The New York Times: Fighting Stardust-Borne Disease with Medicinal Whiskey Since 1891

A visit to the archives of the Gray Lady before she was "all the news fit to print"

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What exactly is "the Grip"? It's a question that has crossed many people's minds for over a century, whether a viewer on Sunday night of HBO's new befuddling miniseries Mildred Pierce (in which the disease provides a pivotal plot point) or a resident of Manhattan in 1891 reading the latest panicky reports of pandemic. Back then, though, there were no content farms and so the job of anticipating questions and providing answers of dubious quality fell to newspapers, including The New York Times. It was struggling mightily at the time--circulation was just 9,000, and it was losing $1,000 a day, according to Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones's history The Trust--but it was still considered one of New York's "quality papers." (Adolph Ochs would purchase it in 1896 and institute the "All the News That's Fit to Print" motto.) But if this clip from its archive is any sign, the editorial standards did not preclude printing patent medicine advertising unlabeled as news stories.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this particular "article" is that 120 years later, eHow hasn't come up with anything to displace The New York Times in Google results for "what is the grip." The Duffy's Malt Whiskey Co. must not invest a lot in keyword advertising these days. (And, as for what "The Grip" actually is, according to JAMA, it was the name used at the time for epidemic influenza, caused by microbes and whiskey, medicinal or otherwise, was not a recommended course of treatment.)

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