“[Tommy] Lasorda used to say, “‘Don’t get in arguments with people who buy their ink by the barrel.’” — Bobby Valentine, quoted in The New York Times, March 13, 2012
“Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”– William I. Greener Jr., quoted in TheWall Street Journal, Sept. 28, 1978
“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” — attributed to Mark Twain
And all along I thought it was H. L. Mencken. At the risk of picking a fight with better-informed lexicographers, it appears that the originator of the quote is Bill Greener, who was a press aide to Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld in the 1970s.
Now known as Greener’s Law, the “ink by the barrel” phrase needs updating for the digital age. Never pick a fight with someone who …
a) gets more than a million uniques a month
b) has a black belt in SEO techniques
c) has more than 500,000 Twitter followers
d) [your suggestion here]
William I. Greener Jr., born in 1925 and still kicking, as far as I know, was a savvy public relations man. In a speech to students at the Air War College, Mr. Greener, who was once Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said:
“Too many generals have in the past lived by Socrates’ observation, ‘It is the mark of a good general to reveal the good and hide the bad'; rather than Alexander Hamilton’s conclusion, ‘It is a government of the people. They will govern best when given the facts.’ ”
As an adviser to Donald Rumsfeld and other Republicans, and later to Big Pharma companies, Mr. Greener honed his skills at crisis communications. Having watched Watergate unfold and seen the damage that coverups can do, he embraced the adage “Be honest, be truthful, be quick.”
When asked how to craft a communications strategy for dealing with bad news or negative publicity, he said: “My answer is quit figuring out how to say it, and try it simply and straightforward and as quickly as possible.”
P.S.: There is no record of Mark Twain ever saying or writing the “Never pick a fight” quote. Darn.