Monday, December 17, 2012

Reporting the Boston Tea Party

Todd Andrlik and J.L. Bell discuss the importance of newspapers in colonial America, especially as they relate to the reporting of the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773.  Here is a taste of their piece in The Boston Globe:

Though politicians frowned on political “factions,” the press was highly partisan. Most newspapers printed essays on only one side of an issue, producing monthlong debates as essays volleyed back and forth between papers. In Boston, the British customs service supported certain newspapers, such as the Boston Chronicle and Boston Post-Boy, by buying stationery from those same printing houses. The town government, usually on the other side, preferred to give contracts to the publishers of the Boston Gazette, the Patriot mouthpiece. Populist media criticism sometimes went beyond decisions about which newspaper to favor; the printer who supported the royal government most fervently, Scottish immigrant John Mein of the Boston Chronicle, was run out of town in late 1769 by an angry crowd of merchants. A few months later, a London supplier asked leading Boston merchant John Hancock to help collect money that Mein owed. Hancock used that fortuitous power of attorney to shut the Boston Chronicle down for good.

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.

Newspapers published a range of reactions to the Tea Party. Tongue firmly in cheek, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet reported that all that tea had had an effect: “letters from Boston complain much of the taste of their fish being altered.” The Essex Gazette of Salem printed a resolution from Marshfield, home to a number of supporters of the royal government, condemning the tea destruction as illegal, unjust, and dangerous.

Read the rest here.