What News Is "Fit To Print"?

Stephen H. Unger
December 3, 2018

"President Trump's doctor says the president takes hair-growth medication". This is the headline of one of the NY Times stories about the president's hair [1]. The Times considers this "fit to print", but seldom makes space for stories about tobacco, which, in recent years, has been killing over 450,000 Americans annually [2]. Altho only about 12,000 Americans per year are killed by firearms, (other than suicides), many prominent articles call for stricter laws regulating possession and use of firearms.

All proposals to take effective action to cut illegal immigration to the US are strongly opposed by the Democratic, Green, and Libertarian parties. The press (and radio and TV newscasts) shows no interest in pointing out how immigration harms many millions of Americans by depressing wages or taking their jobs.[3]. President Trump, who opposes immigration, is ordering the use of troops to stop massive crossings of our southern border. He advocates building a border wall, and claims that many of the immigrants are criminals. But, strangely, he does not advocate the use of the most effective tool for controlling immigration: E-Verify, a computerized system for screening new hires by companies to determine if they are legal. If illegal immigrants could not get jobs, they would have a strong incentive to leave the country. Once it became widely known that illegal immigrants were not getting jobs, the number trying to enter the country illegally would surely fall sharply.

Numerous major newspaper stories have been printed about children of illegal immigrants being taken into custody. How many headlines have you seen about the huge number of children (and noncombatant adults) in the Middle East killed by Americans (bombers, drones, missiles, special forces, malnutrition due to disruption associated with military action) [4]?

Since the end of WWII, we have been at war almost continuously (for the past 17 years with, among others, the people of Afghanistan) [5]. We have killed millions of people all over the world, and well over a hundred thousand young Americans have also been killed. Trillions of dollars have been spent by the US government on these wars. How often have you seen front page stories, or columns, or editorials opposing American militarism?

With minimal discussion and publicity, a program for upgrading our huge arsenal of thermonuclear warheads has been launched. This will cost tens of billions of dollars annually for several decades [6]. Considering just the dollar cost, it is striking how little public discussion of this issue has taken place. There is virtually no discussion of the idea of negotiations to phase out the weapons that could literally terminate humanity. How many newspaper columns or editorials have you seen supporting this idea?

During the recent election, war was not an issue, and was seldom prominently reported on. Stories about the ongoing wars in the Middle East seldom appear on page 1. Nor are there many editorials or opinion pieces deploring our seemingly permanent state of war. Getting into a war is now easy. The constitutional requirement that wars be declared by congress has been ignored since its last use in 1941. The enemy need not be another nation. We now fight wars on "terror". We are not likely to run out of terrorists to fight.

This essay has focussed on the NY Times, because it is clearly the most prestigious American newspaper. As are other conventional newspapers, the Times is struggling to compete with the alternative news media: radio and television. With respect to properly reporting the news, radio and television are significantly worse than the best newspapers. Long ago, I stopped listening to radio news broadcasts. I never watched TV news. There are of course other sources of news, such as magazines and newsletters, some of which may be worth reading. I do scan the NY Times, and often find interesting articles, but my main source of information is the internet, where one can not only find a wide variety of opinions and sources of information, but can also participate in online discussions. Examples of such sources are OpEdNews, Truthdig, and ProPublica.


[1] Denise Grady, "Trump Takes the Hair-Growth Drug Propecia. How Does It Work?", NY Times, Febuary 2, 2017

[2] CDC, "Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking", Office on Smoking and Health, May 15, 2017

[3] Stephen H. Unger, "Immigration--A Thorny Subject", Ends and Means, August 2, 2016

[4] John Tirman, "Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars?", Washington Post, January 6, 2012

[5] Wikipedia, "Civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan (2001-present)", August 15, 2018

[6] Lawrence Wittner, "The Trillion Dollar Question the Media Have Neglected to Ask Presidential Candidates", Moyers & Company, March 21, 2016

Comments are welcomed and can be sent to me at unger(at)cs(dot)columbia(dot)edu

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