J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

“An “Impartial Observer” at the Tea Party

Yesterday, the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Globe published an essay by Todd Andrlik of RagLinen and me about how newspapers reported on the Revolution. With limited accuracy and pronounced biases, actually. For example:
One of the first accounts of the Tea Party, published in several New England newspapers, shows clear signs of these political biases. Though the piece was signed “An Impartial Observer,” it was carefully written to portray the rioters as scrupulous about other people’s property. They broke a padlock on one ship, the dispatch acknowledged, but quickly replaced it. One man tried to pocket tea for himself, but others seized and pummeled him. Did “An Impartial Observer” recognize any of the men carrying out what became known as the Boston Tea Party? If so, he (or she) didn’t see that information as fit to print.
You can read a transcript of that account, carefully framed as coming from someone who just happened to be visiting Boston at the time, here.

Despite its technological and cultural limits, the British Empire’s press was one of the freest and most far-flung networks of news people had yet developed. And a great source for understanding the period.

Todd and I wrote that essay in connection to Reporting the Revolutionary War, published this season. For additional essays and videos on the topic of the Revolutionary press, visit BeforeHistory.com.

Yesterday’s Globe also included a fabulous picture of Paul Revere as a bearded, pistol-carrying rough rider in a coonskin cap. That image came from opposite page 479 in James Henry Stark’s The Loyalists of Massachusetts, which I happened to cite last Friday. Just to remind us that books can be as inaccurate and biased as old newspapers.

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