ever employed the word "media" in this context.
We reached out to Barbara Schmidt, a Mark Twain researcher and writer who runs TwainQuotes.com. Schmidt pointed us to a speech Twain gave in March 1873 called "License of the Press," in which Twain said the second portion of the quote.
The address, which Twain delivered in Hartford, Conn., encapsulated his unwavering assessment of the power of the press and the unfairness he felt to be inherent in the fact that laws existed to protect freedom of speech, but they did not protect people from the press:
"That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.
I am personally acquainted with hundreds of journalists, and the opinion of the majority of them would not be worth tuppence in private, but when they speak in print it is the newspaper that is talking (the pygmy scribe is not visible) and then their utterances shake the community like the thunders of prophecy."
A social media post attributes Mark Twain as saying it is "far better" to "fear the media" and "that awful power, the public of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons.."
Twain certainly had some things to say about the power of the press and the liberties he felt some members of the press took during his lifetime. But, the first half of the quote – that is better to "fear the media" over the "enemy" because the media will "take your honor" – appears to be fabricated.
The second portion of the quote accurately displays words he said during an address in 1873.
That’s why we rate it Half True.
Facebook post, May 22, 2019
Poynter.org, Today in Media History: In 1863 a reporter named Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain, Feb. 2 2015
TwainQuotes.com, Quotations, Accessed May 23, 2019
Mark Twain Project, Accessed May 23, 2019
Schindler.org, Mark Twain License of the Press speech March 31, 1873
Email interview, Barbara Schmidt Mark Twain writer and researcher, May 23, 2019
Email interview, Irene Wong managing editor at Mark Twain Journal, May 23, 2019
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