DAVID Nicholson began his Washington Post review of a new...

Salmagundi

November 22, 1993

DAVID Nicholson began his Washington Post review of a new biography this way:

"Howard Stern? Howard Stern? Who would have thunk that the life story of the King of the Shock Jocks (and now the self proclaimed King of All Media) would leap to the top of the charts, selling more copies more quickly than any other book Simon and Schuster has published. It's testimony to one of the wonders of America that people with marginal talent can, and do, get rich in this land of opportunity. Or perhaps it's just another reminder of P. T. Barnum's famous dictum about how no one ever goes broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

In fact, Dave, that famous dictum was not P. T. Barnum's. It first appeared on the page opposite this one on Sept. 18, 1926, in a column headlined "As H.L.M. Sees It." H.L.M. was, of course, The Evening Sun's own Henry Louis Mencken. Under the subhead, "Notes on the Present State and Condition of the Newspaper Tabloids," Mencken stated his famous maxim thusly:

"No one in this world, so far as I know -- and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me -- has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby. The mistake that is made always runs the other way. Because the plain people are able to speak and understand, and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more. This assumption is folly. They dislike ideas, for ideas make them uncomfortable. Tabloids, seeking to force such things upon them, will inevitably alarm them and lose their trade. The journalism of the future -- that is, mob journalism -- will move in the direction that I have indicated."

P. T. Barnum's famous maxim, Dave, was, "There is a sucker born every minute."

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