January 01, 2007

Bread and Water

Early in his newspaper publishing career, Benjamin Franklin was offered a large amount of money to publish a defamatory and scurrilous article in his popular paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. Someone was seeking Colonial America’s version of zakazukha [pay-for-publish journalism]. 

Franklin writes that he went home, had a dinner of bread and water, slept on the floor and had a similarly humble breakfast. Finding himself none the worse for wear, he refused the money, writing: “Finding I can live in this manner, I have formed a determination never to prostitute my press to the purposes of corruption and abuse of this kind for the sake of gaining a more comfortable existence.”

Franklin’s admirable response was hardly typical of his age or ours. America’s colonial press was notoriously short on journalistic virtues, and objectivity and detachment are hardly the norm, even for modern media outlets. 

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