“I have been in almost constant practice as a journalist since the year 1899,” wrote H. L. Mencken in the spring of 1920. He had “held every editorial job that newspapers have to offer, from that of drama critic to that of editor-in-chief,” and the experience had convinced him that the news business wasn’t as bad as its harshest detractors claimed — it was worse.
“The average American newspaper, even of the so-called better sort, is . . . devious, hypocritical, disingenuous, deceitful, pharisaical, pecksnifﬁan, fraudulent, knavish, slippery, unscrupulous, perﬁdious, lewd, and dishonest.” He would be hard-pressed, Mencken said, to name five papers that conducted themselves as fairly and honestly “as the average nail factory.”