hen political pundits get things wrong, they face an awaiting army of Twitter users and comment-section dwellers ready to shove it down their throats. On Thursday, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank will save them the trouble, eating all 18 inches of a column that predicted Donald Trump would lose the Republican nomination for president.
In October, Milbank promised to “eat the page on which this column is printed” if Trump won, and now he’s following through. But is eating a newspaper, like, a good idea?
For starters, there’s almost no nutritional benefit, according to Massachusetts General Hospital gastroenterologist Dr. Kyle Staller — but it’s not particularly dangerous, either.
Paper is mostly composed of cellulose, a harmless organic compound found in plants. But humans lack the enzymes necessary to properly digest it, which is to say Milbank’s column “will come through his GI tract in much the same form it came in,” Staller said.
On the upside, insoluble fibers like cellulose can be therapeutically beneficial for people struggling with constipation. So, according to Staller, Milbank “may find that he’s running to the toilet more than he expected.”
And what about the ink?
A spokeswoman for the Washington Post declined to disclose what the newspaper’s ink is made of, saying only that she “can confirm that we use both black and color ink.” (Milbank, curious about what he was about to ingest, asked the same question and got the same response.)
According to the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, most newspapers use inks comprised of soybean oil and various pigments and waxes.
NAPIM’s George Fuchs doesn’t recommend actually eating the stuff, but it’s not an according-to-OSHA hazardous chemical.
“Toxicity is a relative term,” said Fuchs, director of regulatory affairs and technology at the 100-year-old trade group. “People ask me, ‘Is it toxic?’ Well, it’s more toxic than table salt, but it’s less toxic than sodium cyanide.”
Newspaper ink is known to contain several toxic chemicals with nasty sounding names like 2-naphthylamine and 4-aminobiphenyl. And some studies have linked the ink to bladder and lung cancers, at least among newspaper printing workers.
Those findings led one team of Canadian researchers recently to warn against eating donuts that were once wrapped in newspaper, as some in the land of Tim Hortons apparently do. But the amount of ink found in Milbank’s 750-word column is unlikely to do him much harm.
“We as journalists occasionally have to put our own health and safety on the line,” Milbank told STAT. “I’ll be asking for some hazard pay for this, but I think I’ll be fine.”
Milbank’s plan to literally put words in his mouth all began seven months ago when the op-ed writer made his bold wager. The stunt has since evolved into a form of reader outreach.
After Trump clinched the nomination last week, Milbank solicited newspaper-based recipe ideas from readers, who get to pick the best ones in an online poll. (“Results are not statistically valid and cannot be assumed to reflect the views of Washington Post users as a group or the general population,” the paper noted.)
Now, the head chef of Washington’s Del Campo steakhouse has signed up to cook the winners on Thursday, and Post food critic Tom Sietsema will be there to judge them.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s nutrition school, recommended Milbank try his column “dipped in extra virgin olive oil, with dark chocolate for dessert.”
“It’s an excellent, high-fiber, and mentally clearing meal,” Mozaffarian said in an email.
Milbank plans to broadcast his feast live on Facebook, perhaps in hopes of approximating BuzzFeed and its famous exploding watermelon or at least Werner Herzog eating his shoe.
The columnist said he didn’t consult a physician before committing to the spectacle, but had he walked into Staller’s office, he would’ve heard that newsprint, in moderation, is fine.
“Though I might consider getting him in touch with a very good therapist,” Staller said.