This is not to say that there has been no cheer this time around. But most of it came from the fourth estate, rather than public figures. A New York Times editorial declared that the 300 millionth American “should get a bouquet and a thank-you card … signed by President Bush on behalf of a grateful nation that is buzzing with a youthful energy.” Another editorial, from the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, advised that the U.S. “should party like it’s 299,999,999.” The editorial board of the Boston Herald noted, “We’ve marked our calendar with a reminder to give a cheer.” And finally, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article led with the invocation: “Get this party started.”


The New York Times’ editorial (fundamentally, an attack on anti-immigration crusader Patrick Buchanan) provoked a number of critical responses which accused the paper of “dangerous oversimplification,” among other optimistic faux pas. Their letters voiced political, social, economic and environmental worries about overpopulation. But news sources supported their enthusiasm with just as many examples of how the U.S. is better off today than it was in 1967: life expectancy is up, homeownership is up, pollution is down, there is plenty of food. The bottom line for most pundits, however, was that growth is always a sign of vitality, progress and innovation, and they gave immigrants a large share of the credit for the robust American growth rate. Most papers, including the Washington Post, which ran a balanced article, pointed out the unenviable negative growth rates in many European countries, and Canada, Japan and Russia.


A few newspapers took notable departures from these boon-versus-doom arguments about the rapidly expanding population, putting fresh twists on their stories. Three days after its editorial appeared, the Columbus Dispatch ran the best piece of local reporting on the subject. Author Debbie Gebolys gives a detailed account of the state’s transformation from “booming” in 1967, when the country hit 200 million, to “stagnant” 39 years later.


Then there was the predictable, but entertaining, then-and-now list of pop culture favorites and fads from the Living section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The San Francisco Chronicle also tacked an abbreviated list onto the end its commendable immigration-focused story. The most unusual angle, however, came from Wisconsin, where the local deer population, 1.6 million, is also at an all-time high. In an article in the crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, staff writer Gregory Stanford questions the state’s intention to thin the animals — “What about the human herd?” he writes. “Humans have despoiled Mother Earth far greater than have deer.”


Glass half full, glass half empty — it’s anybody’s call. At least with 300 million people it is more likely that journalists will continue to produce such a wide and interesting array of stories when the next anniversary rolls around in 2043.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.