When a Congressman Asked the FTC to Fact Check The New York Times' Slogan
Since 1897, the words "All the News That's Fit to Print" have appeared on the upper left-hand corner of copies of The New York Times. Adolph S. Ochs, the man who bought the Times in 1896, started this tradition because he wanted a slogan that would separate his paper from its more sensational (and, at the time, more successful) competitors. But is it true?
If you are skeptical of the Times' assertion regarding the printing fitness of all their news, you will be happy to learn that somebody already made a formal inquiry for you.
In 1960, U.S. Congressman Wright Patman asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the slogan, as he worried the motto might constitute false advertising. Patman wrote to the FTC: "Surely this questionable claim has a tendency to make the public believe, and probably does make the public believe, that The New York Times is superior to other newspapers." Patman complained that the newspaper “certainly does not print all the news and rarely prints all the important news.” (He provided no examples.)
The FTC reviewed Patman's request and issued a sound rejection. A spokesperson relayed the commission's decision, saying, "We do not believe there are any apparent objective standards by which to measure whether 'news' is or is not 'fit to print' ... Lacking such standards, we believe that such a slogan is not a misrepresentation of a material fact capable of deceiving the public.”
So, whether or not The New York Times features "all the news that's fit to print" is beside the point. It's a flawed question, and the FTC would rather you not waste your time asking them about it.
On May 28, 1960, The New York Times published a short wire service report about the FTC's decision regarding Patman's request. It appeared on page seven, meaning it was fit to print ... but just barely.