bad publicity

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Jan 7 22:24:56 UTC 2002

In January of 2001 I set off a train of discussion among us regarding
the antiquity of the expression "There's no such thing as bad
publicity".  I then had only a very recent citation to contribute,
along with the statement that I had heard it or variants of it at one
time or another in the past, going back to the mid-1960s.  Fred Shapiro
was able to produce a version from 1950 and a passage from 1943 that
seemed to allude to it.  Others also chipped in.

I can now contribute this inversion of the phrase, from 1934:

Without publicity it is doubtful if Alphonse Capone ever would have
been sent to prison.  It is axiomatic among all intelligent criminals
that all publicity is bad publicity.  Stanley Walker, City Editor, N.
Y.: Frederick A. Stokes, 1934, p. 31.

This is one of those expressions that are so highly variable in form
that they are very difficult to trace.  I associate it with show
business, and in that racket, publicity is always good, but the
expression can be phrased either as an affirmative or a
negative: "there's no such thing as bad publicity" (or a variant) as
opposed to "all publicity is good publicity"/"every knock is a boost"
(or variants).  In criminal circles, publicity = heat, and heat is
always bad.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.

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